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MAINTAIN AND OPERATE POWER TRANSFORMERS WITH A FAULTY

CONDITION
Xing Zhang, P.Eng; Russ Fisher, P.Eng
BC Hydro Corporation

ABSTRACT

Power transformers are sometimes required to continue to operate in a faulty condition either temporarily
or for a long term. However, given the potential catastrophic consequence of a power transformer failure,
challenges exist when deciding whether a power transformer should be kept in service with a developing
faulty condition. Dissolved gas analysis (DGA) and operating procedures that are recommended in
industry standards [1, 2] are no doubt important, but sometimes additional information is required to
accurately understand a fault and its development so a proper decision can be made. The two (2) GSU
transformers discussed in this paper both had a core-lamination problem and developed metal-oil
overheating in service. However, there were differences which eventually led to their different fates: one
is still in service for normal operation and the other one was retired in 2014. This paper shares the
experience of operating the two faulty generator transformers in BC Hydros system and demonstrates
the importance of understanding the root-causes of the faults in determining operating procedures for
faulty power transformers.

INTRODUCTION

Power transformers, especially generator step-ups, are important assets in the electric system for
electricity generation and delivery, and operating them safely and reliably is critical to utilities. However, it
is often found necessary to keep them in service even though a faulty condition exists and develops,
either temporarily or for a long term. Like any other equipment in a power system, power transformers can
develop a faulty condition during their service life, which can result from design and manufacturing
defects, transportation damage, commissioning or maintenance problems, or even normal aging. Many
factors need to be evaluated when this happens, and shutting down and interrupting services immediately
is usually not the first choice. Firstly, this is because of the slow evolvement (from months to years) for the
majority of fault types in power transformers [2], and transformers can remain in service without
necessarily increasing the risk of an in-service failure. Secondly, a forced outage of a power transformer,
especially a generator step-up, potentially impacts the power system and business operations
significantly, e.g. loss of electricity generation and revenue. Lastly, a faulty condition may not be able to
be economically repaired onsite or offsite in a manufacturing facility, and replacement, as an option, takes
time and is costly.

Operating procedures for a power transformer being involved in a faulty condition are described in the
IEEE Guide for the Interpretation of Gases Generated in Oil-Immersed Transformers [1]. The standard
uses TCG (total combustible gases) or TDCG (total dissolved combustible gases) to detect the presence
and severity of faults, and then recommends actions e.g. sampling intervals and operating procedures.
However, field situations are usually more complicated when more factors are involved, for example
safety concerns and environmental consequences in the case of a catastrophic in-service failure, and as
well as pressure to keep equipment in service. Frequently-asked questions include how severe is the fault
and when should a faulty transformer be removed from service in consideration of the gasses being
generated. The experience from operating two faulty GSU transformers in this paper looks at the problem
from a different perspective and demonstrates the benefit of evaluating the cause in determining the
operation of faulty transformers.

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CASE 1 STUDY: EMERGENCY REPLACEMENT OF A SINGLE PHASE 363kV 33MVA GSU

An onsite spare was called upon for service to replace a faulty C phase in a 3 single-phase GSU
transformer bank. The spare transformer was the same design and vintage (1950s) as the faulty one, and
its readiness for service was in question given its bad storage condition. Furthermore, the transformer
had a C2H2 gas generation problem when it was in service briefly in the early 1990s, and no further
information or data was available about its condition. The transformer also had a special construction with
two low-voltage windings (split LV windings for connecting two generator units), and a suitable
replacement was not readily available in the marketplace.

The spare transformer was inspected and tested for service readiness, and at the same time the faulty
transformer was investigated for the cause of trouble and to determine if it could be repaired onsite. It was
determined later that the faulty transformer had to be replaced with the onsite spare to restore service.

The concern was the C2H2 gas problem that indicated a trouble condition of the spare transformer which
might result in an in-service failure with consequences of serious safety concerns. See Table 1 for the
history of the fault gas contents of the spare transformer.

Table 1
Dissolved Gases of the Spare Transformer Between 1989-1991
Sample C2H2 C2H4 C2H6 CH4 H2 CO CO2 TDCG
Date (ppm) (ppm) (ppm) (ppm) (ppm) (ppm) (ppm) (ppm)
1991-03-13 13 69 6 17 38 627 2435 770
1989-09-11 11 45 3 11 23 301 1071 394
1989-02-02 13 56 4 17 49 375 1261 514

Electrical tests to prepare the spare transformer for service didnt indicate the existence of an abnormal
condition. However, the tests were for general energizing checks of a power transformer and had
significant limitations to detect all potential problems including some serious faulty conditions of the
transformer. So, the cause of the gassing problem was still unknown and relying on the testing results
solely was risky to make a decision to switch in the spare for service.

