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The Application and Selection of Lightning Arresters

By Larry Pryor, P.E., GE, Sr. Specification Engineer

Abstract arrester to circuits and systems rated

1000 V and greater.
Each piece of electrical equipment in an
electrical system needs to be protected Nature of the Problem
from voltage surges. To prevent damage
to electrical equipment, surge protection The states around the Gulf of Mexico
considerations are paramount to a well- have the highest annual average number
designed electrical system. Modern of lightning storms in the United States.
metal oxide arresters provide exceptional This is called the isokeraunic level for an
overvoltage protection of equipment area. On average, between 40 and 80
connected to the power system. The thunderstorms hit the areas along the
proper selection and application of the Gulf Coast each year, while California
arrester, however, involves decisions in and some states along the Canadian
several areas, which will be discussed in border have an average of less than 5 per
the paper. year. So, it is easy to understand that
surge protection of electrical equipment
Introduction is a very important part of the electrical
system design.
The original lightning arrester was
nothing more than a spark air gap with Lightning strikes are not the only
one side connected to a line conductor sources of voltage surges in the electrical
and the other side connected to earth system. The following are a few of the
ground. When the line-to-ground voltage more frequently encountered causes of
reached the spark-over level, the voltage transient voltage surges:
surge would be discharged to earth 1. Surge voltages associated
ground. with switching capacitors
2. Surge voltages due to a
The modern metal oxide arrester failure in equipment
provides both excellent protective insulation resulting in a short
characteristics and temporary circuit on the distribution
overvoltage capability. The metal oxide system
disks maintain a stable characteristic and 3. Surge voltages associated
sufficient non-linearity and do not with the discharge of
require series gaps. lightning arresters at other
locations within the facility
Due to the broad nature of this subject,
this paper will concentrate on the When capacitors are switched in and out
application of the gapless metal oxide of the circuit, it is possible to get a
restrike when interrupting the capacitor

circuit current. A steep-front voltage machine may be only 25 ft. per
excursion may be created from each microsecond.
restrike. These voltage excursions may
be high enough to damage rotating The current resulting from a traveling
machines applied at the same voltage. A wave is equal to the voltage divided by
surge capacitor applied at the motor the impedance (E/Z). Wave current is
terminals can change the steepness of the approximately two to four amps per
wave front enough to protect the motor. kilovolt of surge voltage. Lightning
waves on overhead lines gradually
A short circuit can cause a voltage surge attenuate with travel.
in excess of 3 times the normal line to
neutral crest value. The magnitude and When the wave runs into a change in
steepness of the wave front is not as impedance (transformer, another line,
severe as that of a lightning strike, but etc.), the wave continues in the same
can cause damage or weaken motor direction at a different magnitude. It will
windings that do not have the higher also reflect back in the direction from
Basic Impulse Insulation Level (BIL) which it came.
ratings of other equipment.
When a wave E1 traveling on surge
When lightning discharges through an impedance Z1 encounters another surge
arrester, surge currents are discharged impedance Z2, the voltage on the new
into the grounding terminal. It is very wave Z2 becomes:
important that substations and overhead
lines be protected with well-grounded E2 = E1( 2 * Z2 )
shield wires. It is also equally important E1 + E2
that the ground system between pieces of
equipment be bonded together with Note: as the new surge impedance Z2
interconnected ground wires dedicated to approaches infinity, representative of an
the grounding system. open line, E2 = 2E1.

When a surge is released on a line by The reflected wave will actually double
direct strokes or induced strokes, the in magnitude in its return in the opposite
stroke travels in both directions from the direction. Unless the wave is discharged
point where the stroke originated. Wave to ground (lightning arrester connected
velocity is an inverse function of the to ground), the reflected wave can
surge impedance. Waves travel on an severely damage electrical equipment.
overhead line at approximately 1000 ft.
per microsecond, in cables about 300 – Surges produced by lightning have high
600 ft. per microsecond and in a buried magnitudes, but their durations are very
conductor about 300 ft. per microsecond. short. See figure below:
The velocity internal to a rotating

PSI Letter #3

Protective Margin
The lightning discharge may reach its
crest value in approximately 1 to 20 Most electrical equipment is rated for
microseconds and produce conduction traveling wave voltage surge capability
flashover voltages of 5 to 20 times by the Impulse Test. The Impulse Test
normal in 1 microsecond or less. is most common and consists of
applying a full-wave voltage surge of a
The wave shape is customarily specified crest value to the insulation of
expressed by two intervals associated the equipment involved. The crest value
with the wave geometry. The first time of the wave is called the Basic Impulse
interval is between a virtual zero and Insulation Level (BIL) of the equipment.
crest; the second time interval is between Each type of electrical equipment has a
the virtual zero and the half crest value standard BIL rating. Lightning arresters
on the wave tail. The wave is defined if are coordinated with standard electrical
the crest value is added to the two time- equipment insulation levels so that they
interval designations. For example, a will protect the insulation against
20000 amp 10 x 20 microsecond current lightning over voltages. This
wave rises to a crest of 20000 amperes in coordination is obtained by having an
10 microseconds after virtual zero and arrester that will discharge at a lower
decays to 10000 amperes in 20 voltage level than the voltage required to
microseconds after virtual zero. break down the electrical equipment
insulation. Equipment has certain
applicable impulse levels or BIL as
defined in industry standards.

