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Understanding of DC Leakage and Faults in Floating

Photovoltaic Systems: Trojan Horse to Undermine


Metallic Infrastructure and Safety
Andreas Dimitriou, Antonis L. Lazari, Charalambos A. Charalambous
PSM Lab, Dept. of Electrical and Computer engineering
University of Cyprus
Nicosia, Cyprus
adimit06@ucy.ac.cy, alazar01@ucy.ac.cy, cchara@ucy.ac.cy

Abstract— This article elaborates on a recently published issue the bonding to earth of exposed metal (e.g. metal frames of the
that calls the entire PV community’s and utility management PV modules, supporting infrastructure, combiner boxes) that
attention. It specifically provides further analysis on DC leakage could become energised in a fault situation or under normal
and fault detection blind spots associated with the operation of operation due to DC coupling mechanisms [4],[5]. This
floating PV Systems. Floating systems are almost a standard perception (i.e. lack all connections to ground) is not true
practice in Europe when it comes to the operation of large-scale however. Both earthed and floating PV systems have their
PV parks. A floating PV system has neither the positive nor the metal equipment connected to earth (Fig.1) to maintain the
negative DC current-carrying conductors connected to earth. electrical potential of any exposed metal parts at zero volts.
The system nevertheless benefits from other earthing
That is, to facilitate the operation of protection devices [6] to
connections, including the bonding to earth of exposed metals
assist in keeping systems and people safe. Moreover, the
(e.g. metal frames of the PV modules, supporting infrastructure,
combiner boxes) that could become energised in a fault situation
arising issue of DC stray current induced corrosion has been
or even under normal operation due to DC coupling very recently addressed by the authors in [7] and [8]. The
mechanisms. These may entail safety as well as accelerated DC work reported has gained its archival value by highlighting
corrosion concerns. that, under certain conditions, the DC leakage currents, if left
unattended, or not detected at all, may cause accelerated stray
Index Terms- Photovoltaic Systems, DC leakage currents, Fault current corrosion on metallic structures (e.g. racks, joints,
Detection, Insulation resistance. conduits, enclosures-boxes) or on metallic underground
infrastructure (e.g. metallic pipelines) buried in the vicinity of
I. INTRODUCTION large, utility-scale PV systems.
Leakage currents in Photovoltaic systems (PVs) come as a
result of a fault or from the systematic and inevitable flow of
direct current (DC) through non-ideal materials of the cables,
PV modules and other array components. PVs are normally
earthed to eliminate shock, lightning surges and possible fire
hazards [1]. The earthing of a utility-scale PV plant may
embrace the Medium Voltage (MV) substation’s earthing
system, the inverters’ housings (AC) earthing provisions as
well as any lightning protection related earthing. The DC side
of PV systems (DC PV arrays) can be also earthed and based
on their type of earthing, the systems are classified as earthed
or floating [2], [3], (Fig. 1). An earthed PV system has either
the positive or negative DC-carrying conductor connected to
earth. In contrast a floating PV system has neither the positive
nor negative DC current-carrying conductor connected to
earth. The inverter in floating PV systems may have a
transformer, providing galvanic isolation between the DC and
AC side or alternatively it may be transformerless (non-
isolated) [2]. A common misunderstanding about floating PV
systems is that they lack all connections to ground, including Fig. 1. Types of PV Systems Earthing
The objective of this paper is to provide some simulation III. BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF PHYSICAL MODEL
case studies that are able to provide an insight on the DC
leakage activity and blind spots in floating isolated PV A. Layout and Electrical Specifications
systems. So far the earth fault “blind spot” in PV systems has Figure 2 illustrates a topologically accurate top view of a PV
been used to describe the presence of undetected leakage system that is used to facilitate the simulation of the above
currents (i.e. faults on earthed conductors) that can result in described case studies. It labels its actual dimensions as well
some sort of arcing or fire ignition should a subsequent as the most important features identified as being crucial
ground fault occur on an ungrounded conductor of the PV when it comes to assessing the DC leakage activity. In
system. The Solar America Board for Codes and Standards particular, the example case illustrates a PV park that is
(Solar ABCs) [9] has described the “blind spot” problem as occupying an area of 7875.2 m2 by hosting 12 similar
“not an inherent limitation in the grounded/isolated structures (arrays) of fixed inclination. The system has a
configuration but rather an unintended consequence of the nominal output power of 396kWp that is provided by 6 PV
prevailing Ground Fault Detector/Interrupter (GFDI) method arrays. There are 16 PV strings per PV array and each PV
used to deal with multiple faults”. string has 25 PV modules connected in series. At standard
At the same time, the board has correctly acknowledged test conditions (1000 W/m2), each 165 W module has an Imp
that the so called “blind spot” phenomenon (i.e. ground fault of 4.66 A and a Vmp of 35,26V.
in the grounded conductor) is not applicable in floating Moreover, six pairs of underground array cables are running
isolated systems since they have no earthed current-carrying from the combiner boxes (CBA, CBB, CBC, CBD, CBE, CBF) to
conductors. However, excessive leakage currents due to the central combiner box (CCBM). From CCBM a pair of main
various hidden faults do exist (but they are not easily cables (underground) leads to the central inverter. Each pair
identified) in floating configurations and if they are left is composed of one positive and one negative cable (i.e.
undetected or unattended may facilitate serious failures in current carrying conductors).
either of the two configurations.

