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Electric Power Systems Research 78 (2008) 16861692

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Prediction of leakage current of non-ceramic insulators in early aging period

Ayman H. El-Hag a, , Ali Naderian Jahromi b , Majid Sanaye-Pasand c

Electrical Engineering Department, American University of Sharjah, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates
Kinectrics Inc., Transmission & Distribution Technologies, Toronto, Canada
Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, University of Tehran, Iran

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history:
Received 10 September 2007
Received in revised form 11 February 2008
Accepted 24 February 2008
Available online 8 April 2008
Outdoor insulators
Leakage current
Neural network

a b s t r a c t
The paper presents a neural network based prediction technique for the leakage current (LC) of nonceramic insulators during salt-fog test. Nearly 50 distribution class silicone rubber (SIR) insulators with
three different voltage classes have been tested in a salt-fog chamber, where the LC has been continuously
recorded for at least 100 h. A boundary for early aging period is dened by the rate of change of the LC
instead of a xed threshold value. Consequently, the Gaussian radial basis network has been adopted to
predict the level of LC at the early stage of aging of the SIR insulators and is compared with a classical
network. The initial values of LC and its rate of change at 10 min intervals for the rst 5 h are selected as
the input to the network, and the nal value of LC of the early aging period is considered as the output of
the network. It is found that Gaussian radial basis function network with a random optimizing training
method is an appropriate network to predict the LC with a 3.55.3% accuracy, if the training data and the
testing data are selected from the same type of SIR insulators.
2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction
One of the main causes of aging of silicone rubber (SIR) insulators is the development of leakage current (LC) on the insulator
surface leading to dry-band arcing. Therefore, LC is usually monitored to evaluate the insulators surface condition under both eld
and accelerated aging test conditions. Several studies have been
conducted to understand the relation between the LC and degradation of SIR insulators [111]. It has been found that the level of
LC low frequency harmonics (mainly the fundamental and third
harmonic components) is highly correlated to the degree of insulator surface damage [2,3]. When the fundamental component of
LC exceeds 1 mA during salt-fog test, erosion is evident on the surface of the SIR [2]. Another study has been carried out by using
the rotating wheel dip test as the accelerating aging technique to
monitor the early aging period of SIR insulators [6]. It has been
reported that if the peak value of the LC attains 1 mA, the insulators lose their hydrophobicity and the damage on the surface begins
when the LC approaches 4 mA [6]. Kumagai and Yoshimura [11] separated the leakage current during salt-fog test into three different
components: sinusoidal, transition, and local arc. They have shown
that the cumulative charges of these components are sensitive to
the hydrophobicity and the contamination level of the insulating

Corresponding author.
E-mail address: (A.H. El-Hag).
0378-7796/$ see front matter 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Moreover, it has been observed that the surface degradation of

non-ceramic insulators occurs when the LC exceeds certain values
in the eld as well [7,8]. This is particularly relevant for insulators
that are exposed to high humidity, salt, and other pollutants [68].
This value depends on the nominal voltage, pollution level, humidity, and the period of the dry intervals without moisture so that the
insulator may or may not recover its hydrophobicity.
So it is evident from the previous studies that there is a correlation between the level of LC and surface conditions of non-ceramic
insulators. As a result, if the level of LC is predictable it will be
possible to forecast the surface degradation of SIR insulators. Articial neural network (ANN) has been employed in several studies
related to outdoor insulators. Classication of LC waveforms measured in clean-fog test has been investigated [3]. An ANN has
been used to categorize the LC into four classes, based on the
magnitude of the fundamental and harmonic components of the
LC. Another network has been trained to classify the waveform
as sinusoidal, nonlinear, or containing discharge. A feed-forward
back-propagation ANN with two layers has been employed for the
classication [3]. Although the classication has been successful,
no attempts have been made to predict the level of LC.
The classication of surface conditions for polymeric materials, assessed in inclined plane test, has been studied by using ANN
[14]. The process of identifying of the surface condition of nonceramic insulators was automated in this study. An ANN based
classier was used to categorize the LC measured in the inclined
plane test. A multilayer feed-forward ANN with a back-propagation
learning algorithm has been employed. Although the authors have

