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University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

School of Information and Electrical Engineering

ELEN 7009 Insulation Coordination

Course Project
Types of Switching Surges Found in MV Motors
Fed via Cables and Switched by Vacuum Circuit


Lekhema Gerard Ratoka

Student Number

: 0307495 R

Date submitted: 30th March 2015

Attention for: Dr JM Van Coller

Switching of medium voltage (MV) motor with vacuum circuit breaker (VCB) can result
in significant overvoltage surges which can pose a threat to insulation integrity of the
motor windings. The generation and severity of the switching surges is governed by the
type of operation and the characteristics of the entire motor circuit. In this document, the
characteristics of the VCB attributable to the switching surges are first discussed. This is
followed by investigation into the scenarios which result in switching overvoltages
during the operation of the VCB. Phenomena such as current chopping, multiple reignitions and virtual current chopping which occur during switching operations are also
discussed. Furthermore, the effects of overvoltage stresses on the motor windings are
deliberated. The last part of the document discusses strategies which are used to minimize
or eliminate switching surges in MV motor applications switched by VCB.

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Abstract .......................................................................................................................... i
TABLE OF CONTENTS .............................................................................................. ii
Abbreviations ............................................................................................................... iii
1. Introduction ............................................................................................................... 1
2. Features of Vacuum Circuit Breaker ........................................................................ 2
3. Overvoltages due to Closing of Vacuum Circuit Breaker ........................................ 3
3.1 First-pole-to-close Pre-ignition Transients ............................................................. 3
3.2 Subsequent-poles-to-close Pre-ignition Transients................................................. 5
4. Overvoltages due to Opening of Vacuum Circuit Breaker ....................................... 5
4.1 Current Chopping Characteristic ............................................................................ 6
4.2 Multiple Re-ignition and Virtual Current Chopping Characteristics ...................... 7
5. Overvoltage Stresses in Medium Voltage Motor...................................................... 9
6. Protection of MV Motor against Switching Overvoltages ..................................... 10
6.1 Solutions which Limit Surge Voltage Magnitude ................................................ 10
6.2 Solutions which Limit Surge Voltage Rate-of-Rise ............................................. 11
6.3 General Mitigation Solutions ................................................................................ 12
7. Conclusion .............................................................................................................. 12
8. Recommendations ................................................................................................... 13
9. References ............................................................................................................... 14

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Basic insulation level

High frequency
Maximum continuous operating voltage
Metal oxide varistor
Medium voltage
Per unit
Silicon carbide
Vacuum circuit breaker
Zinc oxide

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1. Introduction
Vacuum circuit breaker (VCB) exhibits better performance in switching medium voltage1
(MV) electrical motors as compared to other types of breakers (such as oil, air or SF6
breakers). Some of the advantages of the VCB include higher number of switching
operations, compact size, economical vacuum bottles which are easy to replace and
minimal maintenance requirements [1]. The main drawback of the VCB is the generation
of large transient overvoltage when switching on inductive loads such as MV motors.
Various studies as highlighted in [2] have been carried out to understand the root-cause of
the switching overvoltages in VCB applications and it has been determined that the
vacuum as the arc quenching medium is the main contributing factor.
The vacuum has a high dielectric strength which results in the current being cut very
quickly before zero crossing during the VCB opening operation. This characteristic of
VCB is termed current chopping and on occurrence generates a very high transient
recovering voltage (TRV) between the contacts of the VCB. The TRV if higher than the
momentary dielectric strength of the VCB contacts causes an arc re-ignition which on
extinction causes a higher TRV to appear across the VCB contacts. This process is
termed voltage escalation and it continues up until the final successful extinction of the
arc which is at the point where the generated TRV is lower than the momentary dielectric
strength of the VCB contacts. The re-ignition process is also accompanied by high
frequency voltage and current oscillations which contribute to the accumulation of higher
TRV and the further multiple arc re-ignitions.
The transient overvoltages accompanied by high frequency oscillations also occur during
the closing operation of VCB as a result of arc pre-ignition occurrence. It should however
be noted the arc pre-ignition occurrence is also prevalent in all other types of circuit
breaker. The magnitude of the overvoltage as a result of the pre-ignition and re-ignition
occurrences is dependent on the installation conditions such as voltage level, motor
power, length and type of feed cables, cable screen earthing and the type of application
[3]. These overvoltages can sometimes reach the motors basic insulation level (BIL) and
hence damage the insulation of the motor windings. It is therefore imperative that
appropriate overvoltage mitigation strategies are implemented in applications where the
VCB is used to switch the MV motors.
The main objective of the research project is to investigate the issue of switching surges
in MV motors applications switched by VCB and determine the overvoltage mitigation
strategies used to protect the MV motors. To achieve the objective, the following process
is followed:

