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Apportioning loads on paralleled generator sets

Selection of the right load-sharing control system depends on
the sizes of the generators, their governors and voltage
regulators, the sensitivity of the loads to voltage and
frequency, and desired system reliability.
Kenneth L. Lovorn, PE, Lovorn Engineering Assocs.; and Tom Divine, PE, SSR
08/09/2010

There are a number of reasons for paralleling generator sets, including redundancy, ease
of maintenance, load management, and speed of load acquisition. However, once you
have a paralleled emergency generator system, the challenge is how to make sure that
each of the generators carries its portion of the total load on the system.
Following are several of the more common systems for load apportioning and their
operating characteristics. The engineer must evaluate their particular installation to
determine how sensitive their critical loads are to voltage and frequency variation, how
often the loads start and stop, and whether the generators are perfectly matched, so that
he can select the appropriate control system.
Proportional control of the loads on a group of paralleled generators is key to smooth,
trouble-free operation, whether for standby or prime-power applications. Control
schemes that are commonly used to achieve load sharing are the:
• Droop control system
• Isochronous control system
• Reactive droop compensation system
• Cross-current compensation system.
Each of these systems has pros and cons for simplicity and operational characteristics,
and when engineering a generator paralleling system, the engineer must carefully
consider these characteristics so that the system provides power that is suitable for the
connected loads.
Load sharing history
Historically, load sharing on paralleled generators was not a big issue, because the
generators were, typically, the same full-load capacity, the same governor, the same
operating characteristics—pretty much identical units. As long as the mechanical
governors were calibrated so the same load change would result in the same throttle
position adjustment, the generators would share loads equally.

As the systems transitioned to electronic controls and those became more sophisticated,
load sharing became possible with differing generator sizes and, in some cases, different
control components. As early as 1984, control systems were available that would allow
varying sized generators that were remotely located from one another, to parallel to a
common bus.
Load sharing today

With the microprocessor-based control systems, the four aforementioned control
schemes provide load sharing, voltage regulation, and frequency control. The simplest
system is the droop control system, in which the voltage and/or frequency drops as the
load increases (Figure 1). With this system, there is no requirement for the components
of the engine or alternator to be of the same type, so paralleling generators of differing
sizes and manufacturers is straightforward.
The droop system is considered to be more reliable than other systems due to its
simplicity, but the price of this reliability is the loss in power quality. As noted, with an
increase in load, the voltage and frequency both drop, so loads that require a constant
frequency or a power source with a relatively constant voltage output will have
functional difficulties. For the typical induction motor loads, a droop controlled
generator system will work very well, since voltage and frequency tolerance is
relatively wide.
Some users with droop control systems in prime power applications will have an
operator constantly adjust the fuel injection quantity so that the generator speed may be
adjusted to compensate for the changes in load. The system works best when a single
control adjusts all of the engines simultaneously. Otherwise, the generators cease load
sharing and there is a possibility of reverse power conditions on the lagging generators.

Isochronous control system

In contrast to droop control, the isochronous system maintains a constant engine speed
with either a constant or varying load. Thus the frequency and voltage of the system
remains constant, providing much higher power quality than that of the droop control
system. As with the droop control system, the generator sizes and controls may vary in
manufacturer and will still load share. To permit each generator to carry its proportion
of the total load, an isochronous load sharing control (ILS) will sample the voltage and
current information from each generator. With this information from each of the
generator sets, the ILS can calculate correction signals for each generator governor and
adjust the fuel rate, which allows proportioning the total load to each generator,
according to its capability (Figure 2).
In contrast to the generator size and manufacturer variations, the communications
network must typically use the same governors, the same load sharing controls, and
even the same model of communications interface. This is due to the lack of industry
standards for the communications systems so that when the ILS interfaces with each
generator via this network, every component must match.

Reactive load sharing

Droop control systems may be designed to mitigate some of the inherent system
problems by using a reactive load sharing (RLS) control system. (Also known as
reactive droop compensation; Figure 3.) Each generator will have a current transformer
that allows the control system to proportion the load provided to the system by each
generator. Thus, if the total load on the system is 50% of system capacity, then each
generator will supply one-half of its respective full load current to the system.
The RLS still has a wider voltage regulation range than an individual isochronous
generator because the individual generator will be in the 1% range for voltage
regulation while the RLS may be as high as 4%. Since the voltage regulation is
measured from no load to full load, the system load will have a droop closer to 2%
(with 50% loading).

