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21, rue d'Artois, F-75008 Paris

Session 2000



Belgian experience on initiatives to improve

the capability of existing overhead lines









Introduction - The benefit of technical audits

The concern in Belgium to improve or at least to

maintain in good condition the existing overhead
transmission lines has been expressed in various papers
published in recent years. This concern originates on the
one hand from the nature of the high voltage network,
very dense, strongly meshed and relatively old, and on
the other hand from the persisting difficulty to obtain
the permits to build new overhead transmission lines
needed to meet the increasing demand of electricity.
When specific old line components near the end of their
useful life and need a total or partial replacement, the
question arises whether it would be advisable to take the
opportunity to proceed to a more extensive intervention
on the line concerned, to avoid spreading the work in
time without any long-term vision.
In Belgium, the decisions on integrated interventions on
overhead transmission lines are taken only after a
complete technical audit [1].

Methodology and Process of a technical audit

Methodology of a technical audit

One could summarise the methodology of an audit or an

expert assessment of an old line by the sequence :
measure - understand - assess decide guarantee.
The first action corresponds to the measuring of the
degradation of the defective elements (see 2.2.).

* Avenue Ariane 5-7, B-1200 BRUSSELS (BELGIUM)

The analysis of the defect allows to understand the

deterioration mechanism: the internal cause
(corrosion, wear) usually depends on a local and/or
variable sources (wind, ice, humidity). The cause
may also be external (lightning, tree fall) (see 5).
The risk (defined in 3) assessment in relation to
the condition of the defective elements allows to
compare different intervention solutions.
The decision on actions to be taken can be based
only on quantifiable criteria (see 3).
The actions have to be accompanied by a
maintenance program appropriate to guarantee the
new capability of the line and its components (see

Degradations leading to high risks

The audit has to detect above all the degradations that

may lead to high risks such as :

the corrosion of the conductor core if it is of steel;

the corrosion of the conductors near the joints;
the broken strands inside the suspension clamps;
the loosening of the insulator rods and the security
clip wear;
the advanced wear or corrosion of the insulator
string attachments to the towers in the case of point
the abnormal deformations and generally all
advanced degradations which could not be normally
eliminated by replacement or repair.

In presence of aggravating circumstances certain risks

may also be very high :
the fusion of broken strands on conductors with a
small cross-section due to a lightning arc or fault
the poor surface condition of the insulators in the
presence of pollution;
the cross-arm ends of an old design (for instance :
attachments out of the axis resulting in cross-arm
the deformed or missing steel angles, in case of an
accidental loading that determines the angle;
the poor earthing in case of a fault.

Process of an audit

The auditing process can be outlined as follows [1] :

Collection of all design data, inspection and
modification reports.
Scheduling a general inspection visit by a
"reinforced" patrol detecting defects without
climbing the supports.
Identifying hot points by infrared thermography.
Scheduled outage, detailed examination of towers
and their line equipment; sampling, dismantling and
replacement of complete insulator strings, including
the attachments if possible; radio frequency
inspection of conductors on suspension strings.
Drawing up a first report including a description of
the line condition.
Supply of a second report with the comparison of the
action programs proposed to the utility to increase
the line capability.

Capability improvement

The capability of a line defined as the product of its

transit capacity and availability :
[capability] = [transit capacity] x [availability]
can be improved in different ways of which some are
described hereunder :
[transit capacity] = [current] x [voltage]
The electric current can be improved (uprating) either
by the operation of conductors at a higher temperature
or by using a conductor with a larger cross-section or a
higher electrical conductivity; the voltage level by
larger insulating distances and consequently by the
replacement of cross-arms and possibly the tower top.
[availability] = [reliability] x [maintainability]
The specific reliability of a tower or a foundation can be
improved (upgrading) by its structural strengthening;
the maintainability by safety equipment, training of line
erection personnel, etc.


General criterium for actions required

The strategy of actions to be taken is based on the

absolute criterium of minimising the net present value
of the sum of the following two costs:
the investment costs to improve the capability of the
system (including the operation and maintenance
the failure risks or the product of the failure
probability and the consequences in financial terms.
The proposed action costs must thus be at least
compensated by the reduction of the failure risks. This
general approach is examined more in detail by the
Working Group 13 "Management of existing overhead
lines" of the CIGRE Study Committee 22.
The practical approach applied in Belgium is described
If the risk is too low, there may be no action
necessary and the risk will be tolerated.
If the risk is too high, the overhead line will be put
out of service or the line dismantled.
However, if one wants to manage the risk, one of the
four following options with increasing investment costs
can be justified.
If the risk is identified and localised we can

elimitation of recurrent causes;

corrective maintenance at a local scale;
repair or possibly partial renovation (life
extension) of the elements of the line

If the risk is generalised but if the towers and

foundations are still in good condition, one can
consider a renovation of the conductors as well as of
the line equipment (refurbishment or extensive
renovation to restore the intended design working
life of the line component).
The transit capacity can be improved by installing
new conductors with a higher electrical conductivity,
providing the towers and foundations have a
strength (uprating
improvement of the transit capacity).
Generally, the installation of conductors with a
larger cross-section requires reinforcement of towers
and foundations (upgrading or improvement of the
structural reliability) to cope with the higher loads.