A review of 7 similar design and vintage transformers, including the original faulty retired phase at this
site, was performed. It was found that 6 out of the 7 in-service transformers at this site had the abnormal
C2H2 gas-in-oil as well. The only transformer without this C2H2 gas problem is the one that was
completely re-built in 1991 upon a winding failure and its core had been modified in some way which
might contribute to this observation. The C2H2 gas levels reached as high as 40ppm and were well
above the 5ppm caution limit of industry standards for power transformers. Other hot metal gases e.g.
ethylene (C2H4), also existed in the oil. Another observation was that the gas levels had been relatively
stable but were persistent for decades. The C2H2 gas eventually came back, although, several repairs
and troubleshooting were carried out in order to stop the gas generation in their long service history.
Dissolved gas analysis (DGA) also indicated that the transformers likely had a core problem that caused
spot overheating. So, the same problem might also exist on this spare and caused the 1990 gas-
generation issue.

A transformer internal inspection confirmed that the transformers had butt-lapped cores and evidence of
core looseness. One common problem of butt-lapped cores is an inherited high-reluctance path at the
core joints. Another known problem is core looseness and core-joint gaps. Refer to Figure 1 and 2. Both
problems led to localized flux saturation and core lamination overheating [3], however, would be generally

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less severe in terms of fault temperatures when compared with other types of core faults e.g. shorted
core laminations and multiple-points core grounding.

Butt Lapped Core- Core Deformation Core Looseness and Large Joint Gaps
Figure 1 Figure 2

Given the fact that the other 6 transformers had been in service for close to 60 years without a
catastrophic failure incident, it was reasonable to assume that the spare should be suitable for service
even though it might have the same core problem and generate C2H2 gas in service. So, a decision was
made to install and prepare it for re-commissioning and service.

Gas in Oil for T1C.TM8007256

140.00
51.00
130.00
48.00
120.00
45.00
110.00
42.00
100.00
39.00
90.00 Hydrogen (H2)
36.00 Oxygen (O2)
80.00
Methane (CH4)
33.00
70.00 Carbon Monoxide (CO)

30.00 Carbon Dioxide(CO2)


Sensor Values

60.00
Gas ppm

Ethane (C2H6)
27.00 50.00 Ethylene (C2H4)
Acetylene(C2H2)
24.00 40.00
Nitrogen(N2)
21.00 30.00 TDCG
THC
18.00 20.00 Ambient Temp (C)
15.00 Load Guide (%)
10.00

12.00 0.00

9.00 -10.00

6.00 -20.00

3.00 -30.00

0.00 -40.00
11/30/2013 5/31/2014 11/30/2014 5/31/2015 11/30/2015
12:00 AM 12:00 AM 12:00 AM 12:00 AM 12:00 AM

Case 1- Key Gas Trends, in ppm


Figure 3

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Risk mitigation measures were implemented and the spare transformer was successfully energized in
August 2013. The transformer was observed generating C2H2 and other hot-metal gases steadily in
service and had an upward trend of the fault gases. Refer to the Key Gas trend in Figure 3.

The transformer has remained in service safely since then with the presence of the active faulty condition,
and a forced outage has not been required. This operation outcome has proven that the decision in 2013
was correct to install the transformer. While monitoring and further investigation are still underway, test
and investigation results to date have indicated that the core problems described above continue to be
the plausible cause.

CASE 2 STUDY: PREMATURE END-OF-LIFE OF A 3 PHASE 69KV GSU

This transformer had a serious overheating condition in service and the cause was extensive shorted
core laminations that eventually resulted in the premature end-of-life of the transformer in 2014.

The existence of a faulty condition started right after the transformer was placed into service in 1996. See
Table 2, for the dissolved gases during the early service of the transformer. The transformers loading
capability was suspected to be below the specified ratings and the fault was misdiagnosed as overheating
caused by overloading. An additional cooler was consequently installed in 2004 to improve cooling.

Table 2
Dissolved Gases of the Transformer Prior to 2009, in PPM
Sample Date C2H2 C2H4 C2H6 CH4 CO CO2 H2 TDCG
2009-03-24 0 198 35 169 913 11400 24 1339
DGA results not available between 2004 and 2009
2004-03-08 0 12 15 84 601 13200 4 716
2003-03-10 0 10 12 76 609 13057 3 710
2002-04-10 0 10 13 70 627 15254 12 732
2001-04-03 0 9 10 58 489 13224 0 566
2000-03-08 0 8 7 46 457 10299 5 523
1998-11-27 0 3 1 33 542 9384 5 584
1998-02-27 0 5 2 26 553 5111 5 591
1996-08-14 0 14 0 4 537 3755 22 577

The abnormal condition of the transformer caught attention again in 2009. Besides the alarming levels of
carbon-monoxide (CO) and carbon dioxide (CO2), dissolved gases from overheated oil also increased
above standard caution limits [1] and pointed to hot metal overheating. Refer also to Table 2 above. The
gas contents and trend analysis strongly suggested the trouble was likely the continuation of the
overheating condition prior to 2004 and was still active in the transformer tank.