The characteristic features of the VCB attributable to switching surges are first

The overvoltages generated during the closing and the opening of the VCB in MV
motor applications are subsequently examined.

Medium voltage is voltages from 1 kV to 69 kV as defined in IEEE std 141 [18]

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Effects of overvoltage stresses on MV motors are also explored.

The overvoltage mitigation strategies are then determined.

The above-mentioned steps will be discussed in this report. Emphasis will be made on the
effectiveness of the overvoltage protection strategies.
2. Features of Vacuum Circuit Breaker
The three main features which govern the characteristics of the vacuum circuit breaker
(VCB) are determined as [4]:

Current chopping level value

Cold gap breakdown voltage

High frequency (HF) current extinction capability

The current chopping value of the VCB is dependent on the type of vacuum contacts
material and the load surge impedance. The vacuum contacts of modern VCB are
normally constructed with copper, chromium, or tungsten alloys to provide a low
melting point and allow arc continuation until nearly zero crossing. This feature
contributes to the reduction of chopping value. The value of chopping current is
statistically distributed and is represented by a normal distribution with 15% standard
deviation [5]. The cold gap breakdown voltage is dependent on the dielectric strength of
the vacuum, contacts material and is also a function of the distance between the breaker
contacts. The capability of the VCB to quench HF currents is governed by the vacuum
and contacts dielectric strength as well as the time duration after which the contacts were
separated. The gradient of the HF re-ignited current at zero crossing determines whether
the VCB will be able to quench the arc or not. The gradient is given by equation 1 below

    +  (1)

Where i and t are current and time variables respectively

topen is the time duration after contacts separation
A is the rate of rise of VCB HF quenching capability
B is the VCB quenching capability just before contact separation
The limit between the interruption and continuation of HF currents in the VCB is
expressed as critical di/dt value. The VCB will not be able to quench current arcs with the
HF di/dt values above the critical limit.

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The values of critical di/dt of the VCB normally range between 100 A/s and 600 A/s
[6]. This range gives the VCB better capability of interrupting HF currents.
3. Overvoltages due to Closing of Vacuum Circuit Breaker
The pre-ignition transients during breaker closing operation occur in all types of circuit
breakers regardless of the arc quenching medium used. In this section the VCB preignition transients during breaker closing operation in the three phase MV motor
applications are examined. Figure 1[***********]shows the single line diagram of the 3
phase MV motor which is connected to the supply busbar via VCB and a power cable.
The VCB typically exhibits a 0.3ms statistically determined delay between the closing
and opening of the three phases [3]. In this section the pre-ignition overvoltages for the
first-pole-to-close and the subsequent-poles-to close are examined.

Power Cables


Electric Motor

Other loads

Figure 1: General illustration of the MV motor connection to the busbar via VCB
3.1 First-pole-to-close Pre-ignition Transients
It was mentioned in section 2 that the dielectric strength of the VCB is dependent on the
contacts gap length. During the closing operation, the dielectric strength of the first-poleto-close contacts decreases with the decreasing gap length and the pre-ignition arc
eventually occurs when the gap withstand voltage falls below the voltage level cross the
contacts. The pre-ignition arc current results in the collapse of voltage across the breaker
pole contacts and this injects a very steep-fronted voltage wave into the power cable
network which travels towards the motor. The current which flows in the arc may be
extinct by the VCB and if this happens, the dielectric strength across the gap recovers.
The subsequent pre-ignition arc will then occur again as the gap gets much smaller and
this process repeats itself until the galvanic contact is established. The multiple preignition situations take place in a very short period of time (typically in less than 10
nanoseconds [7]).