II. BRIEF DESCRIPTION EXAMINED CASES


This paper specifically models and examines the following
cases that concern the operation of floating PV systems:
x Case 1 - Modelling of the influence Cables’ Insulation on
DC Leakage activity under steady state conditions: The
distinct potential difference between positive and negative
current carrying conductors creates circulating currents
between the two. Thus, the simulation will examine the
leakage activity under several insulation resistances of the
PV wiring, to identify the extent of these circulating
currents.
x Case 2 - Modelling of the influence of DC leakage activity
under variable solar irradiation: During the course of a Fig. 2. Top view of PV Park
day, a PV plant operates under variable solar irradiation.
The maximum power point tracker of the inverter regulates B. DC Cable Specification
the voltage and the current in such way to maximize the
power production [10]. By extension the DC leakage The array cables as well as the main cable are installed
activity can vary accordingly as this will be demonstrated. underground. The current-carrying requirements and the
insulation specifications are complying with [12] and are
x Case 3 - Modelling of the influence of accidental DC faults labeled in Table I. It should be highlighted that those PV dc
on DC leakage activity: The DC side of a PV plant may cables that are directly buried into the ground usually follow
suffer from faults that can occur accidentally during some installation guidelines such as the ones given in VDE
maintenance or due to natural system’s degradation or 0800 Section 174 § 5.4.2 and VDE 0891 Section 6 §4.2
even from rodents [6], [11]. The need for this type of fault ratings.
investigation arises from the fact that in floating isolated TABLE I
configurations a single ground fault will not necessarily SPECIFICATION OF MAIN AND ARRAY CABLES
cease the operation of the inverter [2]. The operation of the Specifications Array Main
inverter will only be ceased in the event of a second Cables Cables
ground fault. This is because a second ground fault will Cross sectional area of conductor (mm2) 25 240
Current carrying capacity (A) 167 736
allow fault currents to circulate through the circuits Thickness of insulation (mm) 0,9 1,7
associated with the two faults - i.e. due to the potential Minimum insulation resistance at 20 oC (MΩ.km) 340 200
difference established between the faults’ location. Minimum insulation resistance at 90 oC (MΩ.km) 0,34 0,20
C. Grounding System Description 3) Equipment grounding conductor (EGC): This conductor
The central inverter housing is earthed by an earthing grid ensures the equipotential bonding of all PV metal
benefiting from 1Ω resistance. Also, an Equipment frameworks. It is effectively used to connect all metallic
Grounding Conductor (E.G.C) that ensures the equipotential frames with the 1Ω earthing system. The conductor is made
bonding of all PV metal frameworks is appropriately bonded of copper with cross-sectional area (CSA) of 6mm2.
to the 1Ω earthing grid (See Fig.3). 4) Central Inverter: The central inverter is modeled as an
ideal conductor having a lumped resistive load (Rinv) to
IV. SIMULATION MODEL AND PARAMETERS control the operating voltage. The operating voltage of
inverter lies in a range of 800V-1000V.
The simulation model is developed in commercially available 5) Portions of Metallic Frames Driven to Soil: These are
software [13]. The model is able to assess the DC leakage galvanized steel conductors that are modeled to replicate the
activity originating from the buried PV DC cables taking into portions of the PV façade frameworks driven into the soil. In
account their geometry, topological arrangement, and soil and total, there are 216 metallic elements reaching the depth of
material characteristics. The simulation platform allows the 0,8m. Each portion has effective CSA of 141mm2.
computation of multiple electrical measurements (current
flow, voltage distribution, ground potential rise, leakage B. Description of Soil Model
currents etc.) along the actual length of the entire system of The simulation model shown in Fig. 3 incorporates a uniform
conductors considered. The computer model formulated to soil model that is embedded in the software platform used
replicate the physical configuration shown in Fig. 2, is [13]. The resistivity assigned to the model can take a range of
illustrated in perspective view in Fig. 3. With reference to values depending on the soil type and moisture content (e.g.,
Fig. 3, the following items are described in more detail. 10 Ω.m, 100 Ω.m, etc.).
A. Description of underground Conductors’ Sizing and C. Description of Energization Principles
Arrangement There are 6 pairs of current sources with adjustable
1) Earthing Grid: The earthing grid is modeled as a group of magnitudes. Each pair replicates the production of 16 PV
cylindrical conductors buried under the central inverter. The strings-arrays. At the top end of each positive array cable a
dimensions of the cylindrical conductors as well as its buried current source injects current in the positive current carrying
depth were chosen to provide an equivalent 1 Ω earthing conductor (cable). The modelling technique (i.e. using current
resistance. sources and sinks [7]) applied allows for the current return
2) Array cables and Main Cables: In PV systems, both the through the negative current carrying conductor (see Fig.4).
positive and negative cable conductors are current carrying. The cumulative current from all sources flows through Rinv
Therefore, the size of the floating cable conductors (positive thus resulting in a potential deference between positive and
and negative) is based on their required ampacity value. The negative conductors. By regulating the magnitude of the
specifications of cables are shown in Table I. The insulation current sources as well as the Rinv value the current and
resistance of the cables is given a rated value however this voltage of the PV system can be controlled as per various
value will be varied in the simulations to facilitate the operating conditions.
intended sensitivity analysis. The conductors are buried into a
soil model, 0.25 m below the earth surface.

