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Subrata Karmakar J.

Electrical Systems 8-2 (2012): 209-217


Regular paper
An Experimental Study of Air
Breakdown Voltage and its Effects
on Solid Insulation

Recent increasing in industrial and economic development in the present world, demands the
use of more and more electrical energy which has to be transferred over long distances in large
quantities efficiently. This is made possible by introducing the higher transmission voltage level
in the power system. Rapid growing this demand for use of higher voltage has given the
opportunity to power engineers to develop the insulation of high quality for sustain high voltage
(HV) tress over a long period. Presently, in high voltage electrical power system, variety of
materials (solid, liquid and gaseous) is used for insulation purpose to protect the incipient
failure in HV power equipment. The insulation design for such HV power equipment is one of
the important challenging tasks to the power engineers as the HV equipments are involved with
huge cost. To protect such equipments different types of conducting electrodes having protective
gap are used widely throughout the world. Standard sphere electrodes are commonly used for
this purpose among those all electrodes configuration. Normally, air medium is widely use as an
insulating medium in different electrical power equipments as its breakdown strength is 30
kV/cm. Therefore electrical breakdown characteristic of small air gap under the different
applied voltage has its great significance for the designing of various air insulated HV
equipment. In this study to simulate the air breakdown voltage experimentally in high voltage
laboratory, standard diameter of 25 cm spheres are used for measurement of air breakdown
voltages at NTP. In addition, the air breakdown voltage with insulation barrier and without
insulation barrier is investigated inside the high voltage test laboratory. The effects of the
breakdown voltage on paper insulation have been investigated in this work for quality
assessment. The comparison of microstructure before and after the breakdown test reveals the
information about the effects of electrical stress on the insulating paper.
Keywords: Breakdown voltage, electric field, standard sphere gaps, high voltage, dielectric strength.

1. Introduction
Rapid growth in power sector of nation has given the opportunity to power engineers to
protect the power equipment for reliable operation during their operating life. It has been
seen from the studies conducted by power engineers that one of the main problem in high
voltage power (HV) equipment is the degradation of insulation i.e., quality of insulation of
power equipment [1]-[6]. As the high voltage power equipments are mainly subjected with
spark over voltage causes by the lighting strokes, switching action, a protective device is
used for determine the safe clearance required for proper insulation level. The sphere gaps
of different configuration are commonly used for this purpose. The sphere gaps are
commonly used for measurements of peak values of high voltages and have been adopted
by IEC and IEEE as a calibration device [1]. In the past several decades, extensive amount
of research work has been done to understand the fundamental characteristics of the
electrical breakdown [5]-[8]. Therefore, electrical breakdown characteristic of small air gap
under the different applied voltage has its great significance for the design of overhead line,
substation equipment and various air insulated HV equipment. In this study to simulate the
air breakdown voltage experimentally in high voltage laboratory at NIT Rourkela,
Aluminum made standard spheres of diameter 25 cm is used for measurement of air
breakdown voltages and electric field of the high voltage equipments. The above
experiment is conducted at the normal temperature and pressure. In addition the influence
of the humidity on air breakdown test has been also considered in this study. The
Corresponding author : S. Karmakar
Department of Electrical Engineering, National Institute of Technology Rourkela, Rourkela 769008, INDIA
e-mail: karmakar.subrata@yahoo.co.in

Copyright JES 2012 on-line : http://journal.esrgroups.org/jes


S. Karmakar: An Experimental Study of Air Breakdown Voltage & its Effects on Solid Insulation

simulation of such air breakdown voltage has been carried out in the MATLAB
environment. Finally, the experimental result has been compared with theoretical, and
simulation results. In the following sections are includes experimental setup for air
breakdown test in high voltage laboratory, theoretical study, computer simulation and
results analysis.

