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Vacuum Switchgear

Now days, vacuum switchgear getting popularity very rapidly. In medium voltage switchgear application, medium voltage vacuum switchgear ranges from 3 to 36 KV. Now days, vacuum interruption technology, in medium voltage application, dominates, air, SF 6 and oil technologies. Since, vacuum circuit breaker is more safely and reliably operated where number of faulty and normal operation is much high.

Vacuum as an Interruption Medium

The performance of a circuit breaker mainly depends upon the dielectric medium used for arc quenching. Another major advantage of this technology, is that vacuum switchgear is nearly maintenance free. Now we will discuss one the different features of this technology, which make it so popular-

Dielectric Strength of Vacuum

For a given contact gap, vacuum provides, about eight times more dielectric strength than air and four times more dielectric strength than SF 6 gas at one bar. As the dielectric strength is so high, the contact gap of vacuum circuit breaker can be maintained very small. In this small contact gap, arc quenching is safely possible due to high dielectric strength and also vacuum has the fast recovery strength after full arc interruption to its full dielectric value at current zero. This makes, vacuum switchgear, most suitable for capacitor switching.

Law Arc Energy in Vacuum

The energy dissipated during arc in vacuum is about one tenth of that of oil and one fourth of that of SF 6 gas. Law energy dissipation mainly due to low interruption time (due to small contact gap) and small arc length (this is also due to small contact gap). Because of this low arc energy dissipation, vacuum switchgear has negligible contact erosion and this gives it nearly maintenance free life span. It is also to be noted that, for breaking certain current, the energy

required by vacuum circuit breaker is minimum compared to air circuit breaker and oil circuit breaker.

Simple Driving Mechanism

In SF 6 , oil and air circuit breaker, movement of contacts is highly resisted by highly compressed medium of arc quenching chamber. But in vacuum switchgear, there is no medium, and also movement of contacts is quit less due to its small contacts gap, hence driving energy required is much smaller, in this circuit breaker. That is why simple spring-spring operating mechanism is sufficient for this switchgear system, no need of hydraulic and pneumatic mechanism. Simpler driving mechanism gives a high mechanical life of vacuum switchgear.

Rapid Arc Quenching

During opening of contacts in current carrying condition, metal vapor is produced between the contacts, and this metal vapor provides a path through which electric current continuous to flow until the next current zero. This phenomenon is also known a vacuum arc. This arc is extinguished near the current zero and the conductive metal vapor is re-condensed on the contact surface in a matter of micro seconds. It has been observed that, only 1% of the vapor is re-condensed on arc chamber’s side wall, and 99% of vapor re-condensed on the contact surface from where it was vaporized.

From above discussion, it is almost clear that, the dielectric strength of vacuum switchgear recovers very fast and contact erosion is almost negligible. It has been observed that, up to 10 KA, the arc remains diffused. It takes the form of vapor discharge and covers the entire contact surface. But above 10 KA, the diffused arc is concentrated at central point of the contact surface due to its own magnetic field. Due to this phenomenon, the center of the contacts over heated. This problem can be solved by providing specially designed contact surface so that, the arc can travel throughout the surface area, instead of being stationery at certain point. Different manufacturers use different contact surface designs to chive this

travelling of arc due to its own magnetic field. This causes minimum and uniform contact erosion.

Vacuum Circuit Breaker or VCB and Vacuum Interrupter

A vacuum circuit breaker is such kind of circuit breaker where the arc quenching takes place in vacuum. The technology is suitable for mainly medium voltage application. For higher voltage vacuum technology has been developed but not commercially viable. The operation of opening and closing of current carrying contacts and associated arc interruption take place in a vacuum chamber in the breaker which is called vacuum interrupter. The vacuum interrupter consists of a steel arc chamber in the centre symmetrically arranged ceramic insulators. The vacuum pressure inside a vacuum interrupter is normally maintained at 10 - 6 bar. The material used for current carrying contacts plays an important role in the performance of the vacuum circuit breaker. Cu/Cr is the most ideal material to make VCB contacts. Vacuum interrupter technology was first introduced in the year of 1960. But still it is a developing technology. As time goes on, the size of the vacuum interrupter is being reducing from its early 1960’s size due to different technical developments in this field of engineering. The contact geometry is also improving with time, from butt contact of early days it gradually changes to spiral shape, cup shape and axial magnetic field contact. The vacuum circuit breaker is today recognized as most reliable current interruption technology for medium voltage switchgear. It requires minimum maintenance compared to other circuit breaker technologies.

Advantages of Vacuum Circuit Breaker or VCB

Service life of vacuum circuit breaker is much longer than other types of circuit breakers. There is no chance of fire hazard like oil circuit breaker. It is much environment friendly than SF 6 Circuit breaker. Beside of that contraction of VCB is much user friendly. Replacement of vacuum interrupter (VI) is much convenient.

Operation of Vacuum Circuit Breaker

The main aim of any circuit breaker is to quench arc during current zero crossing, by establishing high dielectric strength in between the contacts so that reestablishment of arc after current zero becomes impossible. The dielectric strength of vacuum is eight times greater than that of air and four times greater than that of SF 6 gas. This high dielectric strength makes it possible to quench a vacuum arc within very small contact gap. For short contact gap, low contact mass and no compression of medium the drive energy required in vacuum circuit breaker is minimum. When two face to face contact areas are just being separated to each other, they do not be separated instantly, contact area on the contact face is being reduced and ultimately comes to a point and then they are finally de-touched. Although this happens in a fraction of micro second but it is the fact. At this instant of de-touching of contacts in a vacuum, the current through the contacts concentrated on that last contact point on the contact surface and makes a hot spot. As it is vacuum, the metal on the contact surface is easily vaporized due to that hot spot and create a conducting media for arc path. Then the arc will be initiated and

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Operation of Vacuum Circuit Breaker The main aim of any circuit breaker is to quench arc

At current zero this vacuum arc is extinguished and the conducting metal vapor is re- condensed on the contact surface. At this point, the contacts are

already separated hence there is no question of re-vaporization of contact surface, for next cycle of current. That means, the arc cannot be reestablished again. In this way vacuum circuit breaker prevents the reestablishment of arc by producing high dielectric strength in the contact gap after current zero. There are two types of arc shapes. For interrupting current up to 10 kA, the arc remains diffused and the form of vapor discharge and cover the entire contact surface. Above 10 kA the diffused arc is constricted considerably by its own magnetic field and it contracts. The phenomenon gives rise over heating of contact at its center. In order to prevent this, the design of the contacts should be such that the arc does not remain stationary but keeps travelling by its own magnetic field. Specially designed contact shape of vacuum circuit breaker make the constricted stationary arc travel along the surface of the contacts, thereby causing minimum and uniform contact erosion.