Fig. 4. Current energization principle applied on a set of dc cables [7].

V. INDICATIVE SIMULATION RESULTS


A. Influence of Cables’ Insulation on DC leakage activity
under steady state conditions:
The objective of the first simulation is to quantify the
magnitude of the expected DC leakage under varying cables’
insulating conditions. To this extent the simulation is
performed under 4 different insulation levels - assuming
steady state conditions. The inverter operates under rated
Fig. 3. Perspective view of the arrangement of conductive elements in the power with an input voltage of 880V and current of 450A.
PV system model
Some indicative results pertaining to the cumulative leakage
current flowing from the positive to the negative conductors
(i.e. circulating currents) are shown in Table II. The variation
in the insulation resistance is selected as per the clauses of
EN 50618 standard [12] that suggests that the values of the
cables’ insulation resistance can vary by three orders of
magnitude depending on the operating temperature. Various
studies have also reported that the resistivity of the insulation
materials (XLPE & PVC) can be reduced as the temperature
rises [14], [15].

TABLE II
TOTAL CIRCULATING LEAKAGE CURRENTS
Insulation Resistance
Total Circulating
Scenario (MΩ.km)
Leakage (mA)
Array Cables Main Cables
1 200 340 0.024 Fig. 6. Ground Potential Rise of Main Cables.
2 20 34 0.31
3 2 3,4 3 B. Modelling of the influence of circulating currents on DC
4 0,2 0,34 31.4 leakage activity under variable irradiation
Furthermore, the simulation model also examines the The incident solar irradiation on a PV plant during the
distribution of the leakage activity and ground potential rise course of the day is time varying. The maximum power point
(GPR) along the lengths of the cables. By means of an tracker (MPPT) regulates the voltage and the current in a way
example, Fig.5 shows the leakage activity of main cables for to maximize the production efficiency [10] under varying
the 4th simulation scenario (Table II). The positive leakage solar radiation conditions. To this extent, Fig. 7 shows the
values indicate that the current is leaving the cable whereas operational Vmp and Imp of the central inverter. The inverter
the negative values indicate the flow of leakage current in the triggers the operation if the incident solar irradiation exceeds
cables. This distribution can be used to identify localised the 100W/m2. Below this value the PV generators are open
leakage activity that may compromise safety or be the cause circuited. While the radiation increases the operating current
of accelerated dc stray current induced corrosion. increases proportionally, whilst the voltage is stabilized on
around 880V. The cumulative leakage current flowing from
the positive to the negative current carrying conductors is
superimposed on Fig. 7 as per each solar irradiation level.
This simulation entails that DC leakage activity correlates
with environmental conditions such as the solar potential and
its variation through a time cycle.

Fig.5. Leakage Current Density of Main Cables.

Figure 6 presents the corresponding GPR of the positive and


negative cables. It specifically shows that under steady state
conditions there is an equal (but opposite) potential rise
between positive and negative main cable in the order of
Fig. 7. Operating Voltage, Current and corresponding Leakage
440V. This entails that DC leakage activity can take place
under Variable Solar Irradiation.
due to the inherent potential difference of the positive and
negative cables.
C. Modelling of the influence of accidental DC Faults on
DC Leakage Activity
This simulation aims to investigate the DC leakage activity
associated with a single ground fault. A single ground fault
will not necessarily cease the operation of the inverter;
however an increased DC leakage activity may be
persistently present [2]. The case study reproduces a single
ground fault in negative main cable as shown on Fig.8.

Fig. 9. Ground Potential Rise of Main Cables.

