Bernard Noirhomme, Brian Sparling, Jacques Aubin GE Syprotec

Pierre Gervais Hydro-Québec

Traditionally, the dryness of transformers in service has been assessed by periodic measurements of the water content in the insulating oil. One difficulty with this method is the sensitivity to temperature as the saturation characteristics of oil and paper vary in opposite direction with temperature. Continuous monitoring of water content in transformer oil is now becoming possible with the availability of sensors that can operate on a continuous basis, in the harsh environment of a high-voltage substation. These devices allow to observe the natural variation of the oil relative saturation as the temperature evolves following load and ambient temperature variations. A method is presented to integrate these variations in a quasi-stable equivalent condition that allows for the application of oil-paper equilibrium curves developed in the industry. This equilibrium is more easily obtained at the high-temperature characteristics of overload conditions, and limits of applicability are discussed. Typical results of water-in-oil continuous monitoring are presented along with calculated values for the water content in solid insulation. This information allows for a better assessment of thermal aging and dielectric strength. In case of overload, it also allows to determine the maximum hot-spot temperature that is acceptable without incurring the risk of bubbling from the moisture trapped in the conductor insulation.

The importance of moisture management in power transformers is well recognized. Extensive drying procedures are applied at the manufacturing stage and sustained efforts are deployed in service to maintain that level of dryness. Excessive moisture in the solid and liquid insulations can lead to significant reductions of dielectric strength and reduce the partial discharge inception level. The effect of moisture on insulation aging has been well documented. It has also been demonstrated that at high temperatures, the residual moisture in winding insulation can trigger the release of free gas bubbles, thus creating an immediate threat to the dielectric integrity of the insulation structure. To cope with these detrimental effects, the IEEE has issued recommendations[1] as to the proper level of moisture content that is to be maintained in service. Moisture Content in Oil The traditional method of moisture monitoring calls for oil sampling at regular intervals. The oil sample is then processed through a Karl Fischer titration method that provides the total water content in oil in parts per million (ppm). Most of the water is in the form of dissolved water and is available to move from the oil to the solid insulation as the transformer progresses toward equilibrium. However some of the measured water is chemically bound to chemical agents such as by-products of oxidation. This bound water is only partially available to migrate from the oil to the paper. As the oil ages, the quantity of chemical agents due to oxidation increases and these agents provide additional sites for the water to bind on. Some of the water may also bind to Copyright © 2000 GE Syprotec Inc. All Rights Reserved. 1

particles in suspension in oil, and this water would not be fully available to move to the solid insulation. Measuring directly the relative saturation makes it unnecessary to take these factors into consideration. The relative saturation is the percentage of full saturation and is the most representative figure of the water available for transfer to the paper. At equilibrium the relative saturations of both components of the insulation system are equal. On-line moisture monitoring sensors such as GE Syprotec’s AQUAOIL™ 300 provide a relative saturation measurement. As an option, the visual reading can be converted in ppm if the oil saturation curve for this type and this age of oil is available. The AQUAOIL™ 300 provides the relative oil saturation at a given oil temperature. From the oil saturation characteristics the relative saturation can be determined for any temperature. The relation depicted on Figure 1 is characteristic of Voltesso 35 but the slope is similar for other mineral oils. On this graph, the X axis is calculated as 1000/T but the scale is indicated in °C. The Y axis is the log of the moisture content. On such a graph, the oil relative humidity versus temperature is a straight line. If the oil characteristics are not known, the line can be traced from two measurements of the same oil at two different temperatures. When the moisture content of the oil changes, the characteristic line is displaced but remains parallel to the original one. Thus when the oil is characterized by a specific slope, a single measurement suffices. From this graph, it is possible to see at once the temperature that will lead to water condensation in case of sudden cooling of the transformer under cold ambient temperatures. In the example shown on Figure 1, the extrapolated value for 100 % saturation is 3 °C.

