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2008 International Conference on Condition Monitoring and Diagnosis, Beijing, China, April 21-24, 2008

Finally Fiber Optic Sensing of Power

Transformer “Hotspots" Is Paying Off
Thomas Lundquist Wesley Knuth
Lundquist Consulting Services, Inc. Salt River Project

Abstract--For nearly 25 years innovative transformer micron with Teflon coatings to improve installation
manufacturers, utilities and research organizations such as EPRI during manufacturing. Teflon shields were introduced.
have been experimentally installing fiber optic temperature At least one provider strengthened the cable by using a
probes in the windings of power transformers. Their quest was
motivated by the desire to directly measure the actual winding
Kevlar mesh to strengthen the cable and heavy Teflon
temperature. These large transformers lose valuable lifetime armor to help eliminate breakage.
when the winding temperature exceeds a critical maximum value, x Improved methods to transition the fiber optic cable
even for a few hours during short-term overloads. from inside the transformer to the outside environment
During this lengthy experimental period the technology by use of transition connectors often threaded directly
started with fragile laboratory equipment, and the inability of into the transformer tank or a plate welded to the
transformer designers to accurately identify the location of the
transformer where the threaded transitions are placed.
hottest-spots in the windings. Today the technology has
developed into a mature set of equipment that is hardened to x Splices and connections in the fiber optic cables
perform in the harsh environment of power apparatus. The were eliminated to insure the lowest resistance for the
equipment is reliable and designers are able to precisely identify optical signal between the sensor and the signal
hot spot locations in the windings. converter. Where some manufacturers have only 2
Key words—Transformer, Hot spot, Winding, Fiber interfaces occurring, one at the tank penetrator and the
optic temperature sensor other at the signal converter.
x Single instruments for providing analog outputs
I. HISTORICAL REVIEW representing temperature were provided for products

I n the mid 1960’s the phenomena of rare earth phosphors

having a temperature dependence was observed by
researchers1. In the late 1970’s the electric utility industry
dedicated to the utility industry.
During the past five (5) years major changes have been in
the controllers that are provided. These controllers are
recognized that conventional winding temperature indicators programmable and allow considerable flexibility for the
(WTI) used on power transformers were not correctly retention of data, control of cooling system, operation for
representing hot spot temperatures during load changes, loads alarms and tripping of over heated transformers and
beyond nameplate ratings, and during loss of cooling. These monitoring the hot spot, oil duct, and top oil temperature.
inadequacies result in the inability to judge acceptable loading These digital and analog signals are transmitted to the system
beyond nameplate and any transformer loss of life during operators for judgments involving loading capabilities, and to
contingency loading. The problems stems from the fact that judge loss of insulation life during contingency situations
the WTI simulates the winding temperature with inaccurate where overloading is a requirement.
input except at one steady state condition6. As a result of Recent improvements have led to considerable cost
these problems a need to directly measure temperature in the reductions by designing controllers that provide the critical
hostile environment of transformer windings was apparent. functions mentioned above as well as other features. From the
The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) undertook the mechanical point of view the tank transition has been
task of satisfying this need in the electric utility industry. improved to the extent that leaks at the transition point
In 1978 the field of fiber optic temperature sensors for use because of threaded connectors are eliminated by providing
in transformer windings was launched by the creation of unitized tank penetrator plates attached to a flange installed on
Fluoroptic® (FOT) technology. In the early 1980s a the transformer. These plates eliminate the threaded parts and
successful project was completed by General Electric Co. are stainless steel welded construction.
(GE), Public Service Electric & Gas Co.(PSE&G), and Overall these are improvements would be expected as a
Luxtron Corporation by installing direct winding temperature product is maturing and customer needs are addressed. The
sensors using Flouroptic® thermometers, in an operational 3 fundamental detection of the hot spot using the Flouroptic®
phase autotransformer rated 230kV to 69kV, 246 MVA, FOA, technology has essentially remained the same since the late
manufactured for PSE&G2. With this first commercial 1970’s
success in the USA, the direct measurement of hot spot
temperatures in power transformer windings became a reality. II. THEORY OF THERMOGRAPHY - USING FIBER OPTICS
x Optic cables eliminating plastic coatings were Nearly all the systems that are used to detect the winding
introduced as a reliable signal transmission media that is temperature use a pulse of light energy sent over an optical
capable of operating in harsh environment of the fiber cable into the windings. There is a returned signal that is
transformer with out any deterioration. captured and converted to temperature in optical electronic
x The silica fiber cables were reduced in size to 200 conversion as depicted in figure 1.
978-1-4244-1622-6/08/$25.00 ©2007 IEEE

