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Surge Protection Issues

with Distributed Generation

Tom Short


1462 Erie Blvd., Schenectady, NY 12305 518-346-4699

Prepared for the Fall 2000 Surge Protective Devices Committee Meeting, Cincinnati, OH

Overview of Surge Protection Issues with DG

Distributed generation on distribution systems causes many overvoltage concerns. Several possible
scenarios could cause overvoltages that could impact arresters, other utility equipment, and customer
loads. Concerns exist on the primary voltage and on the low-voltage secondary. Some of the issues
discussed include:

• Islanding overvoltages due to a neutral shift

• Resonant voltages during islanding

• Regulation overvoltages caused by DG

• Low-voltage DG concerns and protection

Islanding Overvoltages
DG can cause severe temporary overvoltages during islanding. An island can develop if a breaker or
recloser on a radial distribution system operates and leaves a section of load driven by distributed
generator(s). Overvoltages can be caused a neutral shift or by resonance.

Grounding and Overvoltages

If a section is islanded with a fault on one phase, the distributed generator that is supplying the island
may cause overvoltages on the system. This can occur if the generator is not effectively grounded
(usually because it is a delta-wye or delta-delta transformer connection), so the line-to-ground voltages

on the unfaulted phases could be pushed to the line-to-line voltage by the generator. This may cause
arrester failures or failures of utility customer equipment. When a single-line-to-ground fault occurs on
the distribution system and the substation breaker (or a recloser) opens, the system becomes a three-
wire, ungrounded system driven by the ungrounded DG (see Figure 1).

For sustained islanding, a generator must have sufficient excitation to continue supplying energy to the
system. Synchronous generators and force-commutated inverters (e.g. a PWM voltage source inverter)
would be more likely to island because they do not require external excitation. Induction generators
and line-commutated inverters (a basic SCR inverter) need excitation which is normally supplied by
the utility. Shunt power factor correction capacitors can provide the excitation, so even generators that
are not self-excited may be able to drive an island (but it is not as likely).

Circuit Dashed line shows how C phase potential reaches the
Breaker neutral side of the system subjecting both the arrester and
the house to line-to-line voltage!
115 kV 13.2 kV Distribution Feeder

Fault to Customer Subjected to

1.73 per unit
Multigrounded Neutral overvoltage


Delta High


G Generator

Figure 1. A delta winding on the high side can expose utility equipment (such as line arresters) and customers to high voltages
during fault conditions.

Neutral shifts can be solved by use of a transformer that is grounded on the primary side:

• Grounded-wye grounded-wye: This connection will provide an effectively grounded source if

the generator applied to it meets effective grounding requirements. If the generator neutral
connection does not meet effective grounding requirements or is not grounded at all, then the
transformer bank does not create an effectively grounded source even though the neutral
connections to the transformer are grounded on both sides. Some inverters need isolation from
ground and are not designed to operate with a grounded-wye winding on the inverter side of
the transformer. Some rotating machines are not designed to withstand the forces due to a
line-to-ground fault on the generator terminals. For this reason, they are grounded through an
impedance or ungrounded (so they would not be effectively grounded). This is often the
preferred connection if the generator is grounded.

• Grounded-wye delta: This connection provides the best way to effectively ground a generator
interconnection. Other advantages are reduced harmonics, isolation between the primary and
secondary for ground faults, and a smaller voltage sag seen on the generator terminals. The
main drawback to using the grounded-wye delta connection is that it is a grounding bank that
will feed faults on the primary. This can interfere with distribution system coordination and


cause desensitization of ground relays, nuisance fuse blowings or false operations of

sectionalizers, reclosers, or breakers. Large circulating currents in the delta winding on the
secondary (usually due to ground faults) can also cause damage to the interconnection

• Grounded-wye delta with a grounding reactor on the high-side wye: This connection provides
a way to limit the ground fault source while still maintaining effective grounding (X0/X1 ≤ 3).
In some cases, it may not be possible to do both at the same time – this would happen if the
grounding reactor is small enough to maintain effective grounding but the fault current values
were higher than desired limits.