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The travelling pre-ignition voltage wave has a magnitude which is dependent on the
source surge impedance (ZS). The source surge impedance is the Thevenin equivalent
impedance of the network as observed from the VCB in the direction of the motor and is
determined by equation 2.


Where ZC is the surge impedance of all the load power cables

n is the number of power cables connected to the VCB busbar
The magnitude of the travelling pre-ignition voltage wave (Vti) is then determined by
equation 3 [8]. It can be observed from equation 3 that as the number of cables with surge
impedance ZC are increased, the pre-ignition voltage Vti magnitude value will approach
the system phase-to-neutral voltage Vt.


 = !

"  (3)

Where Vt is the busbar phase-to-neutral voltage

The voltage Vm appearing at the motor terminals as a result of Vti is given by equation 4
$ = 

 + $ 

Where Zm is the surge impedance of the motor

The motor has relatively higher impedance as compared to the power cable. This
impedance mismatch between the power cable and motor will result in voltage reflection
and a higher voltage value of Vm (as compared to the voltage Vti) will be generated and
travel back to the VCB. The typical power cable and motor surge impedances are in the
range of 20-50 and 100-5000 respectively. These values clearly show that the voltage
Vm at the motor terminals will be approximately double the voltage Vti as given in
equation 5[7]. The impedance mismatches therefore result in high frequency oscillations
at both the VCB and the motor end due to back and forth propagation of the travelling
waves. The travelling wave reflections will eventually be attenuated by the losses in the
motor circuit. At the VCB, the reflected travelling waves can cause arc extinction and
multiple re-ignitions. At the motor end, the reflected wave can cause winding stresses due
to higher wave magnitude and higher rate of voltage rise. Figure 2 shows an illustration
of the voltage wave reflections at the motor end.
$ 2 (5)

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Figure 2: Illustration of the voltage reflections at the motor end in p.u. quantities
3.2 Subsequent-poles-to-close Pre-ignition Transients
As explained in section 3.1, the first-pole-to-close traveling voltage wave approximately
doubles at the phase 1 of the motor terminals and results in oscillations due to voltage
reflections. This causes the phase 2 and phase 3 of the motor windings to also oscillate at
approximately voltage magnitude of 2Vti depending on the motor windings and power
cable loses [7]. If the second or third pole also closes with pre-ignitions, then the
travelling wave of approximately 2.5 Vti will be injected into the power cable. The
travelling wave will be doubled on reflection at motor terminals with a maximum
magnitude of 5Vti appearing across the phase 2 or 3 terminals of the motor [7]. It has
however been experimentally established in [9] that the overvoltages at the MV motor
terminal can statistically reach a maximum of 2.82 per unit (p.u.) on the second or third
pole closing operation. It is further confirmed in [10] that the highest surge voltage has
been recorded during the third pole closing occurrence.
4. Overvoltages due to Opening of Vacuum Circuit Breaker
The interruption of MV motor current by VCB exhibits large transient voltages, multiple
re-ignitions and high frequency (HF) current oscillations. It should however be noted that
large voltage transients occur when interrupting the high starting currents of the MV
motor or in applications requiring frequent start-stops of the motor. The MV motor draws
high inrush currents (typically 4 6 p.u.) during startup. When interrupting currents of
the motor already running at rated speed, the back EMF of the motor will limit the
transient recovery voltage across the vacuum contacts and thus limit or eliminate the arc
re-ignition possibility. During the VCB opening process, the overvoltage escalation
phenomenon is governed by current chopping, multiple re-ignitions and virtual current
chopping characteristics. These characteristics are discussed further in this section.

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4.1 Current Chopping Characteristic

Figure 3 shows the simplified equivalent circuit of the motor and cable during the breaker
opening operation. The inductance Lm represents the inductance of the motor and the
capacitance Cm represents the combined capacitance of the power cable and the stray
capacitance between the windings of the motor. The cable inductance is very small and
can be ignored. The damping resistance of the circuit is also ignored in figure 3. As
previously discussed in section 2, the VCB interrupts the motor load current before the
natural zero crossing (current chopping) of the 50 HZ current.