Optical Fiber
Figure 1

There are three technologies that use a sensor placed in Figure 4.

specific locations inside transformers. These fiberoptic probes
detect the temperature at their tip using one of three
techniques; fluorescence decay (Flouroptic®), Fabry-Perot
interferometer, or absorption edge shift of semiconductor
crystals. Another type that has been demonstrated uses the
complete length of the silica cable as a sensor and is called a
distributed temperature sensor.
Fluorescence Decay:
By far the most widely applied fiber optic system in the
world are based on the patented Fluoroptic® (FOT)
technology. The FOT is based on a fluorescence decay time Figure 4
that is an inherent characteristic of the sensor. The phosphor This provides a system that requires no calibration because
sensor is attached to the tip of an all-silica fiber and the sensor has a fixed physical time constant that does not
encapsulated in Teflon®. The sensor is a phosphorescent change. The operation does not depend upon wavelength
material that when exposed to a LED light pulse is excited and variations and is not subject to change because of physical
the excited material emits a decaying light at a different differences in the fiber cable. The LED is designed for the
wavelength that is sent back to the optical electronics. Figure life of the transformer and should the optical resistance change
2 illustrates the wavelength changes. the system is self adjusting to insure proper levels of
The excited material emits the light in a decaying manner excitation so the return signal strength are maintained.
with the decay time precisely representing temperature. See