A.H. El-Hag et al. / Electric Power Systems Research 78 (2008) 16861692

mentioned that the classication was accurate, no comment has

been made about the percentage error that was encountered during the study. An approach to forecast the number and location of
the faults caused by pollution ashovers in a 15 kV overhead line
has been presented by [15]. By using the monthly rainfall values,
a feed-forward ANN has been employed to predict the ashover.
Although the accuracy of the prediction was satisfactory for most
of the cases, the error was more than 100% for certain cases.
All of the previous ANN based studies have been based on using
feed-forward back-propagation because of its simple approach and
generalization capability [3,1416]. In a previous paper, the authors
of this paper have introduced a prediction of the LC by implementing a feed-forward back-propagation ANN and a cascade forward
back-propagation ANN [12]. The number of layers of the network
has also been changed to minimize the error of prediction. The
objective was to predict the level of the LC after 10 h knowing the
initial value of the LC and its initial slope during for the rst hour
during the salt-fog test. The feed-forward back-propagation ANN
with two hidden layers was found to be a reliable tool to forecast the LC. The error of the prediction was around 12% and more
importantly, it is limited to the prediction of LC of a specic type of
insulators in a specic time frame (10 h) which may not represent


the starting time of surface degradation. It may be more realistic to

predict the level of LC at the end of the early aging period and not
restrict it to a certain time frame. The end of the early aging period
represent the period at which the SIR insulator loses its hydrophobicity and degradation due to dry-band arcing is likely to happen.
In this paper, the potential of ANN to predict the nal value of
the LC of SIR insulators at the end of the early aging period based on
primarily monitored data is investigated. In addition, the network
is generalized to include different types of distribution class SIR
2. Problem formulation
The initial development of the LC is dependent on the type of the
insulator and the test parameters [13]. In some cases, the development begins immediately after the voltage is applied. However,
in several cases, there is no signicant current even after 80 h. The
LC can be described by three distinct periods during the salt-fog
test; i.e., the early aging period (EAP), the transition period, and
the nal aging period. Typical time domain waveforms of LC and
their frequency spectrum at these three stages are depicted in Fig. 1.
The level of LC current distortion is highly correlated with arcing

Fig. 1. Typical time and frequency snap shot of LC, (a) during the early aging period, (b) during transition period and (c) during the late aging period.


A.H. El-Hag et al. / Electric Power Systems Research 78 (2008) 16861692

Table 1
A sample of measured input/output data for a 15 kV SIR insulator

Fig. 2. The fundamental component of FFT of LC of a 15 kV silicone rubber insulator

during the salt fog test.

Time interval (min)

Input ISi (mA)

Input Si = di/dt (mA/min)




Output If (mA)

schematic of the test setup is illustrated in Fig. 5. The chamber is

cubical with the approximate dimensions of 1.8 m 1.8 m 1.8 m.
The frame of the chamber is wooden, and the walls and the ceiling are made of 6 mm thick acrylic sheets that are bolted to the
frame with nylon bolts and nuts. The bottom of the chamber consists of 12 mm thick PVC sheets and is 0.8 m above the oor. Also,
the bottom is sloped towards the center of the chamber to allow the
water to drain. Salt-fog nozzles, fabricated according to IEC 60507,
are mounted at each corner of the chamber. The saltwater ow
Fig. 3. The EAP of the LC with parameters used for prediction, where IS is the average
of the LC every 10 min and S is the slope of the current.

