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Dynamic Thermal Modeling of
MV/LV Prefabricated Substations
M. Z. Degefa, Member, IEEE, R. J. Millar, Member, IEEE, M. Lehtonen, Member, IEEE, and P. Hyvönen

Abstract—With the expansion and infilling of urban areas, the
demand for electric power is driving the design and capacity of
distribution substations to their thermal limits. Distribution transformer substations are increasingly required to be compact, reliable, safe, and intelligent. To efficiently utilize city space and to support the intermittent load flows imposed by smart-grid features,
such as distributed generation, the transformers are expected to
operate close to or occasionally over their ratings, with stalled or
little air circulation inside the safety enclosure. Dynamic thermal
models with physically validated convection and radiation heattransfer components are essential for the real-time thermal rating
of substations. Natural convection via the air inside the cabin to
the outside ambient air plays the major role in cooling down a
transformer. In this study a scale model of a prefabricated substation is examined to draft a numerical solution which is based
on stack ventilation principles. A clear and expandable first principle approach is used to quantify heat transfer through ventilation
openings. Measurements from actual cabins and 3-D finite element
method simulations are used to validate the numerical model.
Index Terms—Hot-spot temperature, indoor substation, natural
ventilation, online monitoring, prefabricated substation, thermal



HERMAL constraints under intermittent loading conditions are becoming more significant with the expansion
of distributed generation (DG) and demand-side management.
Knowing the true capacity of the grid in real time is essential,
especially if expensive network assets are to be used efficiently and safely. Exceeding the steady-state ratings of power
transformers may be necessary in open electricity markets for
economic reasons or simply to ensure a continuous energy
supply [1]. Besides, short-time peak overloads, without significantly decreasing their life expectancy, are very often requested
from distribution transformers installed in prefabricated substations [2]. The true capacity varies with the power system
dynamics as well as with varying environmental conditions.
Dynamic thermal ratings utilize these factors to optimize and
better manage the grid’s power transfer capacity in real time.

Manuscript received March 20, 2013; revised June 06, 2013; accepted July
25, 2013. Date of publication August 23, 2013; date of current version March
20, 2014. This work was supported by Aalto energy efficiency program through
the SAGA project. Paper no. TPWRD-00329-2013.
The authors are with the Department of Electrical Engineering, Aalto
University, Aalto FI-00076, Finland (e-mail:;;;
Color versions of one or more of the figures in this paper are available online
Digital Object Identifier 10.1109/TPWRD.2013.2276941

Hence, dynamic top-oil temperature models should be accurate
enough to be considered for application in online monitoring
and a real-time rating system for power transformers.
The thermal-electric analogy model of a prefabricated
MV/LV substation proposed in this paper works in conjunction
with the top-oil thermal model presented in [3]. In this transformer model, Susa considers the changes in the oil viscosity
and winding losses with temperature. Although some complex
constant parameters are necessary in Susa’s model, it has been
shown that it yields good results [4]. The proposed model in
this paper considers thermal resistance and thermal capacitance
of the immediate environment of the distribution transformer
to be dynamically dependent on the transformer loading and
ambient temperature. It also includes the effects of geometry
and the orientation of components on the natural convection
and thermal radiation heat transfers.
The two dominant components of heat transfer are from the
transformer cooling surfaces to the surrounding air and by naturally streaming air through the inlet and outlet ventilation holes.
However, heat transfer by natural ventilation cannot be established based on theoretical considerations only [5], which is why
a one-third scale model of an actual cabin, together with FEM
simulations, was used to establish a valid numerical model.
In this study, a working dynamic thermal model for prefabricated secondary substations is developed. The most dominant
but difficult to solve heat-transfer mechanism, natural convection, is modeled by introducing the stack effect principle into
the problem [6]. The contribution of this paper lies specifically
in the quantification of the ventilation thermal resistance representing the natural convection heat transfer. The proposed
lumped thermal ladder network not only models the installation
more accurately by closely following the inlet and outlet vent air
temperature, it is also ready to incorporate the effects of wind
and solar radiation.
