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The Degradation of Power Capacitors under the

Influence of Harmonics
L. H .S.Duarte' and M F. Alves, Member IEEE '
An adequate evaluation of the degradation process imposed by
ABSTRACT: Power capacitors (PC) may be impaired by the harmonics on a PC taking into account the long-term
presence of harmonic components. An adequate evaluation of the mechanisms of degradation of PC and the possible additional
degradation process imposed by harmonies on a PC should take stresses imposed by the harmonics, as discussed in this paper,
into account the long-term mechanisms of degradation of PC and
will add to the proper understanding of this problem.
the possiblle additional stresses imposed by the harmonies.
This paper presents the degradation mechanisms for all-film PC,
with emphasis on the activities of partial discharger (PD). II - POWER CAPACITORS (PC)
A methodology for the evaluation of the influence of the
harmonic in the degradation of PC, based on the applied voltage The essence of a PC is its dielectric system. Thus, through the
and its respective waveform, is developed. choice of appropriate materials, a great effort has been
developed in the improvement of the dielectric system. This
Keywords: Power Capacitor, Degradation, Polypropylene, allows to increase the power density and also to reduce the
Harmonics. cost of the reactive energy produced.
The current design practiced for high voltage all-film PC
1. INTRODUCTION consists of a certain number of capacitive elements, each one,
consisting of several thin layers of polypropylene film (PP) as
The presence of harmonic components in the electric systems. dielectric and thin foils of aluminum as electrodes. The
which can be intensified by the installation o f PC, very ofLen elements are stacked inside the capacitor container,
result in degradation of the capacitors design performance. denominated as the ran of the PC, and connected to each other
The subject PC versus harmonic components is characterized in series and parallel in order to obtain the rated capacitance
by a particular interaction in the electric power systems. and voltage of the whole capacitive unit. Additionally, the
Generally, the harmonic components represent possible capacitive elements are impregnated with a special fluid or
additional thermal, dielectrics and perhaps other stresses, impregnant, the mono-dibenzyltoluene (M/DBT) in hermetic
imposed to PC. atmosphere.
The origin of these additional stresses generated by the The main design parameter is the value of applied dielectric
presence of the harmonics is not verified in a direct, detailed stress, when the dielectric materials are used to the "
or sufficient way in the available literature in the area of PC. maximum " of theirs limits. This implies a dielectric stress of
The different approaches adopted by different standards about IO times higher for PC, as compared to the other electric
groups to establish the operative limits of PC. is indicative of equipments.
the fact that there is no unique interpretation for these For illustration purpose, the typical values for the dielectric
questions. A possible reason for that is the difficulty in stresses for PC are:
establishing parameters for the study of the long-term
a) for the design with paper: 18 KVimm (years 70180)
degradation of PC r1-21. b) forthe all-film design: SO to 80 KV/mm (years 80/90)
The long-term degradation was initial and exclusively
attributed to thermal factors (until the decade of 70). Later on, Therefore, it can he noticed that the development of the
also to chemical reactions (decade of 80) [2], and nowadays, dielectrics allowed a gain in the power density of PC in the
mainly to dielectrics factors. last decades. However, this imposes the need for a reasonable
This evolution in the way the technical community sees the knowledge regarding the properties and application limits for
degradation concepts is strongly linked to the technological the materials and adopted designs.
progress obtained for the raw materials of PC, and consequent This fact and the different applications of PC set the scenario
improvement on the designs of these equipments in the last for the process of degradation and failures o f the dielectric
decades [1-4]. system, delineating the operative limits. It is important to
observe that the mechanisms of short and long-term durations,

'Companhia Energklica de Minas Gerais- CEMIG, AV. Barbaema, 1200 - Santo Agoslinho. 30190-131.Belo Horirontc, MG,Brazil,
Pontificia Univcrridade Cat6lica de Minas Gerais - PUC-MG. AV. Dom JorC Gaspar, 500, Coraclo Eucarislico. 30535-610, Belo Hocizonfc, MG, Brazil.