on the insulator surface [2]. So it is quite important to register the

LC frequency components during the salt-fog test. A sample of the
monitored fundamental component of LC of a SIR insulator is illustrated in Fig. 2. Because of the fast and random variations of LC, it
is better to show it by moving average technique [2]. Fig. 3 demonstrates the zoomed EAP of the LC, after applying the moving average
technique with a window size of 2 h. Is1 is the average value of the LC
in the rst 10 min, and S1 is the average of the increasing slope of the
LC during the same interval. Thirty pairs of data (ISi , Si ) are derived
from the monitored current during the rst 300 min. The objective
of the paper is to predict the level of the LC, If , at the end of EAP, Tf .
This time varies from one case to another. For example, Tf is approximately 500 min in the case shown in Fig. 3 and exceeds 80 h in some
other cases. Table 1 shows a sample of measured input and output
data of a 15 kV SIR insulator with creepage distance of 350 mm.
Distinct differences can be seen between the EAP and the transition period. One such difference is the rate of change of the LC with
respect to the time. The LC is expected to exhibit a very low rate
of change at the EAP compared to the other aging periods. This is
demonstrated in Fig. 4 where an abrupt change in the LC derivative
is noticed as the LC approaches the transition aging period. This
observation is consistent for all the tested cases. In this study, the
EAP is dened as the time at which the derivative of the LC, with
respect to time (di/dt), reaches a value higher than 0.01 mA/min.
Some typical values of di/dt, If and Tf are summarized in Table 2.

Table 2
Typical LC parameters of insulators at the end of EAP

If (mA)

Tf (min)

di/dt at t = Tf (mA/min)





Table 3
Specications of the tested silicone rubber insulators

Nominal voltage
(line to line, kV)

Creepage distance,

Number of





3. Experimental setup
Forty-eight distribution class SIR insulators from three different voltage ratings were tested in a salt-fog chamber to study the
LC. Details of the tested insulators are mentioned in Table 3 and a

Fig. 4. Derivation of the LC of Fig. 1, where a jump in di/dt determines the boundary
of EAP and transition period.

A.H. El-Hag et al. / Electric Power Systems Research 78 (2008) 16861692


rate was 1.5 L/min with the air pressure of 0.35 MPa and the water
conductivity was selected to be 0.25 S/m.
A 15 kVA single-phase distribution transformer (480 V/16 kV)
with leakage reactance of 4% was designated as the high voltage
source. The measurement instrumentation consisted of a National
Instruments TM PCI 6110E data acquisition card, three shunt 100 
resistors to measure the LC of three insulators and one resistor
divider (1000:1) to monitor the applied voltage.
4. Articial neural network and training methods
In a previous study conducted by the authors, a simple feedforward ANN with two hidden layers was selected to predict the
value of the fundamental component of LC after 10 h, knowing
the LC average values of the rst hour [12]. It has been shown
that the ANN scheme is capable of predicting the level of the LC
within 12% accuracy, compared with that of the actual measured
test results. The method was limited to predict the LC of only one
type of insulators. So, in this paper, the work has been extended to
include more insulators to improve the forecasting accuracy. After a
careful study and investigation, the Gaussian radial basis function
(GRBF) was selected for this application [1821]. In order to use
these networks, a modication has been done by using a new error
function and an improved gradient equation for weight modifying

Fig. 6. Schematic of the GRBF network used in the study.

connecting arcs, and the rst layer connections are not weighted.
Therefore, each hidden node receives each input value unaltered.
The output layer is one neuron. The idea of the GRBF network is that
any function can be approximated by an interpolation composed by
the sum of N Gaussian functions. The Gaussian function shown in
Fig. 6 is given by:

4.1. Gaussian radial basis function network

Of all the existing forecasting and prediction ANN methods,
GRBF have been employed because of its capability to generalize the
prediction for all cases [1419]. The GRBF has a simple topology and
is fast in learning. Theoretical and experimental analyses indicate
that GRBF can approximate any functions and identify nonlinear
systems [1821]. As depicted in Fig. 6, the GRBF network consists of
three ordered layers, i.e. input layer, hidden layer and output layer.
The input nodes of the GRBF network pass the input values to the

fj (xi ) = exp

1  (xi Cij )





where Cij and  ij are the center and variance of the Gaussian radial
basis function network, respectively. The use of the Gaussian function allows the local characteristics to facilitate the training and
improve the function generalization. The principle advantage of
the technique is that the network has only one hidden layer. The

Fig. 5. Schematic of the salt-fog chamber test.