It is important to recognize that rotating

machines do not have BIL ratings.

However, it is generally accepted that a distance between the arrester and the
rotating machine can withstand a voltage transformer.
wave at the motor terminals, which rises
to a maximum level at a rate not
exceeding 1.25 time the crest value of Switching Surge Withstand > = 1.15
the one-minute hi-pot test voltage in 10 Switching Surge Protective Level
microseconds. Steepness of the wave
front should also be considered when Full Wave Withstand (BIL) > = 1.20
applying surge protection to rotating Impulse Protective Level
machines. A fast rising voltage at the
motor terminals lifts the potential of the Chopped Wave Withstand > = 1.25
terminal turn, but the turns deeper in the Front-of-Wave Protective Level
windings are delayed in their response to
the arriving voltage wave due to the
large capacitance coupling between
conductors and the grounded core iron. The protective ratios typically exceed
The result is a high voltage gradient the minimum protective ratios
across the end-turns of the terminal coil, recommended by ANSI by a
resulting in severe voltage stress on the considerable amount in actual power
turn-to-turn insulation. system applications.

Surge arresters are applied to limit the Overwhelming evidence points to the
magnitude of impulse waves. Surge fact that surge voltage is a significant
capacitors reduce the steepness of the contributor to cable failure. When
wave fronts so that the equipment being transformers are subjected to surge
protected is not subjected to as severe a voltages, if the insulation strength of the
voltage wave. Surge capacitors should transformer is sufficient to withstand the
be considered only for rotating machine surge, there is typically no damage to the
protection and must be applied at the transformer. However, cable has
motor terminals. memory. Each impulse on a cable
contributes to the deterioration of cable
For insulation coordination, protective insulation strength, such that the cable
ratios are calculated at three separate may ultimately fail by overvoltage levels
points within the volt-time regions. below the BIL.
These are: the switching surge
withstand, the full wave withstand and The important thing to note is that each
the chopped wave withstand. The apparatus has a design rating. Many
following protective ratios must be met lightning and switching surges are of a
or exceeded if satisfactory insulation magnitude much higher than the design
coordination is to be achieved, according rating. It is of vital importance,
to the minimum recommendations given therefore, to properly select, locate, and
in ANSI C62.22. apply surge arresters in order to avoid
damaging equipment. Properly applied
These protective ratios assume surge protection can reduce the
negligible arrester lead length and magnitude of the traveling wave to a
level within the rating of the equipment.

Arrester Voltage Rating

Arrester Selection The lower the arrester voltage rating, the

lower the discharge voltage, and the
The objective of arrester application is to better the protection of the insulation
select the lowest rated surge arrester system. The lower rated arresters are
which will provide adequate overall also more economical. The challenge of
protection of the equipment insulation selecting and arrester voltage rating is
and have a satisfactory service life when primarily one of determining the
connected to the power system. The maximum sustained line-to-ground
arrester with the minimum rating is voltage that can occur at a given system
preferred because it provides the greatest location and then choosing the closest
margin of protection for the insulation. rating that is not exceeded by it. This
A higher rated arrester increases the maximum sustained voltage to ground is
ability of the arrester to survive on the usually considered to be the maximum
power system, but reduces the protective voltage on the unfaulted phases during a
margin it provides for a specific single line-to-ground fault. Hence, the
insulation level. Both arrester survival appropriate arrester ratings are
and equipment protection must be dependent upon the manner of system
considered in arrester selection. grounding.

The proper selection and application of Table 1 lists arrester ratings, for one
lightning arresters in a system involve manufacturer, that would normally be
decisions in three areas: applied on systems of various line-to-
line voltages. The rating of the arrester is
1. Selecting the arrester voltage defined as the RMS voltage at which the
rating. This decision is based arrester passes the duty-cycle test as
on whether or not the system defined by the reference standard. Metal
is grounded and the method oxide arresters are designed and tested in
of system grounding. accordance with ANSI/IEEE C62.11.
2. Selecting the class of arrester.
In general there are three For surge arrester applications the
classes of arresters. In order “solidly grounded” classification is
of protection, capability and usually found in Electric Utility
cost, the classes are: distribution systems where the system is
Station class usually only grounded at the point of
Intermediate class supply. These systems can exhibit a
Distribution class wide range of grounding coefficients
The station class arrester has depending upon the system or location in
the best protection capability the system. Accordingly, these systems
and is the most expensive. may require a study to ensure the most
3. Determine where the arrester economical, secure, arrester rating
should be physically located. selection. If this information is not
known or available, the ungrounded
classification should be used.