A. Transformer Applications
Years of testing have proven that the top oil does not
LED Light Sent L
moderate the hot spot temperature and that the oil duct
by Instrument to S temperature has the same rate of rise as the hot spot
Excite Sensor temperature4. Direct monitoring of the hot spot temperature
allows several advantageous that the conventional WTI ,
simulator, computer generated signals are not able to
reasonable representation of the hot spot. The following list
Figure 2 indicates the ability of the FOT:
x FOT control of cooling allowing better control and
optimization of loading during daily load cycle.
Particularly when the utility wishes to incur load beyond
nameplate ratings.
x Detection of loss of cooling such as blocked fans or
obstructions in the cooling ducts.
x Precise alarm and trip function based on actual hot
spot temperatures.
Figure 3 x Allowing operators and engineers to better
The measured decay time is then converted to temperature, determine loss of insulation life when temperatures
using a look-up table in the signal conditioner as shown in operate beyond the insulation systems thermal rating.
x Verification of factory temperature rise test data calibration requirement and the LED light source is designed
where calculated values are provided. The actual for the life of the transformer. Several WTS-11 systems were
measurements may now be used to insure calculated installed using the analog signal output to drive added relays
temperatures have not been exceeded and to determine to provide control and protection for the transformers. This
what additional margin for normal loading may be required that separate relays be mounted that operated on the 0
utilized by the utility. – 5VDC signal where the temperature represented is 0 OC to
x On Load Tap Changer (OLTC) oil temperature 200 OC.
monitoring as a comparison to main tank oil or for With the assistance of SRP and Consolidated Edison
trending allowing for alarm at a predetermined (ConEd) LUXTRON introduced the WTS-22 product line in
differential temperatures. 2001. This was a major step in the industry because it
x Real time remote temperature monitoring. provided for the first time a controller designed specifically
x Retention of temperature profiles over a user for the utility industry that went beyond simple monitoring.
defined interval. The WTS-22 series provided in one package with four (4) to
x Oil duct temperature, bottom oil temperature, and sixteen (16) channel (sensor) inputs with programmable
core temperature. cooling control, alarms, and tripping functions. The controller
The conventional control as usually provided by the WTI continued to supply the analog output signals (0-1 ma or 4-20
are easily implemented by FOT systems as follows: ma over a temperature range of -30 OC to 200 OC). The
x Alarm and trip for top oil temperatures. utilities use these outputs to send operators accurate
x Cooling control. temperature of the top oil and hot spots of the windings. The
unit is programmable from the front panel allowing operators
x Inhibit pump running below 45OC or 50 OC to
to input settings and change parameters to match the utility
minimize the effect of static electrification in large shell
requirements. The WTS-22 is provided with an RS-232 port
form transformers.
connection for digital data transfer.
x Visual indication at the transformer of actual
The first WTS-22 were placed into service in 2001 by SRP
winding and top oil temperatures including maximum
on two (2) 525/230kV, 600MVA, 3 phase autotransformers
temperatures incurred since previous reset.
located at the Browning substation. With these systems
B. Other Applications operational the WTS-22 has been used on all 230kV and
Measurement of contact or connection temperatures where 500kV transformers subsequently purchased by SRP. In 2005
accessibility is not available. SRP after economic evaluation and consideration of past
x Contact resistance temperature of circuit breakers experiences, made the decision to install the LUXTRON WTS
connection points inside switchgear. ThermAsset monitoring system on 69/12.47kV transformers
x Under taped connections at bus to cable transitions. for purposes of providing accurate temperature information to
x At locations where judging emissivity is not reliable. system operators. As of early 2006 SRP has installed 30
Generator/motor end turn connections transformers with FOT systems. Four (4) GSU, six (6)
500/230kV transformers, twelve (12) 230/69kV transformers,
IV. ONE UTILITY’S EXPERIENCES and eight (8) 69/12kV transformers.
During the extended outages that took place at Westwing
The authors of this paper have been involved with the
substation starting July 4, 2004, following the catastrophic
application of FOT systems for the past 11 years at the Salt
failures of several 500kV transformers, severe power import
River Project (SRP) , Phoenix, Arizona, USA. During this
limitations existed for the metro Phoenix area. SRP had
period of time an evolution of change has taken place both at
recently completed the installation of three (3) 500/230kV
the SRP and at the FOT supplier. The first installation was
autotransformers at the Rudd substation and following the
conducted on a 230/69kV 187 MVA autotransformer that was
Westwing failures this substation became a critical transfer
rewound in the GE repair facility located in Anaheim,
point for power into the metro area. The contingency
California. At that time the sensor selected was the
scenarios were such that these three transformers might be
Flouroptic® system manufactured by LUXTRON the FOT.
called upon to carry large overloads to insure the lights stayed
This installation involved the sensor directly taped to the
on in metro Phoenix. The FOT systems on the transformers
winding conductor of the transformer and utilizing the 300
were key to the operators ability to judge exact hotspot
micro fiber optic cable. This system continues to operate
temperatures. Conventional overcurrent relays and thermal
today and is used for remote temperature indication.
relays were reset or disabled to allow the FOT system to be
Following this experiment fiber optic sensors were added
the controlling device during any overload. System operators
to 230kV autotransformers on a routine base. Some of the
finally began to appreciate the FOT systems for their real
applications did not utilize the probes but were installed in
value. Now operators expect the FOT information as a
anticipation that operators would call for the direct reading of
routine requirement
hot spot temperatures at some future date. At SRP the
decision was made to standardize on the LUXTRON FOT
WTS-11 system because there is no need for a routine
V. LESSONS LEARNED typical control wire and can easily be mistaken for wire and
At SRP many lessons have been learned during the eleven damaged. To prevent damage to the fiber optic extensions,
(11) year period of time. These lesson have improved the the fiber should be run in dedicated conduit or panduit labeled
equipment operation, the equipment specifications, and and colored to identify fiber optic cable inside the control
eliminated problems. These lessons learned and resolutions cabinet. No tie wraps or rigid cable mounts should be used.
by SRP are described as follows: In addition, any excess length or spare extensions should be
coiled in the proper diameter bundle and loosely secured.
A. Installation/Commissioning Each probe should be labeled and identified to indicate the
Install at minimum 100% redundant probes. SRP uses 4 probe location on the tank wall feed thru plate and its
probes, 1 top oil and 3 installed in the winding hottest spots, respective location inside the transformer. See Figure 7.
and require that a minimum of 8 probes work upon delivery of
the transformer. Although advancements have been made in
the ruggedness and durability of the fiber optic probes, they
are still inherently fragile and susceptible to damage. A
broken fiber optic probe, depending on the location of the
break, can be repaired but the cost to drain a transformer,
splice the fiber optic cable and refill a power transformer can
easily justify the addition of spare probes so the repair maybe
done during scheduled work.