A.H. El-Hag et al. / Electric Power Systems Research 78 (2008) 16861692

where J = (If Ifn )/2, If is the target (monitored data), and Ifn is the
network output. Each parameter has a proper learning rate, .
A developed error function is employed to increase the speed
of the convergence instead of the conventional error function, as


log(1 (Ifi Ifni )2 )



This logarithmic error function reduces the convergence time considerably, and also compels a given network to learn more complex
tasks, compared to the standard error function, without increasing
network size.
4.3. Random optimization training method
A random search technique is employed to train the GRBF. This
technique is guaranteed to converge to the global minimum error
value. Also, the technique has a higher rate of convergence than
that of the back propagation [20]. The idea of the algorithm is to
add a white noise sequence to the weights of the net, and compute
the network output. If the target output error is less than the last
error, the new weights are kept, until the desired error is obtained.
For training with random optimization and to uniformly cover the
data input space a technique consists of the arrangement of centers
in a regular trellis and to be computed as follows:

= exp

8 2


In Eq. (7), is the covering rate,  is the distance between two neighbor centers, and  is the variance of the GRBF. In order to increase
the reception of the output neurons, normalization is employed.
Fig. 7 exhibits the random optimization algorithm, employed for
this study. The rst value of the data array is omitted to improve the
prediction quality after each future prediction value, and to keep
the number of trained data constant.
Fig. 7. Flow chart of the random optimization training method, adjusting the

normalized network output is given by:

Ifn =


Wi fi (v)


f (v)
i=1 i


Two ANN training methods have been developed to predict the

fundamental component of the LC by employing the GRBF network: a modied back-propagation training technique and random
optimization method.
4.2. Back-propagation training method
The back-propagation training method adjusts the weights (Wi),
Gaussian centers (Cij), and variances ( ij ) using the following gradient descendant equations:
Wi = W



Cij = C



ij = C



5. Results and discussion of the results

The data of randomly selected 43 insulators are used for ANN
training and the 5 remaining insulators are utilized to test the networks both feed forward and GRBF. This process has been repeated
several times. Table 4 shows samples of the output data of the
trained network with the real LC values. It is evident from this
table that the GRBF demonstrates a better accuracy than the feedforward ANN. This was consistent with all the tested cases and
hence the GRBF is only considered for further analysis in this study.
In order to nd a proper training method, both the backpropagation and the random optimizing method were tested. To
systemically study the possibility of using the GRBF in the LC prediction, the trained data of each insulator type (A, B, and C) is used
to predict the LC of each group, one by one. Also, the mixed data for
all the insulators are used to predict the LC of mixed insulators as
well. In each group of insulators, one insulator was used as a test
Table 4
Samples of the predicted values of LC using feed-forward and GRBF networks


Measured If
(mA, RMS)

Predicted LC, feed

forward (mA, RMS)

Predicted LC GRBF
(mA, RMS)






A.H. El-Hag et al. / Electric Power Systems Research 78 (2008) 16861692


Fig. 8. Error functions of the random optimizing method and back-propagation

training method for 15 kV polymeric insulators using GRBF.