The “ungrounded” classification ungrounded system. This simply means
includes resistance grounded systems, that the maximum continuous operating
ungrounded systems and temporarily voltage, as discussed below, must be at
ungrounded systems. Both high least 100 % of the maximum operating
resistance and low resistance systems are voltage of the system.
considered ungrounded for the selection
of the proper surge arrester since during
a line-to-ground fault the unfaulted
phases and their arresters experience
essentially line-to-line voltage. The same
is true for the infrequently used

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Continuous System Voltage This is referred to as the Maximum

Continuous Operating Voltage (MCOV).
When arresters are connected to the The MCOV values for each arrester
power system they continually monitor rating are shown, for one manufacturer,
the system operating voltage. For each in Table 2a below. These values meet or
arrester rating, there is a limit to the exceed those values contained in the
magnitude of voltage that may be referenced standard. Note that the
continuously applied to the arrester. MCOV is less that the arrester voltage

rating. The arrester selected must have a line-to-line, then the phase-to-phase
MCOV rating greater than or equal to voltage must be considered. There are
the maximum continuous system also special applications that require
voltage. Attention must be given to the additional consideration such as the use
circuit configuration (single phase, wye, of a delta tertiary winding of a
or delta) as well as the arrester transformer where one corner of the
connection (line-to-ground or line-to- delta is permanently grounded. In this
line). Most arresters are connected line- case the normal voltage applied to the
to-ground, in which case, the grounding arrester will be full phase-to-phase
methods discussed above must be voltage even though the arresters are
considered. If the arrester is connected connected line-to-ground.

FETA – 100A

that the overvoltages may be applied
before the arrester voltage must be
Temporary Overvoltages reduced to the arrester’s continuous
operating voltage capability. These
Temporary overvoltages (TOV) may be capabilities are independent of system
caused by a number of events such as impedance and are, therefore, valid for
line-to-ground faults, circuit back voltages applied at the arrester location.
feeding, load rejection, and ferro- If detailed transient system studies or
resonance. The system configuration and calculations are not available, the
operating practices will identify the most overvoltages due to a single line-to-
probable forms of temporary overvoltage ground fault should be considered as a
that may occur at the arrester location. minimum. The arrester application
The temporary overvoltage capability standard ANSI C62.22 gives some
must meet or exceed the expected guidance in determining the magnitude
temporary overvoltages. of single line-to-ground fault
overvoltages. The effects of TOV on
Table 3 identifies the temporary metal oxide arresters are increased
overvoltage capability of one current and power dissipation and a
manufacture's arresters in per unit of rising arrester temperature.
MCOV. It also defines the time duration

FETA – 100A

over a one-minute period. Arresters
Switching Surges have more capability if the discharges
take place over a longer period of time.
The energy capability of an arrester After a one-minute rest period, the
determines the ability of the arrester to discharges, as defined, may be repeated.
dissipated switching surges. These energy ratings assume that
The units used in defining the energy switching surges occur in a system
capability of metal oxide arresters are having surge impedances of several
kilojoules per kilovolt. hundred ohms, which is typical for
overhead transmission circuits. In
The maximum amount of energy that circuits having low surge impedance
can be dissipated in one manufacture’s involving cables or shunt capacitors, the
arresters is given in Table 4. These energy capability of metal oxide
capabilities are based on the assumption arresters may be reduced because
that multiple discharges are distributed currents can exceed the values stated.

FETA – 100A

Arrester Failure and Pressure Relief Should a complete failure of the arrester
occur, a line-to-ground arc will develop
Metal oxide disks may crack or puncture and pressure will build up inside the
if the capability of the arrester is housing. This pressure will be safely
exceeded reducing the arrester internal vented to the outside and an external arc
electrical resistance. This will limit the will be established, provided the fault
arrester’s ability to survive future system current is within the pressure relief fault
conditions but does not jeopardize the current capability of the arrester.
insulation protection provided by the
arrester. Once an arrester has safely vented, it no
longer possesses its pressure relief/fault

current capability and should be intended arrester location taking in
immediately replaced. For a given allowances for future growth.
application, the arrester selected should Table 5 shows relief/fault current
have a pressure relief/fault current capability for one manufacture’s
capability greater than the maximum arresters.
short-circuit current available at the

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Arrester Class lower and the pressure relief is greater.