100 Relative Moisture Saturation (%) 50
Oil relative saturation at winding hot spot: 4 %

100 50

10 5
Water-in-oil condensation: 3 °C

10 5














Temperature (°C)
Figure 1 - Example of Oil Relative Humidity Versus Temperature Curve Copyright © 2000 GE Syprotec Inc. All Rights Reserved. 2

From this graph it is also possible to find the relative humidity at any oil temperature. For instance if the hot-spot temperature is evaluated at 90 °C and we assume that the oil in contact with the insulating paper is at the same temperature, the relative humidity of the oil in contact with the paper is 4 %. This assumption is valid in real case because the oil circulation is much faster than the moisture transfer; therefore the absolute water content of the oil (in ppm) can be assumed to be the same through the circulating oil.

Moisture Content in Paper In a transformer submitted to variable load and variable ambient temperatures, assessing the moisture content of the paper from the moisture content of the oil is a challenge. Pressboard and paper are hydrophilic materials that tend to absorb all the water available, whereas the oil is hydrophobic and carries only traces of water. Moreover the saturation characteristics of oil and paper evolve in opposite directions in regard to temperature (hot oil can carry more water than cold oil and the reverse is true for paper).
Moisture partition curves can be used to determine the moisture content of the paper from the moisture content of the oil. This relation varies with the oil type and aging characteristics if the moisture content of the paper is related to the absolute water content of the oil. Over the years, these curves have been perfected, the best known being Fabre and Pichon[2] and Oommen[3]. However these relations can be applied only when the transformer has been under steady temperature conditions for some time. Such conditions are never truly met on a transformer in service but quasi-steady conditions can be achieved. To this effect, a method developed by Sokolov and Vanin[4] can be used to approximate the amount of water in the main insulation. It is reported that if a transformer operates at a top-oil temperature between 60 and 70 °C for a period of three days, the rate of moisture transfer in the oil is low enough to indicate that a state close to equilibrium has been reached. The relative saturation of water in oil is then used to calculate the moisture content of the solid insulation. It would be tempting to attempt a modelization of the transient behavior of moisture migration but the mechanisms of adsorption and desorption are complex in themselves and further complicated by the architecture of transformer insulation. A small proportion of the solid insulation is thin and well irrigated by insulating oil while the major component is thick insulation, not always in direct contact with circulating oil. Oommen[5] has shown that for a 500 kVA distribution transformer submitted to a sudden load increase, the time to equilibrium is in the order of a few days during desorption and a few weeks during adsorption. On samples of high-voltage windings, Azizian et al.[6] and Davydov et al.[7] have also found large differences in the time to equilibrium depending whether the paper is releasing moisture in the oil or absorbing this moisture. It can also be shown[8] that the migration phenomenon cannot be modelized with simple exponential functions even if a variable time constant is introduced. Considering the complexity of adsorption-desorption phenomena and the complex structure of transformer insulation, it is not to be expected that the dynamic behavior of moisture migration can be modelized in a practical way for on-line monitoring. The solution of moisture migration monitoring is to be attempted by making use of periods of quasi-stability occurring naturally and by proposing some simplifications to the problem. Copyright © 2000 GE Syprotec Inc. All Rights Reserved.


The Concern Is the Thin Insulation In a transformer, most of the water is stored in the bulk insulation material making up the dielectric insulation between the windings. This main insulation accounts for more than 90 % of the solid insulation weight. The equilibrium conditions between this insulation and the surrounding oil are difficult to achieve due to the very long time constant in these thick cellulose components. Moreover some sections of the insulation structure may not have access to the circulating oil, thus hampering further the moisture transfer.
Fortunately the insulation of most interest is the turn insulation within the windings. This insulation is made of thin material and well irrigated by the insulating oil. It is also the insulation component that will be affected by thermal aging and this is where the bubbling may occur under high overload conditions. Therefore it is acceptable that calculations of moisture in paper be limited to the paper in the hottest part of the windings.