The other major way to control overvoltages is with a ground overvoltage relay:

• Ground fault overvoltage detection scheme (59G): Unbalanced overvoltages can be detected
with a 59G relay with the connection shown in Figure 2. The main drawback is that the
overvoltage will still occur. The duration will be limited by the speed of the relays and
breaker. Depending on the speed of the relaying, these limits may not coordinate with the
TOV capability of some arresters. Another disadvantage of this approach is that primary-side
PT’s are required.

Phase C is Faulted -
Substation Raising neutral to
Neutral potential of Phase C
Opens After Z er o S equence
5 cycles Components in phas e


T r ip S ignal Gr ounded Wye /
B r oken delta PT B ank
Figure 2. Ground fault overvoltage detection scheme (59G).

DG islanding overvoltages have not been a major problem in the past. One reason is that a relatively
small number of DG units were in operation, and most of these were small. This may change with
larger penetration levels of distributed generation.

Resonant Overvoltages

During islanding, a series resonant condition can develop between the generator and system capacitor
banks.1 The resonance can happen with any type of interconnection transformer configuration, and the
system can be faulted or unfaulted. The simplest resonance is a series resonance between the generator
subtransient impedance and system capacitors. Load on the island will help hold the voltage down, so
the highest voltages would occur under light load. Transformer saturation cannot be counted on to
R. C. Dugan and D. T. Rizy, “Electric Distribution Protection Problems Associated with the Interconnection of Small, Dispersed
Generation Devices,” IEEE Transactions on Power Apparatus and Systems, vol. PAS-103, no. 6, pp. 1121-1127, June 1984.


reduce the peak overvoltage. This resonance is also referred to as self-excitation and is the same
phenomenon as seen on induction motors with capacitor banks. It is also similar to a resonance seen on
distribution feeders which feed low-voltage secondary networks and have capacitor banks – after a
fault the backfeed through the network transformers can resonate.

Series Resonance

Low impedance,
high current
G High

Figure 3. Series resonance between a generator and capacitor banks during islanding.

A type of ferroresonance can occur with DG as the driving source in the circuit during islanding
conditions.2,3 The peak voltage during this ferroresonance can reach three per unit. This type of
ferroresonance can occur with both induction and synchronous generators, and it can occur with all
three phases connected (single phasing is not a requirement). It does not matter what the DG
interconnection transformer is (although the overvoltage is worse if the ferroresonance occurs
simultaneously with a neutral shift on an ungrounded island).

There are four conditions necessary for DG islanding ferroresonance to occur:

1. The island driven by the generator must be isolated from the utility.

2. The generator must supply more power than there is load on the island.

3. The isolated circuit must have enough capacitance to resonate (30 to 400 percent of the
generator rating). This can be due to utility capacitor banks or from DR capacitor banks.

4. A transformer group must be present in the island.

This type of ferroresonance may cause arrester failures especially with tightly rated arresters according
to transient simulations.4 The concerns are most important where the primary arrester rating is applied
such that its MCOV is very close to the nominal voltage (a tightly applied arrester such as a 8.40-kV
MCOV arrester on a 13.8-kV system with a line-to-ground voltage of 7.97-kV).

Islanding Detection

Proper protection against islanding is one of the most important aspects of DG installations. The most
common way to perform islanding detection is with voltage and frequency relays. During an islanding
condition, in almost all cases the generation and the load will not be exactly matched, so the voltage
and frequency will start to drift from their normal values. Voltage and frequency relays (for under and

W. E. Feero and W. B. Gish, “Overvoltages Caused by DSG Operation: Synchronous and Induction Generators,” IEEE
Transactions on Power Delivery, vol. PWRD-1, pp. 258-264, Jan. 1986.
W. B. Gish, W. E. Feero, and S. Greuel, “Ferroresonance and Loading Relationships for DSG Installations,” IEEE Transactions
on Power Delivery, vol. PWRD-2, no. 3, pp. 953-959, July 1987.
T. A. Short, J. J. Burke, and R. T. Mancao, “Application of MOVs in the Distribution Environment,” IEEE Transactions on Power
Delivery, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 293-305, Jan. 1994.


over operation) should then isolate a distributed generator. Voltage relays are commonly set at ±5 to
10%, and the frequency relays are usually ±0.5 to 1 Hz. Most utilities will require external “utility-
grade” relays for this application, but some allow internal software/electronics in the unit to do the
same function. To detect and trip on overvoltages, individual relays should be on all three phases (not
just on an individual phase and not on an average of the three phases).