In Section II, the theory of lumped parameter thermal
modeling is reviewed to pave the way for the subsequently
proposed model. Inclusion of the cabin environment with the
existing top-oil distribution transformer model is discussed
in Section III. The core theory of stack ventilation is then
explained in Section IV. After the proposed model is presented
in Section V, validations with measurements are discussed in
Section VI. Section VII summarizes the main findings of this
The thermal-electric analogy network is a widely used and
accepted way of modeling dynamic heat transfer from a heat

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size. such as the entry and exit grill shapes.: DYNAMIC THERMAL MODELING OF MV/LV PREFABRICATED SUBSTATIONS Fig. hence giving nonlinearity to the thermal resistance.. or diameter . connections. (1) . convection. to solve differential equations like (1). the IEEE guide for loading mineral-oil-immersed transformers [3]–[5]. is the Prandtle number. the general heat-transfer theories explained before are the basis of the modeling in this paper. and radiation). 1). obstructs the flow of heat . [2]. This approach is used in almost all of the literature. Generally. [7]. and zero reflectivity (4) is the surface emissivity and is the where Stefan–Boltzmann’s constant . 1.e. In some cases. Step 2) Evaluate the thermal resistances and thermal capacitances of each medium between the heat source and heat sink (Fig. such as the thermal resistance shown in Fig. such as the Euler and Runge Kutta methods. INCLUSION OF CABIN ENVIRONMENT A typical prefabricated substation (cabin) is comprised of an MV/LV transformer. 1. source to the heat sink. Natural convection plays the dominant role in the heat transfer. LV panel and MV switchboard. is the Grashof number. and position. is the fluid density . 2). RC thermal circuit. and is mainly influenced by factors. is the specific heat of the fluid . most transformer top-oil or hot-spot thermal models go through the following steps: Step 1) Identify all heat-transfer components (i. This means that the emissivity and absorptivity are equal to 1. and are empirical constants. length. conduction. Step 3) Produce a simplified RC network and relevant firstorder linear differential equation to solve the temperature at the required point. The coefficient may include convection and radiation when the medium is air.DEGEFA et al. might depend on temperature. these elements must be nonlinear. going to other boundwhere aries. Ventilation openings are also arranged to prevent any undesired condensation on electrical equipment and inner wall surfaces. III. is the fluid thermal conductivity . [8]. Hot-spot temperatures considerably higher than 98 C can be carried for . is the dynamic fluid viscosity . is the fluid temperature gradient . is the characteristic dimension. where the distributed parameters can be lumped to a suitable combination of thermal capacitances and resistances. analogous to electric The thermal resistance resistance. The heat-transfer coefficient in (2) depends on the physical parameters of the medium which. and is the convection heat-transfer coefficient . The presence of thermal resistances and capacitances in the network requires iterative numerical methods. is an ambient view factor whose value is equal to the fraction of the field of view that is not covered by other boundaries. which itself is analogous to electric current in electric circuits (2) is the heat-transfer coefficient where and is the area . Many heat-transfer problems can be reduced to an equivalent RC circuit. The radiative heat transfer from a hot surface in air could be surface_to_ambient and/or surface_to_surface radiation. in turn. is the gravitational constant . width. is the fluid thermal expansion coefficient . where the radiation heat-transfer coefficient is calculated as either: a) Surface_To_Ambient: The ambient surrounding behaves as a blackbody. and is the assumed far-away temperature in the directions included in The total heat-transfer coefficient for a heat source body in a fluid medium is given by (6) Although various combinations of empirical correlations and modified solution mechanisms could be implemented. The grills should be designed in such a way as to reduce the slowing down of air circulation within the substation or loss of air pressure differential [9]. there is only a slight possibility of exceeding the nominal rating of such transformers. for example. Short-term peak loads can be handled by distribution transformers inside kiosk substations for economic reasons without significantly decreasing their life expectancy [1]. b) Surface_To_Surface (from both ambient and surrounding surfaces) (5) is the mutual irradiation. and auxiliary equipment in an enclosure to supply the LV energy from the MV system [2] (see Fig. For convection [9] (3) 787 where is the Nusselt number. Due to the thermal limits imposed by the enclosure.