The single ground fault will inevitably cause a variation in


the dc leakage activity. This is cumulatively demonstrated in
Table IV. Under steady state conditions the dc leakage flow
between the positive and negative main cables has
equilibrium (i.e. +17.6 mA and – 17.5mA). This suggests that
the circulating currents between the two cables are locally
restricted (i.e. the current is exchanged between the two
Fig. 8. Single ground fault in negative main cable. cables at their proximity). However, the presence of a ground
fault (i.e. connection to earth) may facilitate the return of
The following results are presented: more dc leakage (other than those originating from the
a) Cumulative dc leakage current in the PV model positive main cable) back to their source, at the location
where the single fault occurs. This is shown in Table IV and
b) ground potential rise (GPR) of the main cables and in Fig. 10, since the return of leakage current in the negative
c) distribution of dc leakage activity between the main main cable (return indicated by the negative value) is
cables. significantly higher than the leakage flow from its pair
positive main cable. This suggests that a significant amount
Table III shows that the cumulative leakage current flowing of dc leakage originating from other cables (e.g. the positive
from the positive to the negative conductors is approximately array cables) have a return preference determined by the
is increased by 50% relative to the steady state conditions in location of the fault. Thus, depending on the fault location,
the event of a single fault to ground. (Note: The model DC corrosion related risks areas can be framed; should dc
simulates a single ground fault as per the particulars of the 4 th leakage/stray currents at remote PV park’s locations are
scenario described in Table II). picked up on nearby metallic infrastructure to ease their
return to the location where the fault occurs.
TABLE III
LEAKAGE ACTIVITY TABLE IV
PV system Condition Total Leakage (mA) TOTAL LEAKAGE CURRENTS OF MAIN CABLES
Steady State 31.4 Total Leakage current (mA)
First Ground Fault 46 Main Cables
Steady State Single Ground Fault
The transition in the system’s dc leakage behavior can be Positive Cable 17.6 32
Negative Cable -17.5 45.2
shown by the means of the ground potential rise (GPR)
configuration of the cables. By comparing Fig.6 with Fig.9,
after the ground fault’s occurrence, a potential shift on the
cables is observed. The negative cable i.e. where the fault has
occurred, is approaching the earth’s potential while the GPR
of the positive cable is doubled. Thus, the single ground fault
has effectively turned the floating isolated system into a
system with an earth connection.
[9] B. Brooks, “The ground-fault protection blind spot: Safety concern for
larger PV systems in the U.S “Solar Board Codes Stand. Rep” Jan.2012
[10] H. Zheng, S. Li, K. Bao and D. Zhang, "Comparative study of
maximum power point tracking control strategies for solar PV
systems," Transmission and Distribution Conference and Exposition
(T&D), 2012 IEEE PES, Orlando, FL, 2012, pp. 1-8.
[11] Ye Zhao, J. de Palma, J. Mosesian, R. Lyons, B. Lehman, "Line–Line
Fault Analysis and Protection Challenges in Solar Photovoltaic
Arrays," IEEE Tran. Ind. Electron., vol.60, no.9, pp.3784-3795, Sept.
2013
[12] Electric cables for photovoltaic systems (BT(DE/NOT)258), EN
Standard 50618,2014
[13] CDEGS Software, Safe engineering services & technologies
Ltd.,Montreal, QC, Canada, 1978.
[14] Alkesh Pal, P.K. Khare, Electrical conductivity behaviour of pure and
polyblends samples of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polymethyl
methacrylate (PMMA), Journal of Electrostatics, Volume 71, Issue 6,
Pages 976-986, Dec. 2013
[15] T. D. Eish, F. M. H. Youssef and S. S. El-Dessouky, "Effect of
temperature rise and water contamination on leakage current in
underwater used XLPE insulated power cables," Electrical Insulation,
Fig. 10. Leakage Current Density of main cables after ground fault. 1988., Conference Record of the 1988 IEEE International Symposium
on, Cambridge, MA, 1988, pp. 343-346
VI. CONCLUSION
The modelling endeavours of this paper have been
focused in floating PV systems. This is because excessive
leakage currents due to various faults do exist in floating
configurations but these are not easily identified due to the
absence of a distinct reference to earth. If this leakage activity
is let undetected or unattended it may facilitate some
accelerated dc corrosion related risks, should all necessary
conditions are met. To this end, the modelling techniques
described in the paper are an important step towards assessing
the impact of accelerated dc corrosion on critical
infrastructures, such as natural gas pipelines that are operated
near large-scale floating PV plants. The unattended dc
leakage activity can effectively act as the Trojan horse when
it comes to a cost-effectively maintaining the reliability and
integrity of structural buildings and critical metallic
infrastructures that are installed near large scale PV systems.

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