case and the rest as the training data. This process is repeated 10
times for each group of insulators, and the average of the results is
presented in Table 5. Except for one case (item 8), it is evident from
Table 5 that the error of the random optimizing training is much
less than the error of the back propagation. In the case of items 1,
5, and 9 of Table 5, for which f the network is trained and tested by
the same type of insulator data, the average error of prediction is
lower than using different types of insulators. For example, considering type-C insulator, if the same type of insulator is used both for
training and testing, the average error of prediction error is 3.5%.
However, the use of certain data of a specic insulator to predict the LC of other types resulted in errors as high as 33.1% with
the random optimizing method, and approximately 50% with backpropagation method. If the data of different insulator is mixed, such
Table 5
Prediction error for different combinations of data using GRBF with backpropagation and optimization methods



of runs

Error %, back

Error %, random







Fig. 9. Error functions of the random optimizing method and back-propagation

training method for two-shed insulators (type-C) data using GRBF.

Fig. 10. Sensitivity analysis of the output error versus number of input sets.

as item 10 of Table 5, the error decreases to 18.9% by using the

random optimization technique. Another interesting observation
is that when insulator type C is mixed with either type A or B the
prediction error is higher compared to mixing insulators type A
and B together as shown in Table 5. On the other hand, insulator C
has the lowest prediction error when it is used in both the training
and test data (item 9 in Table 5). This can be attributed to the fact
that insulator C has the largest number of insulators (22 samples)
and hence when mixed with other insulators as a test or training
samples and because each insulator type has its own aging performance in salt-fog, type C will have signicant effect on the accuracy
of other insulators. However, this relatively large number of samples of type C will have a positive impact when used to train and
test the same type. As a result, it is not recommended to use one
type of insulator to train the network and predict the LC of another
type of SIR insulator, as the prediction error is large. If a reasonably
accurate prediction is desired, for example an error below 10%, this
prediction technique can be employed only by using the same type
of insulator for training and prediction.
Figs. 8 and 9 present a comparison of the error function for the
two learning techniques for insulators type-A and type-C, respectively. Although the training time for the random optimizing is
longer compared with that of the back propagation, the training
error function of random optimizing is less than the error of the
back-propagation technique. Several simulations prove that the
number of iterations should be between 1200 and 1500 to acquire
the minimum training error. Evidently, the proposed GRBF neural
network is a reliable network and can be used to predict the LC of
the EAP of SIR insulators.
Finally, a series of simulations were conducted to study the sensitivity of the output with change in the number of input points.
Fig. 10 summarizes the result of simulation for the three different
insulators introduced in Table 3. The same type of insulator has
been used for training and prediction similar to items 1, 5 and 9
of Table 5. GRBF network and random optimization technique has
been employed in this sensitivity analysis. It is evident from Fig. 10
that to achieve an accuracy of less than 10%, around 25 sets of data
are needed for the training.
This technique can be used as a part of an on-line monitoring
system of overhead lines or substations to predict the level of the
LC of polymeric insulators in the EAP. A surface degradation alarm
can be used to prevent faults before serious surface damage occur.
Moreover, this method can be employed to complement the previous studies [2,16] to classify the magnitude of the fundamental
components of the LC and to recognize the surface degradation in


A.H. El-Hag et al. / Electric Power Systems Research 78 (2008) 16861692

salt-fog test to reduce the test timing. Although there is enough

information on the correlation between the LC and surface degradation in salt-fog tests, more studies on the correlation of the LC
magnitude and the degree of degradation should be conducted on
composite insulators of overhead lines during eld conditions.
6. Conclusions
The initial value of leakage current and the slope for the LC versus time curve at each 10 min during the rst 5 h of salt-fog test are
adopted as the input to two different ANNs to predict the nal value
of the LC of EAP. Simulations conrm that the error of prediction
of the feed-forward network is higher than that of the GRBF. Moreover, of the two learning methods used in this study, the random
optimizing method results in a lower error of prediction.
The proposed ANN scheme is capable of predicting the level of
the LC in the early stages of the LC development with a reasonable
accuracy. As a result, the developed network can be used as part of
a monitoring system to predict the magnitude of the LC at the EAP
of polymeric insulators installed at substations and overhead lines.
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