an algorithm for calculating the hot-spot temperature should be dynamic and represent the dominant heat-transfer components accurately. and door) are considered. is the power transferred by natural ventilation (W). to transformers already installed in the substations. the grill types and. However. in turn. which deliver the input values for the model. This would seem quite far from the geometry and nature of prefabricated distribution transformer cabins. 2) natural convection by air flow through the inlet and outlet ventilation holes [5]. The stack effect approach aids in better understanding the natural convection heat transfer inside the cabin which. The criteria are: 1) the model should be as independent as possible from the prefabricated substation. that is. However. or water. Besides. which defines the size of the ventilation holes for certain heat power to be removed by natural convection [5]. however. Transformer cabin ventilation openings are covered with grills to avoid direct access to animals. include the overall thermal environment including. 29. We assume that the criteria to be fulfilled by transformer thermal models integrated in an online monitoring system. The thermal resistance by definition will be (8) The problem with these approaches is the unclear usage of hydraulic resistance. 2. Hydraulic resistance is an analogous term in fluid flow to the electrical resistance in electrical circuits. which is then compared with FEM simulations and actual measurements to quantify a more reliable thermal resistance for natural convection. which means fewer design-dependent variables should have to be adapted. The stack effect approach will be discussed in Section IV. To investigate and solve the aforementioned two shortcomings of previous models. their approach requires various empirical values in addition to the already complicated nature of natural convection heat transfer. requiring a closer look at the orientation of the transformer with respect to the ventilation openings. is the length of pipe (in where meters). they neglect the effect of solar radiation and external wind. such as [1]. . VOL. In addition. 2. we conducted a series of experiments on a transformer scale model. outlet ventilation holes (m ). The thermal models for indoor transformer stations in [5] and [11] claim good agreement with measurements. NO. The aforementioned studies agree that the most significant and. The 3-D FEM simulations show the presence of local air circulations at the outlet vent openings in addition to the major air flow from the downside inlet vent to the top-level outlet vents (see Fig. 3) it must be possible to retrofit the sensors. The hydraulic resistance in (9) is taken from the Hagen–Poiseuille equation [12] (9) Fig. consequently. is the dynamic viscosity . These approaches lack two important aspects—the first is the assumption of laminar isothermal air flow through the inlet as well as the outlet vents and the second is the neglection of the effect of grill types. assumes laminar flow of fluid through a pipe of constant circular cross-section that is substantially longer than its diameter. is the volumetric flow rate (m /s). APRIL 2014 the lower edge of the ventilation-outlet hole. However. where appropriate. Also. is the hydraulic resistance of the air circulation. [10] and [11]. if this is offset by extended operation below 98 C. walls. 2) the model should be sufficiently accurate. is the distance from the middle high point of the transformer to is the pressure drop (Pa). the air movement at the side-vent openings and transformer front-side openings are significantly different. short periods of time without decreasing normal life expectancy. and is the radius (in meters). the vent openings’ size and shape vary from one substation to another. These studies mainly use the Hoppner formula. the cabin. The Hagen–Poiseuille equation. at the same time. which is also influenced by external wind. difficult-to-represent parameter is the thermal resistance of the ventilation openings. This significantly affects the natural heat convection. The thermal-electrical analogy-based model in [11] considers the thermal resistance and thermal capacitance of the top oil to be dynamic and dependent on the temperature variation. More important. [11] (7) where is the surface of the input. There are nonlinear thermal models developed for MV/LV prefabricated substations [5]. Prefabricated distribution transformer cabin layout. moisture. and is the temperature rise of the outlet air at the outlet ventilation holes with respect to the air at the inlet ventilation holes.788 IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON POWER DELIVERY. We believe the natural ventilation driven through ventilation holes is due to the stack effect. the thermal resistance and thermal capacitances of the cabinet air ventilation and of different parts of the cabinet (ceiling. 3) [13]. Natural convection is a complex thermodynamic phenomenon involving laminar and turbulent air flows. and for safety reasons. leads to greener design of the cabins themselves. it leads to a more accurate hot-spot temperature estimation of such installations. The two most important heat-transfer components are: 1) natural convection and thermal radiation from the transformer surfaces to the surrounding inside cabin air.