0-7803-76714102R17.0002002 IEEE 334

in other words, the aging process. are directly linked to the
design-manufacturing process of PC. Thus, a hencr Thermal Decomposition,
understanding of the phenomena relevant for the identification PPOOH 3 PPO" + OH";
of the dielectric system "weak points", is a must, if the goal
are improvements and optimization on the projects of PC. QC by the elimination reaction denominated p fission:

111.1 degradation of the dielectric system of PC under Where PP' is a fragment of a macromolecule PP.
operative voltages
The dielectric system of PC may suffer a reduction of its The consequences are the scission of macromolecular chains,
dielectric strength during aging under moderate dielectric the formation of fragments of low-molecular-weight and its
dissolution in the liquid, the emhrittlement of the PP and the
This degradation can not he perceptible through the reduction of the respective breakdown voltage.
characterization of the defects, hut the possibility exists for Actually, some thermal-oxidative degradation studies in
this to be related to the so called weak points of PP. polyQropylene have demonstrated that the free radicals react
This phenomenon could he attributed to the presence of ionic quickly with the molecular oxygen (02) yielding
. peroxides
radical [SI. At its time, the unstable peroxides combines with
impurities or other particles present in the insulation. These
impurities would potentially cause the degradation of PP and more stable functional groups resulting in chains scission and
maybe of the impregnant, both through chemical reactions. reduction of the respective molecular weight.

111.2 The phenomenon of the degradation of PP in PC In most of commercial PC, where it is verified the absence or
deficiency of oxygen, the tertiary alkyl radicals in PP will he
In agreement with the general formula for degradation of the submitted to the reaction of elimination called p fission;
polypropylene (PP), the initial stage is essentially the reaction whose reduced formula is the following:
with free radicals, R", which captures an atom of hydrogen of
a tertiary carbon of the macromolecule of PP, producing the PP" 3 PP2" + PPC=C.
macro radical PPO.
At this time, the process is not accelerated by the hydro-
PP + Ro PP"+RH peroxides, hence those elements are of smaller importance
relative to the fissions of the oxidative chains. Therefore, a
However, the formation of Ro cannot he attributed to the reduction of the breakdown voltage of the film, in a smaller
incidence of electric discharges in modem PC, hut to the rate than with the presence of oxygen, is foreseen.
reactions due to the transfer of charges in the electrodes.
Therefore, the origin of these R" is very probably in the 111.3 Correlation between levels of activities of PD and
impregnant, in its additives or even in some impurities, such dielectrics stresses
as water or dissolved oxygen. In general, R" is yielded from
more propitious molecules to be oxidized or reduced in the A recent task force (TF) developed by CIGRE [ 6 ]
electrodes. These electrochemistry reactions lead to cations demonstrated the potentiality of PD as parameter for diagnosis
and anions radicals formation which can react directly with PP of PC.
or pass to subsequent chemical reactions producing R".
Special attention should he given to the concept of level of
The second stage of the decomposition mechanism of the
activities of PD and respective dielectrics stresses. Most of the
radicals of PP (PP") depends on the presence or not of oxygen.
time, the additional degradation conditions of PC, usually
In principle, it can be thought of decomposition mechanisms
happen for a operating voltage slightly higher to the rated one.
under absence, deficiency, or even in the presence of oxygen.
For this condition, a certain level of activity of PD will be
Let us analyze, with didactic purpose, a hypothetical presence
present. Also, there is a corresponding partial discharge
of a substantial concentration of oxygen. where the
inception voltage (PDIV), implying in PD along the life of
macroradicals PP' produce the peroxides radicals (PP2"), and
PC, possibly of the order of units or even few dozens of pC.
then, hydroperoxides (PP02H).
So, the degradation condition considered in this paper is
PP; + oz3 PPO + PP20
concerning with dielectric stresses related to a PDIV that
PPO,' + PPH 3 PPOOH + PP" allows activities of PD at low levels, which we will call
These hydroperoxides are decomposed creating other free 1V - PC UNDER HARMONICS
macroradicals and, this way, increasing the initial
concentration of those and increasing the kinetics of oxidation
IV.l Electrochemistry reactions and partial discharges (PD)
This can occur by: The creation of R" has been attributed to the loads transferring
reactions in the electrodes, i.e., the power capacitor can also
be seen as favorable environment to electrochemistry related with the activities of PD developed in that equipment.
reactions, in particular, the electrolysis. Moreover, a quantification of this relationship would demand
The generator cannot create or eliminate electrons in an a great effort of analyses and experimental investigations,
electrolytic tub, but, its function in the electrochemistry circuit which is out of the scope of the present work.
is only “to inject them” into negative pole and Yo aspire
them” from the positive pole. This unidirectional feature IV.2 Additional stresses imposed by the harmonic
demands a direct current source. Obviously, this electrons components
flow throughout the electrolyte. The energy supplied by the
generator will provoke the oxy-reduction reaction. transferring Total Harmonic Voltage Distortion (THVD), one of the major
electrons from an element to other, accomplishing a non- measures of harmonic distortion, is not adequate to evaluate
spontaneous reaction. Identifying the elements of the the possible dielectric stresses imposed to PC. Such evaluation
electrolysis in the electrolytic tub called I’ PC ‘I, firstly it should take into account, for example, the specific crest
would attribute the function of the generator to the pertinent voltage. This requires the knowledge of the magnitude and
electric system. However, the “electrons injection” through phase shift of the harmonics in relation to the fundamental
the electrodes does not necessarily happen in a steady-state component.
condition, but, it surely occurs in the occurrence of PD. The
mentioned electric discharges, i.e., amount of electricity, are In practice, the voltage waveform distortion may result in
the energy supplied to the electrochemistry reaction. The crest values considerably higher in relation to the crest value
electrons transferring reactions are carried-out between of the fundamental component. A voltage waveform with a
elements (molecules) propitious to be oxidized or reduced. rms value close to rated, may still have undesirable high crest
They are present in the impregnant as additives or impurities values applied to the PC.
(water, dissolved oxygen, ions, etc.). In conclusion, the
M D B T acts as an electrolyte in this process. Comparative analysis between dielectric stresses