Accuracy Is Needed Only at High Temperatures The effect of moisture on insulation aging is significant. This effect has been much investigated and the IEEE Loading Guide[9] recommends a simple rule: the deterioration is directly proportional to the water content. The reference moisture level from material aging tests is typically 0.2 to 0.3 % by weight. In a practical transformer in service it is more reasonable to use 1.0 % as the reference for normal aging rate. It means that for a given temperature, a wet transformer, with a moisture content of 5 %, would age 5 times faster than a dry one.
However the hot-spot temperature remains the prime aging factor and it decreases exponentially with temperature. For thermally upgraded paper the IEEE Loading Guide[9] recommends to use the following aging acceleration factors: Insulation temperature (°C) 150 130 110 90 70 50 Aging acceleration factor 40.6 7.0 1.0 0.11 0.01 0.0007

It is clear that the accuracy on the moisture content is important at high temperatures because it is multiplied by large thermal aging acceleration factors. At low temperatures, the aging is very low anyhow, and the accuracy of the moisture calculation has no significant effect on the overall aging. The risk of free gas bubbles being released is also a concern limited to high temperatures. The investigations by McNutt et al.[10] and later confirmed by Oommen et al.[11] and Davydov et al.[12] indicate that even for a wet transformer with a 5 % moisture content in paper, the bubbling temperature is around 100 °C, while for a dry transformer with a 0.5 % moisture the bubbling temperature is above 180 °C (Figure 2).

Copyright © 2000 GE Syprotec Inc. All Rights Reserved.


Therefore it is reasonable to focus on the accuracy at high temperatures and accept a larger margin of error at low temperatures where the moisture content of the paper has no immediate consequences.
200 180

Bubble inception temperature (°C)

Davydov et al.[12]
160 140 120 100 80

Oommen et al.[11]
60 40 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Moisture content in paper (%)

Figure 2 - Bubbling Inception Curves for Gas-Saturated Transformers

Diffusion Time for Thin Insulation at High Temperatures Not too many data are available yet to assess the diffusion time constant for winding insulation. A short collection of published data is presented in Table 1 for test object simulating highvoltage windings. When available the moisture content of the paper is indicated. The time constant is defined as the time required to reach 63 % of equilibrium when submitted to a step variation in temperature. From field tests on full-size power transformers, Sokolov and Vanin[4] estimated the desorption time constant to be in the order of 1.5 days, for solid insulation at 70 °C. Test results on a 500 kVA distribution transformer reported by Oommen[5] indicate that for a winding temperature in the order of 50 °C, the time constant for moisture desorption is about one day. These data are plotted on Figure 3 along with the results from experiments in a well controlled environment.
Copyright © 2000 GE Syprotec Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Table 1 - Experimental Data on Desorption Time Constant for Winding Models Source Figure 8 in Davydov et al.[7] Figure 7 in Davydov et al.[7] Figure 16 in Griffin[13] Figure 1 in Sokolov and Vanin[4] Test Description 1 mm pressboard; exchange from 2 sides moisture content ≈ 1.7 % Disk winding model, 4 paper wraps on conductor, moisture content ≈ 1.7 % Model not disclosed moisture content ≈ 1 % “Water heat run tests” on full-size power transformers. Estimation of desorption time constant 500 kVA distribution transformer moisture content ≈ 5 % Desorption Time Constant 80 °C → 8 h 120 °C → 5 h 120 °C → 7.8 h 65 °C → 35 h 90 °C → 30 h 70 °C → 36 h

Figure 7 in Oommen[5]

50 °C → 24 h

Theoretical diffusion time constants for thin insulation material have also been proposed in the literature. They are presented in Table 2 and plotted on Figure 3.

Table 2 - Theoretical Diffusion Time Constant Source Du et al.[14] Von Guggenberg[15] Model Description 1 mm Kraft paper diffusion from one side moisture content: 1 % Model not defined Diffusion Time Constant 20 °C → 1332 h 70 °C → 24 h 0 °C → 2.2 years 40 °C → 2.6 weeks 80 °C → 1.9 days 20 °C → 1406 h 40 °C → 703 h 60 °C → 351 h

Sokolov et al.[16]

1 mm pressboard diffusion from one side moisture content: 0.5 %

Copyright © 2000 GE Syprotec Inc. All Rights Reserved.