[14] is extended to include the cabin environment while implementing the proposed model. 5). (c) Transformer cabin ventilation air flow with temperature ( C) (slice) and air velocity (arrow) [13]. which is important for cabin manufacturers. without the need to introduce forced ventilation. This phenomena is called the stack effect and continues Fig. is a discharge coefficient. . (b) Transformer cabin cross section along the length showing airflows and velocity. STACK EFFECT Inside a cabin. 4). The top-oil and hot-spot temperature formulation ready for the implementation of the third-order Runge–Kutta method as well as for forward Euler approximation is (10) In Susa’s model. 4. Susa’s model considers the changes of oil viscosity and winding losses with temperature. where dimensions are scaled by one-third from a typical MV/LV transformer substation. Potential for flow due to pressure variation with height. is the temperature of indoor air (in Kelvin).: DYNAMIC THERMAL MODELING OF MV/LV PREFABRICATED SUBSTATIONS 789 Fig. the relationship between ventilation grill types and transformer maximum rating is explained. 3. FEM simulation for the transformer cabin scale model for 150-W heat supply from 14 ceramic resistors with a connected resistance of 31 . Transformer scale model. to act as long as the inside air is hotter than the ambient environment. for instance. is the free area of inlet opening (m ). The top-oil thermal model presented by Susa et al. a sustained circulation of air will occur. computational fluid dynamics (CFD) techniques applied to partially ventilated cable troughs have shown an increase in the continuous rating of up to 31% [15]. in [3]. (m/s ) is acceleration due to gravity. With the developed pressure difference and the presence of inlet and outlet openings at the bottom and top areas of the cabin. The air streaming out of the outlet is quantified by the volumetric flow rate and is given in (11) [6] (11) where is the ventilation rate (m /s). the hot air will rise to the roof. is the vertical distance between inlet and outlet midpoints (in meters). which is equal to the area of the outlet opening. (a) Geometry of the scaled cabin model (see Fig. IV. results of the heat-run test of the transformer conducted during commissioning are among the input parameters. (a) The aluminum cabin and (b) the model transformer filled with mineral oil. after the air is heated at the surface of the transformer by natural convection. Besides. In this study. Fig.DEGEFA et al. respectively. besides the nameplate-rating information. and is the temperature of outdoor air (in Kelvin). 5. The accumulation of hot air at the top creates positive pressure while the abandoned floor area of the cabin experiences negative pressure (see Fig. we propose a more reliable and accurate thermal model of indoor MV/LV transformer substations to be used for dynamic thermal rating on a real-time basis. This form of natural ventilation is so effective that.