Figure 6 Tank Wall Feed-Thru Plate, Internal View, excess FO cable not
secured and two connections taut
Each unused probe or extension should have a cover to
protect the probe tip from damage. This may seem obvious
but SRP has received extension connections from OEMs with
missing protective caps. Protective caps are provided by
The FOT system should be working and temperatures
recorded on all probes, including spares, during the factory
Figure 5 Broken Fiber, probe tightly secured and wrapped around a wooden heat run tests. The hottest probe from each winding shall be
used as the primary probes for the FOT system. Any large
The fiber cables inside the transformer should be routed in
discrepancies between calculated and measured temperature
conduit whenever possible and routed to protect them from
data should become a point of discussion with transformer
damage and making them easily recognizable. The probes
manufacturers. Of particular concern would be any
should be loosely secured inside the tank and the use of tie
temperature measured by the FOT that exceeded a calculated
wraps or similar devices is not allowed. Figure 5 is an example
value. This would indicate a serious calculation problem or
of improper installation by a manufacturer. Each probe
possibly a manufacturing problem that must be corrected.
should have adequate excess length to avoid taut connections
to the tank wall feed-thru plate and to allow interchangeability
between probes. Figure 6 shows poor installation to be avoided.
Any spare probes not secured to the feed-thru plate should be
properly secured and not damaged by transportation, seismic
or short circuit forces. Additionally, the spare connectors
should be located in an area of the transformer so no chance of
electrical interference is possible and if a connector should be
broken off it will fall through and into an electrically neutral
area inside the transformer. It is preferred the spare
connectors be threaded onto and secured to a bracket attached
to the tank wall adjacent to the feed-thru plate.
The fiber extension cables outside the transformer should
be routed in a separate conduit and taken directly to the
control cabinet. The FO extension cables look similar to
Figure 7 Tank Wall Feed-Thru Plate, External View
On transformers shipped without oil, each probe including
all spares should be checked prior to oil filling. It is an SRP The system operators my have paradigm paralysis when the
standard to perform an internal inspection on all large power switch is made from simulated devices to FOT systems for
transformers prior to oil filling which includes a close look at remote temperature indication. Most simulated systems use
the sensor and fiber optic cable installation inside the the top oil temperature and add an adjustment factor to
transformer. In the past, SRP has found spare probes calculate hotspot temperature. Therefore the hotspot
“dangling” adjacent to windings, taut internal connections and temperature is always greater than or equal to the top oil
top oil probes laying at the bottom of the transformer tank. temperature. In reality, depending on the transformer design
Portable field test equipment is available from the FOT and probe location, the top oil temperature can be greater than
supplier. the hotspot temperature at low loads, see figure 10. The load
During the final check-out, prior to initial energization of losses are not the dominating thermal factor at low loads and
the transformer, the FOT system operation should be verified. the top oil temperature, being heated by both load and no-load
This can typically be preformed by use of the front panel or a losses, can exceed the hotspot temperature. To operators and
serial connection to the WTS system however it is the relay technicians that are used to seeing hotspot temperatures
preference of SRP to connect a test probe to the device and greater than the top oil, these FOT temperatures may look
heat the probe in a controlled heated well. The FOT test ‘odd’ and many have questioned the proper functionality of
probe is a standard FO temperature probe with a shortened the device.
RUDD T 230H500 3A MVA/DG
MVA (Sun 2004-07-04 08:00 - Mon 2004-07-05 08:00) DG
length and protected against ambient light interference. Many 1200 120

of the problems found during the check-out procedure have to 110

do with dirty or loose connections and not with the probe 1000 100

integrity. The transformer manufacturer is held responsible 90

for any type of problem during installation of the transformer. 800 80


B. Operation 600 60

When using the FOT system transformers with ODAF 50

(FOA) forced cooling may encounter more cooling cycling 400 40

due to the FOTs ability to provide exact temperatures. 30

Simulated hotspot systems, whether electronic or heated well, 200 20

incorporate the top oil time constant to respond to dynamic 10

situations. These FOT systems offer real-time temperatures 0

09:00 12:00 15:00 18:00 21:00 00:00 03:00 06:00

and better picture of dynamic situations such as step load MVA


increase (see figure 9) or initiation of pumps. As a result, the Figure 9 – ODAF 600MVA Transformer, Step Load Response
MVA (Fri 2006-05-12 00:00 - Sat 2006-05-13 00:00) DG
FOT systems have shown that the hotspot temperature is 300 120

rapidly cooled by the initiation of pumps on some directed oil 275 110

forced cooled transformers. This leads to rapid cooling 250 100

cycling until the bottom oil temperature or load increases. To 225 90

help reduce the cooling equipment cycling and wear on

200 80

cooling system components, the hysteresis (deadband) needs

175 70
to be adjusted to a point that reduces cycling while remaining
effective see figure 8. 150 60