In this sense, the production of the free radicals Ro by the In order to perform a comparative analysis, we will consider
electrolysis could be minimized or limited by the reduction of the following boundary conditions simulating two design’s
the levels of PD activities. So, such condition can be achieved project possibilities frequently verified in practice.:
by avoiding dielectric stresses greater than the PD inception
voltages (PDIV). U, (rated voltage) = I .O P.u.;
PDIV, 1 = U, = 1.OO P.u.. and
Organic reactions and PD PDIVb 2 = 1 . I O x U, = 1.10 p.u

Now it is required to evaluate the quantitative implications of Consider, initially, a steady-state condition with the rated
the number of produced free radicals on the subsequent voltage (U,). For this condition, the rated design lifetime is
organic reactions. This can be achieved by assessing TWO expected for the PC. In other words. the applied voltage does
points: not reach the values of PDIV,. This can be represented by the
. the increasing rate of reactions due to the formation of new equation V,, = 1.00 p.u. (r.m.s.) = 1.00 p.u. (crest), in the
macroradicalsiradicals from respective bases. V,, is the r.m.s. value of the actual operation
the initial stage; voltage, and V., CrCIl is the crest value of actual operation
’ the eventual saturation of the degradation process due to a voltage. The voltage waveform shown in Figure 1 illustrates
high number of produced R”. this case.
On the first aspect, it could be said that the degradation of PP
by chains breaking reaction is autocatalytic. Therefore, the
formation of free radicals has as important consequences for
our analysis: the degradation of PP itself, and the production
of new free radicals. So, there is a positive exponential
relationship between the PP degradation and the free radicals,
or better, the activities of PD in PC.
Regarding to the mentioned possible phenomenon of
saturation of the degradation process in analysis, it can be
affirmed that it does not exist. The organic reactions involving
the degradation of polymeric materials finish in the absence or
extinction of the material under deterioration. In the present
case this condition will never be reached. In others words,
during whole degradation process considered for PC, there
will be the presence of the reactions with the formation of the
radicals or macroradicals.

Therefore, it can be concluded that the degradation of the Figure 1 - Applied voltage (r.m.s.) of 1.0 p.u. - 60 Hz
films of PP in PC is very probably positive and exponentially
Note: In order to make easy the interpretation for this and the voltage gradient starting from PDIV; while in [8] it is
next graphics called "Applied Voltage (V) x Phase Angle demonstrated that the average time of PC lifetime is inversely
(degrees)", the following adoption should be considered: proportional to the applied voltage gradient (KVimm).
a. Rated voltage (r.m.s.) = 1V = 1.00 P.u.. Experimental curves for PC average lifetime versus applied
b. Rated Voltage (crest) = 1.41 V,,,, = 1.00 p.u.(crest). voltage gradient is shown in Figure 3 [B].
c. The horizontal straight-lines indicate the values of PDIVbI
and PDIVh2, as indicated. LlFClllC " O r , . L n ~ . n r * ~

d. The term " Respective Voltage 60 Hz 'I (when applicable) ---- I

indicates this quantities in the fundamental frequency, but
with crest value equal to the resulting voltage on the same

Let us now consider a situation where there is a 1.00 pu rms

fundamental frequency, plus a harmonic distortion of 5% for
the 3" harmonic:
v o p = 1.00 p.u.;
Vop = 1.05 P.u.,,,,
Figure 2 illustrates this new case.