Besides. The model transformer has steel walls and wall-attached ventilating fins. is the oil thermal expansion coefficient (1/K). 6. The heat transfer from the transformer surface to the nonventilated cabin wall side. reveal that the hot air leaves the cabin at the very top of the upper windows. The first measurement was conducted by loading the resistors with 150 W and measuring the incoming and outgoing air temperature. The thermal resistances and are computed based on the natural convection Nusselt numbers for vertical and horizontal planes facing either upwards or downwards and either inside or outside. is the oil viscosity . The thermal network shown in Fig. capacity air—1. further increasing the size of the ventilation opening does not have an impact on the heat transfer. 4 supports the fact that the hot air requires only a small area at the very top of the outlet opening to stream out. APRIL 2014 The heat loss due to the ventilating moving air is given [6] (12) is the specific heat where is the heat loss (in kilowatts). indicating that the remaining openings are less relevant. width. 5). which is elaborated in the top-oil thermal model of the ONAN transformer in [3]. ranging from 0 to 0. is the specific heat of oil (J/kg K). The thermal ladder network is implemented with an extended Matlab Simulink tool called . The network considers that the surface-to-surface radiation between the Fig. Equation (11) consists of a discharge coefficient which directly incorporates the effect of the grill type and a covering panel just behind the vent openings. (a) Right-side ventilation openings. and is the density of air—1. 29. 3 and an analytical heat-loss calculation of the parallel-connected resistive loads. 6. (b) Frontside ventilation openings (see Fig. length. The coefficient. The placement of the thermocouples was guided by results from a 3-D FEM simulation shown in Fig. and was filled with mineral oil.65. (14) where is the characteristic dimension. therefore. is the oil thermal conductivity (W/mK). The measurements. which is based on (11) and (12) (13) The temperature dependence of the air density and air viscosity could easily be incorporated in (11) to accurately account for the pressure-driven ventilation and air humidity effects. VOL. The discharge coefficient is a value describing the aerodynamic channeling of the airflow on discharge. This observation supports the logic behind the stack effect. It represents the ratio between the actual air flows compared with the theoretical airflow. 2. depends on surface-to-surface radiation and convection at the inside cabin wall surface. Thermocouples were placed at different locations in the cabin. we closely studied a scaled down model of the cabins as well as a 3-D FEM simulation. shown in Fig. V. as shown in the Appendix. is the oil density (kg/m ). The heating load was supplied with 14 ceramic-walled hollow resistive rods with a connected resistance of about 31 (see Fig.790 IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON POWER DELIVERY. can easily be attained experimentally and is given in the manufacturer’s specification of the specific grill or louver. The thermal resistance associated with ventilation openings will be as shown in (13). The thermal resistance for the heat transfer from oil to air is given in (14). SCALED MODEL OF THE PREFABRICATED CABIN Before crafting the overall thermal circuit. including on the surfaces of the resistive rods and inside the model transformer top oil.2 (kg/m ). as explained before. and is the oil temperature gradient. The thermal resistance is given in (13). 7 is our proposal.005 (kJ/kg C). 5). It is primarily the height of the placement of the outlet opening with respect to the inlet opening that will affect the top-oil temperature of the distribution transformer. the simulations show locally circulating air at the nonventilated walls of the cabin. NO. Air temperature at different levels of the scaled down cabin model loaded with a 150-W heat supply. The FEM simulation in Fig. is the gravitational constant (m/s ). or diameter (in meters). The empirical values for and are given in Table III. The measurements also show that after a certain limit of opening area. distribution transformer surface and the inner cabin wall surface is negligible.