All integrated interventions on existing overhead

transmission lines must be consistent with the network
development plan.

Type of inspected




Type of network

In the 150 kV network the initial steel earth wire has

been modified and replaced by an earth wire with a
more substantial cross-section, generally an all
aluminium alloy conductor (AAAC), in order to
increase the short-circuit current withstand. This
modification led to replacing the earth wire peak, and
heightening it to compensate the greater sag of the new
earth wire.

The technical audits in Belgium are applied only to

overhead transmission lines built 40 years ago or more.
As the 380 kV network has been developed only since
the late 1960s, the Belgian overhead network, for which
a complete audit is generally required, is essentially that
with the 70 or 150 kV voltage levels.
This particular network dates mostly back to the years
1930-1940. So it is generally over 50 years old. All the
supports concerned are towers with a bolted, riveted or
welded steel lattice, not galvanised, but with regularly
painted angles.
As the 70 and 150 kV overhead transmission lines built
after 1960 have a more modern design, the results
obtained by technical audits performed on the on
average 50 year old lines cannot be extrapolated to the
more recent lines.

Particularities of the overhead network

Generally speaking, all drawings related to the old lines,

at least the plan views and the longitudinal profiles, are
rare and obsolete. If they exist they have not been
Moreover, as no detailed history of those lines is
available, it is difficult to know the exact situation and
condition of the whole of their constituent elements.
The conductors of the old 70 kV network have a small
cross-section, generally of copper; the earth wire is
made of bronze of a very small cross-section. One of the
particularities of this network is its evolution in time.
Initially designed for a lower voltage level (50 kV), it
was later adapted to 70 kV. Adaptations included the
lengthening of the cross-arms and in some cases the
transition from a double circuit to a single circuit.
The conductors of the old 150 kV network are mostly of
the aluminium conductor steel reinforced type (ACSR),
with a cross-section of about 200 mm. The initial earth
wire was of steel.
Like the 70 kV network, the 150 kV network evolved
via one or sometimes even two intermediate voltage
levels (70 and 110 kV). This situation has led to tower
top modifications, sometimes in many different ways.

Fig.1 Typical modifications on 150 and 70 kV lines


Synthesis of the audits carried out



In order to allow the verification of the regulatory

clearances of the line with regard to the obstacles
crossed, new plan views and longitudinal profiles have
been established.
Those drawings have been produced by means of aerial
photogrammetry, which considerably reduces the time
and costs compared to a survey from ground level [2].
They allow :
a more sound operation of the line concerned due to
the fact that all the obstacles will be very well
defined thanks to the aerial photographs taken at a
scale of 1/7000 and to the restitution of the profile
and the plan view on land registry maps;
to detect critical points : clearances to new buildings,
trees to prune and/or to cut down;
to examine the possibility of operating the line at a
higher temperature (increased from 40C to 60C
and even 75C as allowed by Belgian regulations).

General condition

The investigation of the general condition and the

internal corrosion in particular of the conductors is
based on the metallurgical analysis of conductor
samples taken either from the jumpers of the dead-end
strings or from the spans which recently needed repair.

It has been observed that the galvanised steel core of the

jumpers deteriorates faster than that of the conductors in
the span, which can be explained by a lower tightening
due to the lack of mechanical tension and consequently
by easier access of atmospheric pollutants to the steel
wires. Accordingly, the conductors may be expected to
be in good condition if the jumpers are.
In case of doubt about the condition of ACSR
conductors, an investigation with the Overhead Line
Corrosion Detector (OHLCD) can be carried out on the
spans most representative for the environment [1], [4].
By measuring the remaining thickness of the zinc layer
of the galvanised steel wires, one can detect indirectly,
by comparison with the method of Foucault currents,
the presence of important galvanic corrosion between
the steel core and the aluminium layers. This process is
initiated automatically if zinc is lacking, and is crucial
to the design working life of a the ACSR conductor.
The portion of the span affected by a definite rate of
degradation is registered.
As the absence of galvanisation inevitably leads to the
degradation in time of the conductor condition, its
remaining working life is no longer foreseeable.