Figure 3: The illustration of equivalent motor and cable circuit during breaker opening
The current chopping value of modern VCB is normally in the range of 3 8 A [5]. The
abrupt current interruption leaves the remnant electromagnetic energy in the motor and
cable of the disconnected circuit which is proportional to the chopped current value (ich).
The remnant energy is given equation 6 [11].
($ $
= *$ $) (6)

Where im and Vm are the motor current and voltage respectively

Therefore during the current chopping instance, the voltage with maximum of amplitude
Vmax and oscillation frequency fo is generated as determined by equation 7. The typical
value of fo is normally in the range of 1KHz 10KHz [8].The initial voltage and current
conditions for the motor and cable circuit are ignored in equation 7 for simplification
reasons. In order to obtain accurate results when modeling the circuit, the initial voltage
and current values prior to breaker opening should also be taken into consideration [12].
$,- = .

/0 ; 2 =
234($ *$

Where ich is the current chopping value

Figure 4 shows the graphical representation of the transient overvoltages occurring
during the current chopping occurrence.

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Figure 4: Graphical illustration of transient overvoltages during current chopping [11]

4.2 Multiple Re-ignition and Virtual Current Chopping Characteristics
The current chopping characteristic generates the oscillating voltage and current wave
forms as explained in section 4.1. The transient recovery voltage (TRV) is the voltage
difference between Vmax and busbar voltage which appears across the contacts of the
VCB. If TRV is greater than the withstand voltage of the VCB, then the re-ignition will
occur across the gap contacts. The simplified equivalent circuit representing the reignition arc current is shown in figure 5.

Figure 5: Equivalent circuit during the arc re-ignition occurrence

When the re-ignition occurs, the fundamental frequency (50 Hz) current I1 as well as high
frequency (HF) current I2 flows in the circuit. The HF current I2 component is brought
about by the sharing of charge between the cable-motor circuit with other cables
connected on the VSB busbar supply side [13]. The current I2 is confined to the circuit
consisting of source capacitance Cs, source inductance Ls, VCB and the load capacitance
Cm. The motor inductance Lm is generally large and presents an open circuit to the HF
current I2. The frequency of I2 is typically in the range of 100 kHz 10 MHz [8].
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The I2 superimposed on I1 will have multiple zero crossing and the VCB will again chop
this current near zero crossing point. The second Vmax as explained in section 4.1 will be
generated again and the second TRV will build up across the gap contacts. The withstand
voltage of the VCB increases with the increasing opening gap, but the HF I2 current also
causes higher TRV to build up across the contacts. Therefore, the second re-ignition will
occur at higher Vmax. The further multiple re-ignitions will occur with increasing Vmax up
until the TRV build up is lower than the dielectric withstand of the VCB and at this point,
the successful opening of the VCB will occur. The escalating voltage due to multiple reignitions causes very high overvoltages to develop across the motor windings. Figure 6
illustrates the voltage escalation process.

Figure 6: Voltage escalation process [8]

Sometimes if the re-ignition occurs in pole 1 of the VCB, the capacitive and inductive
coupling between the poles of the circuit breaker will result in the high frequency current
from pole 1 being induced into the pole 2 and 3 of the breaker. These induced currents
will also have multiple zero crossings, causing the VCB to chop the currents in these
respective phases. The chopping of induced currents is termed virtual current chopping
and will result in higher transient recovery voltages being generated across poles 2 and 3
and hence increased number of multiple re-ignitions [14].

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5. Overvoltage Stresses in Medium Voltage Motor

The surge overvoltages generated by the VCB result in insulation stresses of the MV
motor windings and therefore accurate insulation coordination studies must be carried on
the MV motor network to ensure that switching surges do exceed the insulation strength
of the motor windings. The insulation stresses are dependent on both the overvoltage
magnitude and rate-of-rise of the overvoltage surge wave. As the magnitude of the surge
increases, the probability of insulation breakdown of motor windings also increases. The
increase in the rate-of-rise of the surge poses a special threat to the motor insulation. The
increase in the rate-of-rise of the surge results in the surge being non-uniformly
distributed across the motor windings. In non-uniform surge distribution, the higher
percentage of the surge will appear across the first few turns of the motor windings. A
fast rising surge (i.e. 0.2sec) may result in 80 100% of the surge appearing across the
first coil of the multi-coil motor winding. This implies that if the motor has 6 coils per
winding phase, then the first coil could be stressed 6 times higher than if the surge had a
slow rate-of-rise [14].
Figure 7 shows the motor withstand voltages based on the rise-time of the surge voltage.
The IEEE curve takes into consideration the ageing of the motor [15]. The CIGRE curve
envelope shows the withstand characteristics of motors from various manufacturers [2].
The practical testing of motors by Electric Power Research Institute (project RP 2307)
indicated that most of the utility motors have surge strength in excess of 5 p.u. for 0.1 s
rise-time [10].