RUDD T 230H500 1B MVA/DG

MVA (Thu 2006-05-11 04:45 - Fri 2006-05-12 04:45) DG 125 50
1200 120

100 40

75 30
1000 100

50 20

25 10
800 80

0 0
70 00:00 03:00 06:00 09:00 12:00 15:00 18:00 21:00 00:00

600 60
Figure 10 – 280MVA Transformer, Top Oil Temperature greater than Hotspot

400 40
Minor variations between FO probe temperatures can be
expected due to the dynamic nature of the transformer thermal

system. In addition, manufacturing and construction

200 20
tolerances introduce errors. Most of the FO probes SRP uses
are machined into spacers and placed next to the hotspot
06:00 09:00 12:00 15:00 18:00 21:00 00:00 03:00
conductor and this method will introduce a small error due to
HDG-A HDG-B HDG-C HDG the oil and insulation between the probe and conductor.
Figure 8 – ODAF 600 MVA Transformer, Typical Cooling Cycling
C. Maintenance many years of factory test verification and actual transformer
The FOT systems themselves require little or no routine operation.
maintenance and do not require recalibration. SRP routinely The many years of development expended in the winding
checks the proper operation of all protection and control temperature measurement area have reached a point that there
systems on every transformer in the system and has not are no longer discussions regarding potential use or
shortened the interval for transformer equipped with FOT speculation of results, these products are developed and
systems. Typically SRP will expect ancillary equipment designed to meet the needs of the operators and engineers in
installed on a transformer to operate for a 5 to 7 year interval an economical and reliable manner.
so when ever possible all maintenance falls due at the same
[1] K.A. Wickersheim, R.A. Lefever, “Luminescent Behavior of Rare Earths
VI. FUTURE ADDITIONS in Yttrrium Oxide and Related Hosts”, Journal of the Electrchemical
Society, Vol. III, 1964, p. 47.
What does SRP expects from the FOT manufacturer for [2] W.J. McNutt, J.C. McIver, G.E. Leibinger, D.J. Fallon, K.A.
future improvements. Wickershein, “Direct Measurement of Transformer Winding Hot Spot
Temperature”, paper 83 SM 437-1 presented at , IEEE/PES 1983
x Currently, the WTS-22 and ThermAsset devices Summer Meeting Los Angeles.
communicate with an ASCII based protocol on a [3] E.A. Simonson, J.A. Lapworth, “Thermal Capability Assesment For
RS232 connection or RS485. It would be beneficial Transformers”, National Grid Technology and Science Laboratories with
permission of The National Grid Company, UK.
if the devices supported additional standard protocols [4] E.T. Norton, “LUXTRON Fiberoptic Hotspot Detector Factory And
such as DNP3 or MODBUS and offered different Field Experience”, EPRI, Substation Equipment Diagnostics Conference
types of communication connections such as Ethernet V, February 17 – 19, 1997.
[5] Hannes Bachkonig, “Overloading of Transformers and Fiber Optic
or Fiber Optics. Temperature Measurement Systems”, CIGRE Transformer Technology
x Addition of dynamic loading and loss of life Conference Program, May 8, 2006.
calculations using the actual and historical hotspot [6] Walter Wasinger, “Aspects of Transformer Overload Determination”,
CIGRE Transformer Technology Conference Program, May 8, 2006.
and top oil data.
x Portable handheld test sets that may be used during
transformer installation or other tests during shipment
or at the factories for verification of integrity.

The acceptance of fiber optic thermometers placed into the
windings of transformers has proven to be an accepted
practice for research, verification of temperature rise tests,
operation beyond nameplate rating during short term and
emergency conditions. The world wide use of fiber optic
probes installed in the windings of transformers by
transformer users and manufacturers are proven for design
verification and refinements, for control and protection of
operating transformers, and knowledgeable information
during contingency operation. These probes installed in
transformer windings have become an important tool for the
transformer manufacturer and the ultimate user. Modern
manufacturers now consider fiber optic probes the proper
equipment to gather data during factory testing, providing
feedback for design, information for maintenance, and for
maximizing loading5.
SRP will continue to use and specify fiber optic probes
imbedded in the windings of all new large and medium power
transformers. The reliability of the systems has been
demonstrated over years of service for protection, control, and
monitoring of the thermal capability of the transformer.
System operators have grown to expect the hot spot
information as an accurate means to know temperatures
during dynamic overloading and during contingency situations.
The Flouroptic® technology has proven itself at SRP over