The 70 kV network

Statistical analysis has shown that 70 % of the

conductor ruptures occur on old overhead transmission
lines equipped with copper or similar conductors of a
small cross-section, up to 50 mm.
Short-circuit currents or mechanical overloads (wind)
can cause a rupture if the conductor with a small crosssection has been previously damaged. This weak point
has mostly arisen from a direct electrical arc on the
conductor. Another possible cause of rupture is the
exaggerated heating of the conductor during shortcircuits in corroded places in the clamps or near the
The solutions recommended to remedy those defects
installation of arcing devices, if absent;
protection of the conductor in a clamp by an armorrod;
transition from an A insulator set to a single
suspension insulator set (to increase the insulating
distance to the conductor);
replacement of the existing conductors.
However, the low cross-section and the nature of the
conductors make it very expensive to replace them. For
instance, replacing them by all aluminium alloy
conductors (AAAC) with a larger cross-section can
make it necessary to reinforce the towers.

Therefore, the solution of replacement by conductors of

the same cross-section and the same nature is fully
acceptable providing that after some modifications the
line may operate at a higher temperature.
It should be borne in mind that although the lines were
designed initially for operation at 40C, it is feasible at
little cost to operate at 75C as authorised by the present
Belgian regulations. This is possible at very low cost
because the spans are generally very short (
200 m). The transition from 40C to 75C allows to
increase the transit capacity by a factor 2.6.

The 150 kV network

The ACSR conductors show generally a severe

galvanisation loss of the steel wires, leading to
extensive galvanic corrosion of the aluminium strands
and finally to a significant reduction in the ultimate
mechanical strength of the conductor.
In this case, the conductors are replaced by compact and
more aerodynamical conductors of the type AERO-Z
[3] with the same external diameter. This technique
avoids any extensive checking and/or reinforcement of
towers, while the transit capacity increases with 17 %.
As far as the earth wire is concerned, it has been
replaced twenty years ago. Its condition is quite
acceptable and does not need any intervention, apart
sometimes from readjusting the sag.

Insulator strings

The examinations of both 70 and 150 kV insulator

strings reveal extended wear of certain elements,
especially on U-bolts and on eyes providing the
attachment of suspension strings to towers.
Also, the line equipment is strongly corroded (arcing
ring, ball and socket joints, bolts, etc.).
As in the majority of cases the conductors have to be
replaced, it would be logical in the context of the
strength coordination to also replace the insulator
strings and modify them. For instance :
attachment of the strings to the tower cross-arms
with hinges in order to avoid point contact;
installation of a suspension clamp with a triple
articulation designed for conductors protected with
armor-rods, to decrease bending moments in the
installation of toughened glass insulators instead of



The towers have been painted regularly, so that their

condition with regard to angle steel corrosion is
Some profiles are bent, twisted or buckled and have to
be replaced. A few cases, relatively rare, present very
extensive corrosion needing the complete replacement
of angles; namely the concrete-stub interface area is
generally the most critical one.
As said previously, certain lines have undergone some
modifications during changes made to their voltage
level. Certain of theses adaptations were implemented
correctly and need only a few small interventions.
However, some were made in an incongruous way and
necessitated serious interventions or even full
replacement of the tower top as this option is the most
reliable and even the least expensive.


Therefore it is recommended to heighten the chimneys

concerned to avoid frequent and costly maintenance.
Other chimneys simply need clearing the covering soil
to the level corresponding to the surrounding terrain.
However, the advanced deteriorated condition of the
greater part of the top of the chimneys rising above the
soil necessitates their repair. This is the more
indispensable that their degradation is going to continue
due their exposure to weather conditions.

Practical experiences in increasing the line



Synthesis of uprating analysis

Taking into account the conclusions the audits generally

lead to, i.e. the replacement of conductors, and hence
significant investment costs, it may be advisable to
conduct additional evaluations to identify the difference
in cost for at the same time increasing substantially the
transit capacity of the line concerned (uprating).

The observed degradations on the old foundations are

essentially due to poor in-situ execution of the concrete:
incomplete mixing of the concrete, gravel pockets and
presence of cavities in the concrete due to insufficient
vibration during concrete placing, and due to low
cement dosage. This situation has led to an initial poor
mechanical resistance.

If the outside diameter of the new conductors is larger

than that of the existing conductors and that as a
consequence the loading on supports is increased, the
Belgian Regulations on Electrical Installations impose
to verify the structural strength of the supports,
including the foundations of the line concerned

On some foundations we can observe the erosion in

time of the sand and the fine granules in the concrete.
The cement that must bind them chemically has
gradually disappeared by the chemical attack of sulfates
and chlorides from the soil and/or the organic attack of
the possibly unwashed sands used in the concrete. In
certain circumstances the formation of expansive salts
and the alkali reactions cause expansion of the concrete
which may result in internal cracking and explosion. At
present, only appropriate cements are used so as to
avoid degradations that were not yet known at the time.