2. Experimental Setup for Measurement of Air Breakdown Voltage


To conduct the air breakdown test between the sphere electrode all the measuring
instrument is standardized as per IS 2071 [4]. Figure 1 shows the schematic diagram of
experimental setup. In this study two identical sphere electrodes have been used for the
experimental study of the short air gap. The sphere electrodes are vertically aligned. The
lower sphere electrode which is above the ground plane is grounded where as the top sphere
electrode is connected with HV connector. The used sphere electrode has a diameter of 25
cm and the electrode is made of Aluminum material with nickel coating and air is acting as
an insulating medium between sphere electrodes. Before conducting the test the two sphere
electrodes are cleaned with carbon tetra chloride (CCl4) so that it is free from floating dust
particles, fibers. The upper sphere electrode is connected in the high voltage terminal and
the lower electrode is connected with the ground terminal. With the application of the high
voltage between the sphere electrodes, a non-uniform electric field is generated as the
surfaces of the sphere electrodes are not uniform. The HV electrode is energized from the
50 Hz transformer with a power rating of 15 kVA with a transformation ratio of 230 V/100
kV. The applied voltage is raised to 75% of the estimated voltage and thereafter the voltage
is raised 2% of the test voltage per second [6]-[12]. The test voltages are applied through
the filter unit to isolate the noise of the transformer from the measuring circuit and current
limiting device for protect in case of complete breakdown and prevent the high frequency
current to the high voltage lead. At the inception of the breakdown the circuit is
immediately disconnected from the supply and the breakdown voltage is recorded. A
coupling device with connecting cable is associated with the measuring circuit for the
measurement of the applied high voltages magnitude. The experimental setup for air
breakdown study between the two spheres electrode are shown in Fig. 2. The experimental
study has been conducted for air breakdown test between the sphere electrodes at normal
temperature of 31.1C, atmospheric pressure of 760 mm of Hg and also the humidity of the
air has been recorded 14% during the experiment. For each 0.5 cm of gap between the
sphere electrodes, the air breakdown voltage is recorded in this study. The gap between the
spheres is varies from the range of 1cm to 5.5 cm.

Fig.1. Schematic Circuit showing the source and Breakdown voltage measuring unit using standard sphere gap
method.

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Fig.2. Experimental setup in high voltage test laboratory for study of air breakdown voltage using standard sphere
gap method (a) Control panel for conducting the air breakdown test (b) High voltage transformer (c) Two spheres
are arranged vertically having 25 cm diameter each.

3. Theoretical Study of Air Breakdown Voltage Using Sphere Electrode


To conduct the practical experiment of air breakdown voltage in high voltage laboratory,
the theoretical study is the most important for understanding the performance
characteristics of the air breakdown voltage. The voltage between the spheres rose till a
spark passes between the two spheres. The value of the voltage required to spark over
(breakdown) depends upon the dielectric strength of air, the size of the spheres, the distance
between the spheres, humidity of the air and many other factors [12]-[18]. The breakdown
voltage of a sphere gap increases by increasing the pressure quantity and decreases by
increasing the temperature quantity. The air density factor

(1)
where, atmospheric pressure is b in mm of Hg and Temperature ist in C and the
breakdown voltage of air between the sphere gap

(2)
where, gap between sphere electrodes is S in cm and radius of the sphere electrode is
r in cm, electric field in the gap is where, distance between the sphere electrode isd in
cm.
The present research work focused on the experimental validation of the air breakdown
characteristics in high voltage test laboratory and a thorough comparison is made with the
theoretical calculations with simulation results. In this work includes comparison of
experimental results with the results derived from the empirical formulations (Eqn.1 and 2)
with the MATLAB environment. To simulate the practical breakdown test of air the input
parameters such as sphere diameter, gap between sphere electrodes, atmospheric pressure,
humidity presence in air and temperature are taken 25 cm, range from 1 cm to 5.5 cm,
760mm of Hg, 2-32% and 31.1C respectively. In this study the unknown parameters such
as air breakdown voltage and electric field for each 0.5 cm of gap between the sphere
electrodes are calculated and further compared with the experimental study.

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S. Karmakar: An Experimental Study of Air Breakdown Voltage & its Effects on Solid Insulation

4. Results and Discussions


4.1 Air Breakdown Voltage Test between Sphere Electrodes

To simulate the performance characteristic of the air breakdown voltage (BDV) and
maximum electric field between the conducting spheres, two standard sphere electrodes is
taken into considered in this work. The performance characteristic of air breakdown voltage
versus electrode gap for sphere electrodes of 25 cm diameter is shown in Fig. 3. In this Fig.
3 the theoretical BDV and simulation BDV for different electrode gap spacing are plotted
with experimental results. It is clear from the Fig. 3 that the gap between the sphere
electrode is varies in the wide range from 1 cm to 5.5 cm and the corresponding breakdown
voltage is varies in the range from 17.68 kV to 137.18 kV. It is also observed that the
increase of sphere gap the air breakdown voltage is also increases. The air breakdown
voltage between the sphere electrodes are measured by conducting the air breakdown
voltage in high voltage laboratory and corresponding electrical field strength are calculated
from the experimental and theoretical results which is depicted in Table 1 and Table 2.