Simscape. The requirement for safety and compactness forces the ventilation inlet and outlet openings to be single sided. as can be seen in Fig. This increment is due to the cabin environment.525 2) m. etc. Temperature differences and wind pressure differences are the driving forces in natural ventilation. which makes temperature differences the dominant driving force for natural ventilation. finally. which is capable of authoring physical modeling components [16]. wind-driven ventilation on prefabricated substations should be studied. However. 7. TABLE I RAYLEIGH AND NUSSELT NUMBERS FOR HORIZONTAL PLATES [9] TABLE II RAYLEIGH AND NUSSELT NUMBERS FOR VERTICAL PLATES [9] ural convection driven by temperature differences. we decreased the total full-load losses from 11600 to 9185 W on the 5th h and to 8500 W after 1 h.DEGEFA et al. Stack ventila- . meaning on the same wall. CONCLUSION A first principles approach is used to model the thermal environment of prefabricated distribution substations. VII. The proposed model estimated the top-oil temperature and temperature of hot air streaming out of the top ventilation openings very closely. During the test. 9. MEASUREMENT RESULTS AND DISCUSSION The output of the proposed thermal ladder network is compared with measurements from a 1000-kVA ONAN distribution transformer installed inside a prefabricated cabin of dimension (2. Overall thermal ladder network for the cabin installation. (a) The detailed network consisting of the major thermal resistances and capacitance. Natural convection through the stack effect closely represents the ventilation scenario of the prefabricated distribution transformer cabins.: DYNAMIC THERMAL MODELING OF MV/LV PREFABRICATED SUBSTATIONS 791 Fig. while enabling real-time dynamism for viscosity. The Simscape physical modeling enables the modeling of physical property components by the users. Step response of outgoing air temperature through the outlet ventilation of a prefabricated distribution transformer cabin supplied with 3200 W followed by 4780 W. Fig.5 1. air pressure. the transformer reached the critical temperature after 5 h. which causes the distribution transformer to perform below its rated current. density. The Dormand–Prince-based method solver ODE45 in Matlab is used to solve the step response for the ladder network shown in Fig. there are safety requirements to not allow openings that permit a direct view of the transformer from the outside.5 A for our transformer). as shown in Figs. we explained nat- Fig. In addition. VI. (b) The simplified network. For the 1000-kVA distribution transformer inside the prefabricated cabin to stay under the upper thermal limit. Top-oil and transformer room air temperature comparisons for a fully loaded 1000-kVA distribution transformer inside the cabin. In this thermal model. 8 and 9. it had to be loaded significantly less than when installed in free air. 45 min and. especially for those cabins with a cross-ventilation setup and significant openings in the direction of wind flow. 8. 9. During the transformer full load test (28. 10 [17]. to 7500 W after 2 h.

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he is a Senior Researcher at the High Voltage Laboratory. He received the B. he has been a Visiting Professor in the Department of Electrical Power Engineering. He received the M. (Tech) degrees in electrical engineering from the Helsinki University of Technology. Tampere. in 1984 and 1989. where he has been since 2000 and Head of the High Voltage Laboratory since 2008. Mekelle. He received the B. Auckland. in 2002 and 2006. Z. His main activities include earth fault problems. degree in electronics and electrical engineering (Hons. Helsinki University of Technology. in 1984. Tallinn.S. he is a Researcher and Lecturer with Aalto University . Hyvönen was born in 1969.DEGEFA et al. Tallinn University of Technology.Sc. in 1997 and the Licentiate and D. Finland. His main research interests are distribution network planning and underground cable rating. in 1992.Sc. Espoo. degrees from Helsinki University of Technology. and the M. Finland. in 2003 and 2008. in 2007 and the M. Espoo. and the D. Tampere.Tech. respectively. where he is a Professor of IT applications in power systems. Finland. Aalto. he has been with the Department of Electrical Engineering. degree from the Tampere University of Technology. dynamic thermal rating. 793 M. Since 2012. he has been with VTT Energy. . degree in electrical engineering from Mekelle University. and harmonic-related issues and applications of information technology in distribution automation and distribution energy management.) from Aalto University. Millar (M’12) was born in 1963. and Licentiate degrees in electrical engineering from Aalto University (formerly Helsinki University of Technology). Espoo. Finland. degree in power systems and high voltage engineering. New Zealand. respectively. Aalto University.Sc. which is now part of Helsinki University of Technology. Currently.D.Eng. respectively.Sc. Espoo. His research interests include modern condition monitoring techniques of high-voltage insulation. His main research interests are power system state estimation. degree in electrical engineering from Tampere University of Technology. in 2010. Ethiopia. R.: DYNAMIC THERMAL MODELING OF MV/LV PREFABRICATED SUBSTATIONS M. Lehtonen (M’11) received the M. where he is currently pursuing the Ph. Finland. and D. and the testing of high-voltage (HV) apparatuses and HV measuring techniques. Estonia. and load modeling. Currently. degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Auckland. P. Since 1987.S. and since 1999. Degefa (M’09) was born in 1984. J.Sc. Finland.