CIGRE Withstand Envelope





0.02 1

10 Surge rise-time (s)

Figure 7: The IEEE and CIGRE motor overvoltage withstand vs rise-time

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Another characteristic of electric motors which causes overvoltage stresses on the

windings is natural resonance. The individual winding turns in the motor has series
inductance and shunt capacitance between the coils and shunt capacitance between the
coils and ground and this configuration has the characteristics of a resonance circuit. The
high frequency current of multiple pre-ignitions and re-ignitions can sometimes be within
the resonance frequency of the motor windings which can give rise to high internal
overvoltages in the motor windings [11].
6. Protection of MV Motor against Switching Overvoltages
It has been explained in section 5 that switching overvoltages result in insulation stresses
on the motor windings which can cause motor insulation failures. It is therefore
imperative that MV motors switched by VCB be protected against switching
overvoltages. The various solutions which are used to eliminate or mitigate switching
overvoltages can be partitioned into three categories which are:
1. Solutions which limit the surge voltage magnitude
2. Solutions which modify the surge voltage rate-of-rise
3. General mitigation solutions
These solutions are discussed in this section. It should however be noted that solutions
which modify the surge voltage rate-of-rise also has effect on the surge magnitude
because the rate-of-rise has effects on the surge magnitude in the MV motors applications
switched by the VCB.
6.1 Solutions which Limit Surge Voltage Magnitude
Surge arrestors are used to limit the switching surges overvoltage magnitude. Available
types of surge arrestors include spark gaps and metal oxide varistors (MOV). The zinc
oxide (ZnO) and silicon carbide (SiC) are used in manufacturing MOV arrestors [17].
ZnO arrestors exhibit better clamping characteristics as compared to SiC and are mainly
used in VCB applications. Manufacturers have also developed ZnO suppressors
specifically for VCB applications [16]. The arrestors limit the overvoltage peak value but
do not have effect on the overvoltage rise-time. They are normally sufficient in
applications where resonant oscillations or overvoltage rise-time are not a critical
requirement [11]. Under normal practice, surge arrestors should be installed as close as
possible to the equipment being protected [18]. In order to select a properly rated surge
arrestor for the motor application, due consideration must be given to system maximum
continuous operating voltage (MCOV) and temporary overvoltages (TOV) expected on
the system [18].
However for motor applications, the arrestors are subjected to vibrations and high
temperatures when connected at motor side. It is therefore recommended that the
arrestors be installed at the breaker end regardless of the motor power cable length.

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It has been experimentally confirmed in [3] that an acceptable overvoltage magnitude of

4 p.u. can be achieved when arrestors are connected at breaker end. However the lowest
overvoltage magnitude of 3 p.u. is achieved when the arrestors are connected at the motor
end. The cable connecting the arrestors should be kept as short as possible to achieve
efficient results [3].
6.2 Solutions which Limit Surge Voltage Rate-of-Rise
Surge capacitors and resistor-capacitor (RC) snubber circuits are used to limit the rate-ofrise of surge voltage waves. The surge capacitors increase the motor power cable
capacitance which reduces the natural oscillation frequency and effective surge
impedance of the circuit on the motor side. The reduction in oscillation frequency results
in reduction in the surge rate-of-rise and the reduction in load surge impedance results in
the reduction of surge voltage magnitude [16]. The surge capacitors are however not
desired in motor surge protection. This is because they promote capacitive coupling of
high-frequency current transients which may result in virtual current chopping instance
[11]. It has however been determined experimentally in [3] that surge capacitors for MV
motor applications effectively reduce the rate-of-rise of surge voltage and reduces surge
voltage magnitude to a value below 3 p.u. This improvement is only valid for motors
with starting currents less than 300 A at 3.3 kV. For motors with higher starting currents,
the surge capacitors were determined to be ineffective and overvoltages with magnitudes
as high as 5 p.u. were experienced [3].