Table 1 shows trip settings in IEEE 929 (for photovoltaics) and a draft of IEEE 1547 (Standard for
Distributed Resources). The overvoltage limits may allow an overvoltage to exist for enough time to
exceed the TOV capability of surge arresters (or even the MCOV level).

• Table 1. Standard Trip Thresholds for DG Operations.5,6

RMS Voltage Trip Time*

V<60 6 cycles
60≤V<106 120 cycles
106dVd132 Normal Operation
132<V<165 120 cycles
165≤V 2 cycles

There is some concern that the standard voltage and frequency relays will allow some islands to exist
where there is a very good load/generation match. One way that some inverters can avoid this is with
“active” anti-islanding technologies. One example consists of a frequency controller on an inverter that
has positive feedback that causes the reference frequency to go unstable when the utility source is
absent. Similar approaches can be used with voltage.

Islanding detection is important not just because overvoltages may be generated. Crew safety is also a
consideration. If a distributed generator can island a section, this may jeopardize the safety of crews
working on those lines.

In some cases where islanding is a concern, and standard voltage and frequency relays are felt to be
inadequate, transfer-tripping schemes are also required. Transfer-trip schemes have a communication
channel between the distributed generator and the utility protective devices. If a substation breaker
trips or a line recloser trips, a signal is communicated to the distributed generator to trip it off line. Of
course, this adds considerable expense to the protection scheme.

Regulation Overvoltages
Some applications of DG can disrupt the normal voltage regulation on a circuit, so that some customers
and utility equipment (including arresters) see high voltage. DG’s can cause high voltages because
they inject real power back upstream into the system (this causes the voltage to go up). If a utility
customer is at a point on the system where the voltage is already on the high side, the extra voltage
boost caused by the DG may drive the voltage out of standards.

IEEE P1547 Std. Draft 04, “Standard for Distributed Resources Interconnected with Electric Power Systems”, April 17, 2000.
IEEE Std. 929-2000, “Recommended Practice for Utility Interface of Photovoltaic (PV) Systems.”


SUBSTATION E nd of F eeder
Injected Power

ANSI Range A After DG

Upper Limit

ANSI Range A
Before DG
Lower Limit

Substation End of Feeder

Figure 4. Regulation overvoltage due to DG.

The DG will cause voltage to go up most where X/R ratios are low. Given that Vdrop≈IR⋅R+IX⋅X, the
real power portion will cause the largest voltage rise when the line resistance is high. If the DG is
injecting vars like a capacitor or there are fixed capacitors nearby, the voltage rise will be worse
(although the DG could also be operated to absorb vars to counteract the injection of real power).

The rather high upper limit of 132 V (110%) in the existing 929 standard (and 1157 under
development) has serious implications for allowing steady-state overvoltages on power systems.

DG Primary Surge Protection

Larger DR installations will likely have primary-voltage-rated interconnection equipment that may
include fuse cutouts, switches, breakers, transformers, and underground primary cables. The devices in
many cases are owned by the utility; however, in some cases they are owned and installed by the DR
unit and not the utility to which they are interconnected. Utilities would ordinarily protect such
equipment from surges and the DR unit operator should be responsible for maintaining the same level
of surge protection.

It is good practice to protect all underground primary cables with riserpole arresters and open-point
arresters. This would include cables serving transformers connected to DR units. The primary side of
all overhead transformer banks are also protected with lightning arresters. Pole-mounted primary
equipment such as fuses, switches, capacitor banks, reclosers, and other switchgear devices should also
be protected with arresters. Minimized lead-length practices are usually employed for cable and
transformer protection to help maximize equipment protective margins provided by arresters.
Lightning arresters should be applied at all primary underground cable interconnections and at step-up
transformers so as to obtain adequate protective margin per the recommendations of IEEE C62.22.