The value of the protected equipment
The class of lightning arrester to be and the importance of uninterrupted
applied depends upon the importance service generally warrant the use of
and value of the protected equipment, its station class arresters throughout their
impulse insulation level and the voltage range. Industry standards dictate
expected discharge currents the arrester the use of both station class and
must withstand. intermediate class arresters for
equipment protection in the 5-to 20-
Station class arresters are designed for mVA size ranges. Above 20 mVA,
protection of equipment that may be station class arresters are predominately
exposed to significant energy due to line used.
switching surges and at locations where
significant fault current is available. Intermediate class arresters are
They have superior electrical designed to provide economic and
performance because their energy reliable protection of medium voltage
absorption capabilities are greater, the class power equipment. Intermediate
discharge voltages (protective levels) are arresters are an excellent choice for the

protection of dry-type transformers, for BIL apparatus (certain dry-type
use in switching and sectionalizing transformers and rotating machines) will
equipment and for the protection of often require surge protective devices be
URD cables. Traditional applications connected directly at the terminals of the
include equipment protection in the equipment being protected.
range of 1 to 20 mVA for substations
and rotating machines. In many switchgear installations, the
only exposure to lightning will be
Distribution class arresters are through a transformer located on its up
frequently used for smaller liquid-filled stream side. When the transformer has
and dry-type transformers 1000 kVA adequate lightning protection on its
and less. These arresters can also be primary, experience has shown that the
used, if available in the proper voltage surge transferred through the transformer
rating, for application at the terminals of is usually not of a magnitude that would
rotating machines below be harmful to the switchgear. Hence, it is
1000 kVA. The distribution arrester is generally not necessary to provide
often used out on exposed lines that are arresters in the switchgear.
directly connected to rotating machines.
When arresters are located away from
All of the system parameters need to be the terminals of the protected equipment,
considered while choosing an arrester the voltage wave will reflect positively
classification. If the actual arrester on the equipment terminals and the
energy duties are not known and a voltage magnitude at the terminal point
transient study cannot be performed, will always be higher than the discharge
then it is suggested that Station class voltage of the arrester. This, as
arresters be applied. This is a discussed earlier, is due to the fact that
conservative approach that reduces the the protected equipment usually has a
chances of misapplication. higher surge impedance than the line or
cable serving it. If the circuit is open at
Location of Arresters the protected equipment (infinite surge
impedance), the voltage will be double
The ideal location for lightning arresters, the arrester discharge voltage.
from the standpoint of protection, is
directly at the terminals of the equipment The actual surge voltage appearing at the
to be protected. At this location, with the protected equipment depends, in part, on
arrester grounded directly at the tank, the incoming wave magnitude at the
frame or other metallic structure which instant of arrester discharge. If a positive
supports the insulated parts, the surge reflected surge from the protected
voltage applied to the insulation will be equipment arrives back at the arrester
limited to the discharge voltage of the before arrester discharge, it will add to
arrester. Practical system circumstance the incoming wave to produce discharge
and sound economics often dictate that at a lower incoming wave magnitude.
arresters be mounted remotely from the The reflected wave, in this case, results
equipment to be protected. Often, one set in improved protection. The closer the
of arresters can be applied to protect arrester is to the protected equipment,
more than one piece of equipment. Low

the greater the effect of the reflected
surge on arrester discharge and
the better the protection.

All electrical equipment in an electrical absorption capability, compared to
system needs to be protected from previous generation arresters.
voltage surges. The rating of the arrester,
the class of arrester and the location of The application and selection of metal
the arrester all play a part in the surge oxide arresters requires a thorough
protection. Modern metal oxide arresters review of the power system, including
provide markedly superior protective voltage, system stresses, switching
characteristics and energy surges, grounding method and MCOV.


1. ANSI/IEEE C62.11 Standard for 4. TRANQUELL Surge Arresters,

Metal-Oxide Surge Arresters for Product Selection & Application
Alternating Current Systems. Guide – GE Publication no.
FETA – 100A
2. ANSI/IEEE C62.22 Guide for
Application of Metal-Oxide 5. Bob M. Turner, GE, Power
Surge Arresters for AC Systems. Systems Information Letter No.
3, May 1986
3. George W. Walsh, “A Review of
Lightning Protection and 6. Bob M. Turner, GE, Power
Grounding Practice”, IEEE Systems Information Letter No.
Transactions on Industry 4, August 1986
Applications, Vol.IA-9, No. 2,
March/April 1973 (reprint/Ref
GE Publication GER-2951)