Power Cables


Electric Motor


Figure 8: The RC snubber circuit connected across the motor

The RC snubber circuit is comprised of a resistor in series with a surge capacitor
connected across the motor as shown in figure 8. The RC circuit forms a low impedance
path for high frequency (HF) currents and effectively diverts the transient HF currents to
earth. The voltage reflections at the motor terminals are therefore prevented and this
reduces the overvoltage stresses at the motor terminals.

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It is more economical to connect the RC circuit at motor terminals because the motor
power cable will contribute to the surge capacitance value resulting in the smallest value
of additional surge capacitance being used. It has been practically confirmed in [3] that
RC circuit provides the best solution for overvoltage magnitude reduction as well as
surge rate-of-rise reduction.
6.3 General Mitigation Solutions
Other measures which reduce the magnitude of voltage surges include motor power cable
screen earthing, reducing the number of loads connected to the busbar which supplies the
motor via VCB, using single-core cables and selecting a VCB with higher withstand
breakdown voltage. It has been shown experimentally in [10] that earthing the power
cable screen at motor site reduces the overvoltage magnitude from 5.2 p.u. to 2.82 p.u.
The high frequency surge overvoltage generated at VCB gets split between cable surge
impedance and the cable screen. The component which propagates in the cable screen is
eventually diverted to earth at motor side. This reduces the voltage magnitude which gets
reflected at motor terminals [9]. However, [3] did not find evidence from simulations that
cable screen earthing has an effect on the surge magnitude. It is recommended in [3] that
further research be undertaken in this regard.
It has been confirmed in [10] that reducing the number of other loads fed from same the
busbar as the MV motor under consideration (refer to figure 1), will reduce the voltage
surge magnitude. This is verified by equation 3 which shows that the pre-ignition voltage
magnitude increases with the increasing number of cables connected to the busbar under
consideration. The multicore cable increases the probability of high overvoltages as
compared to single core cables. This is because capacitive coupling between phases is
higher in the multicore cable as compared to single core cable [3]. If the maximum
transient recovery voltage of the circuit is known, then the switching surges can be
avoided by selecting a breaker with a higher withstand breakdown voltage so that preignition and re-ignitions situations do not occur. This has been verified through
simulations in [4]. However, this solution is impractical because it will lead to an
unnecessarily oversized VCB.
7. Conclusion
The conditions which lead to overvoltages and high frequency current oscillations in MV
motor applications switched via VCB have been discussed in this document. It has been
determined that the high dielectric strength of the vacuum and contacts in the VCB are
the main contributors of switching surges. This is due to the current chopping and
multiple pre-ignitions and re-ignitions which occur during the operation of the VCB. The
switching surges are generated during both the opening and closing operations of the
VCB. The mitigation of switching surges can be achieved through the use of surge
arrestors, surge capacitors or RC snubber circuit. General techniques such as earthing of
motor power cable screen also reduce the magnitude of voltage surge. However some
literatures are sceptical about the effectiveness of cable screen earthing.

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Most of the literatures have confirmed the use of RC snubber circuit in mitigation of
switching surges achieves better results as compared to other methods of mitigation.
8. Recommendations
From the information acquired, the following recommendations are drawn:
The switching surges are a concern in the MV motor applications switched by the
VCB and appropriate overvoltages protection strategies should be implemented.
The RC snubber circuit offers the best performance in limiting switching surges
however an economical combination of the RC values for optimal performance
must be established.
The impact of the source side capacitance on the surge voltage magnitude should
be investigated further.
Further research and investigations should be carried out to determine the effects
of multicore cable on the surge voltage as compared to single core cable.
Further research and investigations should be carried out to confirm the effects of
motor power cable screen earthing on the voltage surge.

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9. References
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Last time accessed: 30 March 2015
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Committee, IEEE Std 141-1993, IEEE New York NY USA 1994

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