Lightning arresters need to be selected so that: 1) they can withstand the maximum continuous steady-
state voltage on the line, and 2) they can withstand temporary overvoltages due to line-to-ground faults
on the system. Improperly specified arresters can fail if the above criteria are not satisfied. DR unit
installation specifiers need to make sure the arrester maximum continuous operating voltage (MCOV)
and temporary overvoltage (TOV) capabilities meet these requirements.


Low-Voltage Surge Protection

On the low-voltage secondary side there are no particular requirements for lightning protection in the
utility standards; however, power electronics in static power converters are particularly sensitive to
voltage transients. Surge protection should protect against all modes of surge entry including phase-to-
phase and phase-to-neutral modes. Neutral-to-ground and phase-to-ground protection should also be
provided when the neutral is remotely grounded or impedance grounded. Surge protection of the dc
input cables into static power converters is also recommended. Metal-oxide surge arresters with large
enough blocks to handle a IEEE C62.41 category C surge environment should be utilized. Secondary
arresters should be specified to withstand all expected temporary overvoltages due to faults and steady-
state voltages.

Communications, metering, and control circuits within the facility also need to be equipped with
appropriate surge protective devices. Care should be exercised to “cross coordinate” the surge
protection between the power, communications, and control circuits so that no modes of surge entry
into the facility are left unprotected.


127 v
126 v 127.75 v
128.25 v

Customer A DG Customer B

Figure 5. High voltages on secondaries due to DG.

Harsh Surge Environment of PV and Wind Turbines

Photovoltaic and wind turbine sites can have very harsh surge environments. In Europe, wind turbine
sites have had a high number of failures due to lightning (in areas with relatively low lightning
activity). The following summarizes European experience with wind turbine lightning damage:7

• 4 to 8% annual lightning damage rate in Northern Europe (Denmark, Germany, and Sweden)

• High of 14% annual damage rate in low mountain areas of Germany

• 7 to 10% of events involved blade damage

• 43 to 51% involved control system damage

IEC 88/128/CDV, “Wind turbine generator systems – Part 24: Lightning protection for wind turbines,” Committee draft for vote,
June 30, 2000.


• 20 to 32% involved damage to the power system

• Roughly 30% due to direct strokes, 70% due to indirect strokes

These numbers are quite high given that the flash densities in Northern Europe are often less then 1
flash/km2/year. For example, damage rates ranged from 2 to 7% in Denmark where flash densities
ranged from 0.1 to 0.5 flashes/km2/year during the sample period.8

Photovoltaic sites can also have lightning-caused failures to photovoltaic panels, surge arresters, or
control systems.9 For photovoltaic power converters, there is considerable additional surge exposure to
the inverter electronics due to the large solar arrays connected to the inverter. The solar array
connections coupled with the utility power connections create a conductive bridge between remote
ground points subjecting the inverter to severe transient overvoltages. All modes of surge entry must be
carefully protected. The length of arrester leads should be minimized. Lead-length issues for low-
voltage power-electronic devices are even more critical than high-voltage devices. Protecting PV and
wind turbine sites from lightning requires protection of all incoming inverter inputs and outputs,
sufficient grounding, and protection of control circuits. Also, physical protection can be obtained with
lightning rods.

The possibility of widespread application of distributed generation to electric distribution systems
causes several interesting interconnection issues (including surge protection). Electric distribution
systems were not design with distributed generation in mind, so most utilities are conservative and err
on the side of caution which means more stringent interconnection requirements. Standards are still
evolving in this area.

T. Sorensen, M. H. Brask, P. Grabau, K. Olsen, and M. L. Olsen, “Lightning Damages to Power Generating Wind Turbines,”
International Conference on Lightning Protection, Sept. 1998.
F. D. Martzloff, “Lightning and Surge Protection of Photovoltaic Installations: Two Case Histories: Vulcano and Kythnos,” Draft
report, National Institute of Standards and Technology.