Close monitoring was then placed on the transformer, and investigative tests were performed during an
outage in 2011. The testing results, e.g. insulation of windings and core assembly, and DC winding
resistances, were all found to be normal. The oil was degasified and the transformer was then returned to
service. The faulty condition continued evolving and the symptoms of a hot-metal overheating became
evident as acetylene (C2H2) and other hot-metal gases increased predominantly in oil. See Figure 4, for
the key gas trends of the fault. It was decided in 2013 to open the transformer tank for an internal
inspection with emphasis on its core assembly.

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Oil Degasification

Case 2- Key Gases of the Fault, in PPM


Figure 4

In May 2013 an internal tank inspection was performed and successfully revealed the root-cause of the
overheating condition. A copper part belonging to the neutral bushing of the transformer was discovered
at the corner of the core assembly as shown in Figures 5 and 6. The copper part, around 80mm in
diameter, shorted 3 to 4 packets of core laminations and started the overheating. The initial core-
lamination short was a high temperature fault in nature [1] which decomposed oil and generated carbon
particles. The carbon particles were spread in the transformer tank by the oil circulation and were found
on windings, core assembly, and other internal structure surfaces. One effect of the carbon contamination
was more shorted core laminations and accelerated thermal fault development. Evidence of the fault
development was the existence of carbon particles over the entire top yoke beyond the original faulty spot
and the completely shorted core laminations.

Burnt Corner of the Core Where the Copper Part Removed from the Core
Copper Part was Located Assembly
Figure 5 Figure 6

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The core damage was extensive and whether the transformer could remain in service safely was a major
question upon the inspection findings. It was determined at the time to return the transformer to service
temporarily with implementation of risk mitigation measures. The transformer was successfully operated
through the 2013-2014 winter peak-demand season. However, it was getting clear in early 2014 that the
C2H2 gas generation was accelerating and indicated a likely condition change of the transformer. See
Figure 7, for the C2H2 gas trend.

Oil Degasification

Case 2- C2H2 Trend of the Fault, in PPM


Figure 7

The fault gradually drifted to the DT zone (mixture of electrical and thermal faults) from the previous T3
thermal fault as per the Duval Triangle Analysis in Figure 8. The emerging of an electrical fault indicated
insulation dielectric breakdown inside the transformer and an in-service failure might be imminent, and
continuing operating the transformer was risky in this case. The transformer was then taken out of service
and was determined later to quit service for good.

Case 2- Duval Triangle Analysis- Fault Evolvement from Thermal (T3) to Electrical (DT)
Figure 8

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CONCLUSION

Operating power transformers with a faulty condition is necessary for both fault diagnostics and system
operations. Investigating the cause(s) of a faulty condition is essential in providing effective support for
transformer faulty-condition operations.

The causes of the faults and their development eventually determined if the transformers should remain
in service. In Case 1, the butt-lapped core was likely the cause of the slowly evolving overheating, so the
transformer could remain in service along with close monitoring. The transformer in Case 2, on the
contrary, was subjected to extensive core damage that resulted in the accelerated fault development, and
continuing operating the transformer would carry unnecessary risk of an in-service failure, so it was
removed from service eventually.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The authors would like to thank Mike Lau of Weidmann Technology Inc. for providing review of the paper.

REFERENCES

[1] IEEE C57.104-2008, Guide for the Interpretation of Gases Generated in Oil-Immersed Transformers

[2] IEC 60599-1999, Mineral Oil-impregnated Electrical Equipment in Serve- Guide to the Interpretation of
Dissolved and Free Gas Analysis

[3] William F. Griesacker and Juan Luis Thierry "Magnetic core issues in Power Transformers and their
diagnostics", 81st Inter International Conference of Doble Clients, 2014

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BIOGRAPHY

Xing Zhang has been employed at BC Hydro Corporation since 2008, and currently works as a Senior
Engineer in the Generation Maintenance Department. His roles range from technical support on
maintenance and operation, to condition assessment and failure investigation of power transformers in
BC Hydro Generation. Prior to this, he worked for EPCOR Utilities for the similar roles and responsibility
between 2005 and 2008. He was a design engineer and worked for Beijing Hydro in China and a
consulting firm in the Province of Alberta between 1992 and 2005. Mr. Zhang received his Master and
Bachelor in Electrical Engineering from University of Alberta and Shanghai Jiao Tong University in 1992
and 2005, respectively.

Russ Fisher has been employed at BC Hydro Corporation since 2006, and currently works as a Team
Lead in the Generation Maintenance department. His role includes management and technical review for
maintenance and operations, condition assessments and failure investigations for power transformers,
hydro generators and circuit breakers in BC Hydro Generation. Prior to this, he worked for Pacific
Newspaper Group from 1998 to 2006 as the Electrical Engineering Manager and in Ontario for Ford
Motor Company from 1995 to 1998 and General Motors Canada from 1993 to 1995 as a
Manufacturing/Maintenance Engineer. Mr. Fisher received his Bachelor in Electrical Engineering from the
University of Toronto in 1989 and his Master of Business Administration from Simon Fraser University in
2002.

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