Cross-current compensation

To improve the generator system voltage regulation, the RLS may be modified to a
control system referred to as cross-current compensation (CCC). With CCC, changes in
the load do not affect the steady state voltage, which dramatically improves the system
voltage regulation. (Figure 4)
For the CCC system to operate properly, all of the voltage regulators must be the same
because the load feedback from one generator adjusts the speed of another unit, not the
unit from which the feedback is derived (which results in calling it a cross-current
system).
In conclusion, selection of the right load-sharing control system depends on the sizes of
the generators, their governors and voltage regulators, the sensitivity of the loads to
voltage and frequency, and desired system reliability. The engineer must consider all of
these factors during the design and specification process. This will assure that the
system will operate correctly, provide the necessary voltage and frequency stability, and
have the generators share their proportion of the total load.

A problematic paralleling application
For the typical applications, paralleling various sized generators from various
manufacturers will function just fine for virtually all operating situations. However,
there is one situation in which operating problems could result in tripping a generator
off-line.
The ILS can control multiple generators of various sizes and get them to power their
proportionate share of the total load, even when the generators operate at different
speeds, i.e., 900, 1,200, or 1,800 rpm. The problem arises when you have a large, slowspeed generator, such as a 900 or 1,200 rpm unit in a 1 to 2 MW size, paralleled with a
much smaller 1,800 rpm unit rated at, say, 400 kW.
If the two units are synchronized to a common bus, they will proportionately share the
applied load as controlled by the ILS. Upon application of a large step load, the ILS will
direct each of the units to increase (or decrease, if the step load is a reduction instead of
an addition) its fuel supply to maintain voltage and frequency. Because the smaller
generator is much more responsive than the larger unit, it will increase or decrease its
fuel supply and, thus, its relative speed faster than the larger unit.
If, for instance, the step load is an added load, the increased fuel supply will tend to
increase the rotational speed of the smaller generator and, under worst case conditions,
will cause a frequency instability on the synchronization of the two units. Due to this
change in frequency and, subsequently, voltage, the larger unit could see a reverse
power flow as the smaller unit’s voltage rises in response to the load increase.
The result could be threefold:
1. The over-frequency sensor of the smaller generator could open the contactor in the
paralleling equipment, dropping this unit off-line.
2. If the frequency sensor of the smaller generator determines that the change in
frequency is dramatic enough, it could trip the generator breaker of the smaller unit,
requiring that the breaker be manually reset before the generator could be brought back
online.
3. The reverse power relay on the larger generator could determine that there was an
abnormal power flow and trip the main breaker for this generator off-line, again
requiring that the breaker be manually reset before reparalleling the unit to the bus.
Therefore, for applications where there are multiple generators of varying sizes and
differing speeds, the design engineer must be very careful in designing a paralleling
system for these generators. In particular, for systems will the potential for significant
step loads on the paralleling bus, it is recommended that an alternative design be
considered that does not include paralleling these generators because the possible
consequences could be dire.

The 10-second rule
Ancillary to sharing load, one of the challenges of an emergency system design is to
meet the 10-second rule and still have a paralleled, redundant emergency power supply.
The 10-second rule is a code requirement that life safety and selected critical loads in
health care facilities be energized with 10 seconds of a utility power failure.
When designing emergency systems with modern generators below 2,000 kW, the first
generator that achieves 90% of its operating voltage will close onto the paralleling bus.
When the life safety transfer switch senses the presence of voltage, the design should
assure that this transfer switch will immediately transfer, energizing its loads within less
than 10 seconds. When the generators are larger, lower speed, or slow starting, meeting
the 10-second rule becomes a problem, so some other means must be employed to
assure that these critical loads can be energized within the 10 seconds. If the engineer
cannot select smaller generators or higher speed engines, one solution could be
providing a smaller generator for the critical loads with a backup transfer switch so that
redundancy for the smaller generator can be provided from the larger paralleled system.

Lovorn is president of Lovorn Engineering Assocs. and a member of the ConsultingSpecifying Engineer editorial advisory board. Divine is project manager and electrical
engineer at Smith Seckman Reid Inc.