160

140 Experimental Result


Simulation Result
Air Breakdown Voltage (kV)

120

100

80

60

40

20

0
0 1 2 3 4 5 6
Sphere Gap (Cm)

Fig. 3. Comparison study of experimental and theoretical air breakdown voltage between sphere-gap.

Table-I : Measurement of breakdown voltage between spheres


Sl. No. Gap Observed Breakdown Calculated Breakdown
(cm) Voltage peak (kV) Voltage peak (kV)
01 0.5 17.68 15.93
02 1.0 27.58 29.39
03 1.5 42.43 42.45
04 2.0 52.33 55.29
05 2.5 69.30 68.00
06 3.0 82.02 80.61
07 3.5 91.92 93.15
08 4.0 104.65 105.64
09 4.5 115.97 118.07
10 5.0 120.21 130.47
11 5.5 137.18 142.83

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Table-II: Experimental and Theoretical study of Electric Field Strength between


Spheres
Sl. No. Gap(cm) Observed Electric Theoretical Electric Field
Field (kV/cm) (kV/cm))
01 0.5 33.36 31.88
02 1.0 28.58 29.39
03 1.5 28.29 28.30
04 2.0 27.16 27.64
05 2.5 27.32 27.20
06 3.0 26.67 26.87
07 3.5 26.26 26.61
08 4.0 26.16 26.41
09 4.5 25.77 26.23
10 5.0 25.64 26.09
11 5.5 25.30 25.97

34 Experimental Result
Simulation Result
32
Electric Field (kV/Cm)

30

28

26

24
0 1 2 3 4 5 6
Sphere Gap (Cm)

Fig.4. Comparison of experimental, theoretical results of electric field distribution for sphere-sphere ( = 25 cm)
electrode at different electrode gap.

Figure 4 shows that electric field distribution along the gap distance in between the sphere
electrode. While comparing with the experimental and simulation results it is observed that
the electric field decreases as the distance between electrodes increases. It is also found that
the error between the experimental and the simulation results are below 4%.

4.2 Air Breakdown Voltage Test using Solid Insulation between the Sphere Electrodes

Again, the experiment is conducted by keeping different type of insulator between the two
spheres and the breakdown voltages for different insulation materials are observed. Six
different type of insulation papers are taken for the air breakdown test. The test is also
conducted for different thickness of the insulating paper to observed the performance
characteristic of such insulation. It is found that the breakdown strength of the polyester
fiber is the highest followed by lamiflex, latheroid, craft paper, paper and plywood which is
depicted in Table 3. It is found that the breakdown voltage is increases with the increase of
thickness of the different insulating paper. In this study the breakdown strength of a note
book cover with different thickness is observed which is shown in Fig. 5. It is found from

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S. Karmakar: An Experimental Study of Air Breakdown Voltage & its Effects on Solid Insulation

the Fig. 5 that the breakdown voltage is highly depends on the thickness of the insulating
material.
Table-III: Breakdown Voltage (VBD) Test Using Different Insulators Placed in
Between Sphere Electrode
Insulation Material Thickness (mm) Breakdown Voltage (kV)
Paper 0.26 6.68
0.52 6.85
1.04 7.21
Ply wood 1.9 3.58
Polyester fibre 1.62 41.35
Lamiflex 0.22 3.5
0.44 9.8
Leatheroid 0.19 3.2
0.38 7.0
Craft paper 0.22 15
0.44 23.5

7.3

7.2
Breakdown Voltage (kV)

7.1

7.0

6.9

6.8

6.7

6.6
0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1.0 1.2

Thickness of Insulating Paper (mm)

Fig.5. Experimental results between the breakdown voltage and the thickness of the insulating paper using sphere-
sphere ( = 25 cm) electrode.