This check up has to be performed consistent with the

stipulations of the current regulations, i.e. a normal
maximum wind velocity of 126 km/h and an exceptional
maximum wind velocity of 178 km/h (double dynamic
pressure of the former).

One can also notice fortunately that the general

condition of the backfilled concrete is better than the
condition of the visible concrete. Probably the water in
the concrete evaporated quicker in the upper part
exposed to the air during the concrete curing, while the
lower backfilled part is situated in a more moist
environment less exposed to the weather. At present the
upper part of the foundations is always protected
(watering, curing compound) during the curing process.
The upper level of certain chimneys is often not enough
raised, and sometimes buried with regard to the soil. As
a result the stubs may get overgrown by vegetation,
which may cause a preliminary corrosion of the stubs
due to their being permanently exposed to humidity.

The second hypothesis is of course very severe for the

existing lines and particularly for the steel lattice towers
of the 70 kV lines.
However, we notice that the impact of the second
hypothesis on towers and foundations is somewhat
mitigated when using compact conductors of the
AERO-Z type [3] for which the corresponding
aerodynamical coefficient is reduced with a factor 0.83
for a diameter smaller than 27.65 mm and a factor 0.62
for a diameter between 28 and 30.65 mm.

The 70 kV network

The checks required by the regulations lead to

considerable reinforcements of supports and even more
so as the distances between the towers footings are
very small.
As a result the majority of supports necessitate doubling
of the main legs from the lower cross-arms to the level
of the foundations. In this case it seems more
economical to replace the existing towers by new towers
with a similar outline but using a higher steel quality.

Also, the foundations that are the monoblock type need

to be reinforced, be it to a lesser extent, providing the
monolithic character of the foundation can be
maintained. This assumes that the concrete does not
deteriorate, which may not always be the case.
In the hypothesis that the foundations present a good
quality, it is estimated that the cost difference,
characterised by a multiplication factor with regard to
the basic solution that is let us repeat the
replacement of the conductors by conductors of the
same outside diameter, is situated between:
2.3 and 3.2 in the case of tower reinforcement;
2.0 and 2.2 in the case of tower replacement.
If the foundations are of poor quality, thus implying
intervention on every foundation, these factors become
respectively 4.7 and 4.3.

The 150 kV network

For the 150 kV network the situation is generally

simpler and easier to manage.



A better knowledge of the actual capability or the real

capacity and availability of the overhead transmission
line obtained by on the one side the standard
methodology of a technical audit and on the other side
the historical data based on performance statistics and
inspection reports, allows us to take the appropriate
decisions to adapt their performance. The examples
supplied in the present report prove this assertion.
Acknowledgment :
We thank for their contribution the authors of the
different audit reports : J.L. Berlemont, B. Brijs, A.
Bruneau, E. Celens, B. De Waele, D. Franois, A. Gille,
Y. Le Roy, N. Michalakis, R. Sverzutti and E. Vilret.
[1] Delre X., Rogier J., Van Overmeere A. :
Inspection policy of existing overhead lines and
assessment methodology based on practical experience.
Report CIGRE 22-302; Paris, 1994.

This is essentially due to the fact that the towers have

another outline than that of the 70 kV lines, allowing
simpler reinforcements: either replacement of angles
using provisional angles, or doubling of angles, or
addition of a secondary bracing to reduce the
slenderness ratio of members that have to be
strengthened. Furthermore, the pad and chimney
foundations for each foot have a concrete of higher
quality and allow easier reinforcement.

[2] Rogier J., Goossens L., Mazoin M., Robberechts

W., De Clerck E., Jadot A. : Visualization of overhead
line project. Report CIGRE 22-209, Paris, 1996.

The problem generally encountered on foundations is

uplift stability.

[4] Rogier J., Goossens L., Lilien J.L., Wolfs M., Van
Overmeere A., Lugentz L. : Experience with occasional
and permanent measurements on Belgian overhead
lines. Report CIGRE 22-104, Paris, 1998.

From the point of view of costs, the difference with

respect to the basic solution (replacement of the existing
conductors by conductors of the same outside diameter)
is the following:
for an increasing of the transit capacity by 45 %, the
basic price is multiplied by a factor 1.45 to 1.7;
for an increasing of the transit capacity by 80 %, the
basic price has to be multiplied by a factor 1.65 to
Generally speaking, we can conclude that for the
150 kV network, the multiplication factor for the costs
is obviously equal to the multiplication factor of the
transit capacity of the line.

[3] Couneson P., Lamsoul J., Delplanque D., Capelle

T., Havaux M., Gury D., Delre X. : Improvement of
existing high voltage overhead lines performance by
using fully locked conductors and ground wires. Report
CIGRE 22-209, Paris, 1998.