Figure 3 - Experimental curves: Average PC lifetime x

Applied Voltage Gradient [SI

In accordance to item 4.0, the degradation of PP in PC is

probably positive direct and exponentially related to the PD
activities. So, based on the above discussions, it can be
affirmed that the additional stresses are represented by the
available additional energy for the process of PP degradation
during the PD activities, and by the applied additional
dielectric stress, considering the crest voltage values.
Ph.. h g i . ,dqn.q

Let us focus in a specific region of the curve of the Figure 3:

Figure 2 - Applied Voltage (r.m.s.) of 1.00 PA.. plus 5% of 3d between the values of 67 and 167 K V i m . This implies that
harmonic distortion the PC degradation is due exclusively to low PD activities
Note: considered the most critical situation, with fundamental levels, a condition relevant to the majority of harmonic
and 3'd harmonic in phase. distortion practical cases. The value of 67 K V i m is also
taken as the design gradient, which represents appropriately
The r.m.s. values of V,, in both Figure 1 and Figure 2 are the current practices in PC manufacturing.
lower than PDIVhI, however, V,,, in Figure 2 is higher
than TDIPbl, as opposed to Figure I . TDIPh should be The possible additional energy depends fundamentally on the
evaluated as instantaneous values, since that does not make magnitude and voltage waveform, as compared to the
physics sense a direct correlation with r.m.s. values. parameters regarding the fundamental frequency. So, the area
Nevertheless, for didactic reason, this is a convenient defined by the applied voltage waveform and the straight line
approach. respective to specific PDIV, could represent that energy.

Since V,,, is larger than PDIVhl, there exists a time interval The following empirical equation that takes into account the
in each half-cycle of the voltage waveform where PD electric stress is proposed for evaluation of the additional
activities occur. In other words, during a given time interval stresses imposed to PC by the harmonic components:
the PC is submitted to a stress larger than the rated one
corresponding to the rated r.m.s. voltage, without harmonic
distortion. Therefore, the presence of that 5% harmonic
R L = D L . e - a.AAYG . 7