Apart from the breakdown study of the air as well as insulating paper the micro structural
analysis of such insulation paper has been perform before and after the breakdown voltage
test which describe in the next section.

4.3 Effects of Breakdown Voltage on Insulating Paper and Micro Structural Analysis

To investigate the effects of breakdown voltage on the insulating paper in this study, the
insulating paper is kept in between the sphere electrodes. The three type of insulation paper
such as lamiflex paper and leatheroid paper and note book covers are used to study of
effects of breakdown voltage on insulating paper. Figure 6 shows the Scanning Electron
Microscope (SEM, Model: JEOL-JSM-6480LV) photograph of the insulating paper at
different magnification. SEM studies has been conducted on lamiflex (normal class B)
insulating paper before and after breakdown test to compare extend deformation of

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insulating paper which is shown in Fig. 6. Figure 6 (a) shows that healthy paper insulation
at 300X magnification with no deformation before undergone the breakdown voltage.
Figure 6 (b), (c) and (d) shows that the insulating paper is damage after breakdown take
place and also shown the damage portion in the same insulation paper at the different
magnification of 100X, 200X and 500X respectively. It is observed that deformation of the
insulating paper is taken place with the application of high voltage.

Fig. 6. SEM photograph of lamiflex insulation paper before and after breakdown test at different magnification (a)
photograph of insulation paper before breakdown test (b), (c) and (d) are the photograph of same insulation paper
after breakdown test with different resolution.

Fig. 7. SEM photograph of leatheroid insulation paper before and after breakdown test (a) photograph of insulation
paper before breakdown test (b), (c) and (d) are the photograph of same insulation paper after breakdown test with
different resolution.

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S. Karmakar: An Experimental Study of Air Breakdown Voltage & its Effects on Solid Insulation

Figure 7 (a) shows that healthy leatheroid paper insulation at 100X magnification indicated
closely packed cellulose fiber with dense interwoven network without deformation before
undergone the breakdown voltage. Figure 7 (b), (c) and (d) shows that the micro structure
insulating paper is damage after breakdown take place and also shown the damage portion
in the same leatheroid paper at the different magnification of 30X, 200X and 500X
respectively.
Apart from the lamiflex paper and leatheroid paper the note book cover is taken under
the test. It is found that the paper is also deteriorated with the application of high voltage
which is shown in Fig. 8. Figure 8 (a) shows that healthy paper insulation at 200X
magnification with no deformation before undergone the breakdown voltage. Figure 8 (b),
(c) and (d) shows that the micro structure of insulating paper is damage after breakdown
take place and also shown the damage portion in the same note book cover at the different
magnification of 50X, 200X and 500X respectively.

Fig. 8. SEM photograph of note book cover paper before and after breakdown test (a) photograph of insulation
paper before breakdown test (b), (c) and (d) are the photograph of same insulation paper after breakdown test with
different resolution.

5. CONCLUSIONS
In this study the breakdown mechanism has been investigated with help of sphere-
sphere electrode both experimentally and by simulation with MATLAB environment. It has
been studied from the result in both cases that the maximum electric field intensity not
only changes with the geometrical configuration of electrodes but also changes with other
parameters like distance between the electrode, applied voltage between the electrode as
well as temperature and pressure. However, both the experimental and simulation results
have been done in this study considering no change of physical condition like temperature
and pressure. From the breakdown test, it is observed that the breakdown voltage increases
with increase in gap distance between the two electrodes. In addition, the effect of
breakdown voltage on different insulation like lamiflex, leatheroid, plywood, craft paper,

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and polyster fiber has also been studied. To observe the effect on insulation due to
breakdown mechanism, the insulation samples are collected both before and after
breakdown voltage test and analysis has been done with the help of Scanning Electron
Microscope (SEM). The SEM analysis showed the level of deterioration in three different
insulation papers.
Scanning Electron Microscope facility is very important off line measurement tool to
diagnosis the insulation condition of the high voltage power equipments. From this study it
is conclude that with the application of high voltage on the insulating paper the insulating
property of such paper is enormously deteriorated. Hence, this facility is very much helpful
for providing the condition of the paper insulation used in the different HV power
equipments.

ACKNOWLEDGMENT
Authors are grateful to MHRD, Govt. of India and NIT Rourkela for providing the
infrastructure.

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