distortion implies an effective additional degradation of the where,

Regarding the PDIVb2 design, there will be no PD activities. RL is the average real lifetime of PC in P.u.. This value
'considers the PC degradation due a electric stresses from a
In 171 it is verified, through detection of emitted light, an sinusoidal voltage at fundamental frequency.
increment of the number of discharges with the applied
DL is the average design lifetime, considering an applied As a second example, for a PC with PDIVb2 = 1.10 p.u. the
voltage gradient equal or lower to rated design, in p-U,. result is:
M V G is the additional applied voltage gradient. For AAVG = 0.10 p.u.
example, for an applied voltage of 120% (crest) and PDIV, RL = 0.63 p.u.
equal to 1.10 P.u., the AAVG is equal to 10% or 0.10 p.u..
a represents the exponential relationship between DL and Considering the area Ah being 65% of A60, the result is an
AAVG, considering dielectric stresses from 1.10 to 2.00 p.u. attenuated reduction of lifetime for the PC. See Figure 4.
of the PC rated voltage.
The proposed curve shows the degradation of PC due to the These examples indicate critical conditions of applications for
additional electric stress represented by the crest value of the the PC. The proposed formula yields only approximated
applied voltage. The proposed exponent a has been obtained values for the estimation of life degradation, but they can be
from tests at fundamental frequency [8]. However, for a used as a good indication of what to expect for PCs working
certain applied voltage with waveform distorted by harmonic under relatively low stress conditions.
components, a different value of a could result due to the
difference amount of energy available to the PC (or PP) VI - CONCLUSIONS
degradation process.
Although the proposed method does not quantify the influence The study of the dielectric system of PC, its components and
of distorted applied voltage waveform, the comparison respective behavior are essential for the understanding of the
between that and the respective sinusoidal voltage at PC long-term degradation process.
fundamental frequency with same crest value, provides a good The proposed theory is a first step for the quantification of the
measure for the problem. degradation process, and it is supported by practical
investigations carried-out by others in the last years. The
scientific approach presented allow a qualitative and a
V - APPLICATION TO A CASE EXAMPLE quantitative analysis for the PC long-term degradation
Consider a PC subjected to the following conditions:
Operating fundamental voltage = 1.00 p.u. (rated The combined analysis of the PC degradation mechanisms and
voltage) harmonic distortions have indicated the resulting voltage
3'd harmonic voltage = 0.2 p.u. waveform as an important source of information to evaluate
the possible additional stresses due to the harmonic
DL (rated life) = 1.00 p.u.
a = 4 , l (proposed)
For a PC with PDlVbl = 1.00 PAL,the result is:
The fact that it is possible to have a high reduction of life for a
AAVG = 0.20 p.u. PC subjected to relatively low voltage stress, is a very
RL= 0.39p.u. important conclusion. Moreover, operating conditions
This result implies a RL equal to 39% of DL, i.e., a reduction presenting the same values of voltage harmonic distortion
of 61% of the PC designed lifetime. However, considering levels may result different stresses in a PC.
that the area above PDIV,l for the applied voltage (Ah) is
68% of the respective area for the fundamental voltage (A60), VI1 -REFERENCES
the real degradation of the PC result attenuated, as indicated in
Figure 4. [I] Eriksson, E. Modem High Voltage Power Capacitors goes
Optimal Reliability Performance. A B 9 Capacitors AB.
[2] Stenerhag, B., WirsCn, L.E. Compacting the Key to Power
Capacitors. Asea Journal 3, 1984. p. 8-13,
[3] Shaw, D.G., Ciocahnnowski, S.W., Yializis. A. Changing
Capacitor Technology - Failure Mechanisms and Design
Innovations. IEEE Transactions on Electrical Insulation, v. EI-
16.11. 5,p. 399-416, Oct. 1981.
[4] Berger, N., Jay, P. To New lmpregnant goes HV Power
Capacitors. IEEE Transactions on Electrical Insulation, v. EI-
21, n. I , p. 59-63, feh. 1986.
I51 Nemmcha. M.. Gosse. J.P.. Gosse, B. Effect of Partial
Discharges on Impregnated Polypropylene Films. IEEE
Transactions on Dielectrics and Elecmcal Insulation, v. 1, n.
4, p. 578-584, aug. 1994.
[6] Cesari. S., Hantouche, C. Muraoka, T., Pouliqen. B. Partial
Discharge Measurement Diagnostic Tool. ELECTRA, n. 181.
p. 24-51, dec. 1998.
Figure 4 -No- sinusoidal Voltage

[7] Nemancha, M., Gosse. J.P., Gosse, B. Discharges in All-
PP Films Model Capacitors. IEEE Transactions on Electrical
Insulation, Y. 28, n. 3, p. 315-323,june 1993.
(81 Sebillotte, E., Theoleyre, S., Saids, Gosse 9.. Gosse, J.P.
AC Degradation of Impregnated Polypropylene Films. IEEE
Transactions on Electrical Insulation, v. 27, n. 3, p. 557-565,
jun. 1992.


L u h Henrique Silva Dusrtr, was bmn in Belo Hmimte, MG, Brazil. in

1967. He is an electrical engineer, graduated fmm the Pantificicia
Univenidade Cat6lica de Minas Gerair in 1995. In 2000. he got a Maner
De- from the same University, also in electrical cngincchg. Since 1986,
he works in CEMIG, the Minas Gerais state public utility, where his main
activities are engineering and leehnical management of quipments for

MPrIo Fabian0 A k n is a Professor at Pontificia UniveMdade Cnblica de

Minas Gemis - Brazil. where he is actively involved in pawer quality
research. Mirio received B B.Sc. degree in electrical engineering f"
Pontificia Universidade Cat6lica do Rio de Janeiro in 1970, and an M.A.Sc.
degree and a Ph.D. degree in eleevical engineering from the University of
Tomnlo, in 1972 and 1916 respectively. He has been actively engaged in
consulting work for industry, in the areas of industrial power system analysis.
power quality, and high voltage equipment design.