140 120 100 80 60 40 20 0 1 10 100 1000

Davydov et al.[7] (winding model) Davydov et al.[7] (pressboard) Griffin[13] (insulated conductor) Sokolov and Vanin[4] (full size transformer) Oommen[5] (distribution transformer) Du et al.

Temperature (°C)


Von Guggenberg[15] (theoretical) Sokolov et al.[16] (theoretical) FARADAY™ Model approximation


Diffusion time constant (hours)

Figure 3 - Theoretical and Experimental Diffusion Time Constant on Thin Insulation Material

Until further experimental work sheds additional light on the diffusion time constant of real transformer windings insulation, it is reasonable to use an approximate function as shown on Figure 3 as a dotted line. This function is used in the FARADAY™ monitoring systems to characterize the diffusion time constant of winding insulation in the hot-spot area. The stability period is defined as three times the diffusion time constant. It can be noted that experimental references always refer to the desorption phase when the winding is heating up and moisture is being released into the oil. For the cool-down period, the absorption process is known to be much longer but the data available is insufficient to assess the applicable time constant. For cooldown periods, utilization of a shorter time constant is a conservative approach since it assumes that the winding insulation is picking up water at a greater rate than in reality.

Practical Approach for Moisture-in-Paper on-Line Monitoring The model for the assessment of moisture content in winding insulation paper is based on analysis of the following historical data: •= Relative humidity in the oil •= Humidity sensor temperature •= Top oil temperature •= Load current
The model is executed in the sequence outlined in Figure 4. The hot-spot temperature is computed from top oil temperature, load current and transformer characteristics. The temperature Copyright © 2000 GE Syprotec Inc. All Rights Reserved.


of the oil-paper interface in the hottest section of winding insulation is assumed to be identical to the hot-spot temperature, neglecting the temperature drop across the paper insulation. The diffusion time constant at the present hot-spot temperature is deduced from the relation shown on Figure 3 and the stability period is defined as three times the diffusion time constant.

Top oil temperature

Load current

% R.H.


Moisture-in-paper model Define required stability period Check for stability conditions Abort if stability conditions are not met Calculate average values for the computation period •= Moisture content in oil •= Moisture sensor temperature •= Hot-spot temperature Calculate moisture content in oil at the hot-spot temperature Calculate moisture content in paper

Refresh default value of moisture content in paper

Aging acceleration model Bubbling model

Condensation temperature

Bubbling temperature

Aging acceleration factor

Figure 4 - Moisture Management Model

Copyright © 2000 GE Syprotec Inc. All Rights Reserved.


The thermal stability of the transformer is assessed by reviewing, over the stability period, the historical values of the hot-spot temperature. The excursion between maximum and minimum values is calculated. If the difference exceeds 30 °C, the stability criterion is not met and the calculation is interrupted. If the stability criterion is met, the following parameters are averaged over the stability period: •= Average hot-spot temperature •= Average moisture content in oil •= Average sensor temperature From these average values the oil relative humidity curve shown on Figure 1 gives the relative humidity of the oil in contact with the winding insulation at the hot-spot temperature. The moisture equilibrium curve developed by Oommen[3] is shown on Figure 5. Parameters proposed by Fessler[17] for the bubble model are used: 0.6685 -7 C = 2.173 * 10 * Pv * exp(4725.6/T) This curve, applicable for thermally stable conditions, allows to convert the relative humidity in oil to moisture content in solid insulation. The calculated value of moisture content in the insulation paper is used to update a register where a default value is kept. This default value is to be used if the hot-spot temperature and thermal stability do not allow for application of equilibrium curves.

14 Moisture content of paper (% by dry weight


0 °C


20 °C 40 °C




60 °C 80 °C 120 °C


0 0 10 20 30 40 50 60

Relative oil saturation (%)

Figure 5 - Equilibrium Curve for Moisture Partition Between Oil and Paper

Copyright © 2000 GE Syprotec Inc. All Rights Reserved.


Numerical Example A numerical application of this model can be visualized with the data presented in Figure 6. The historic data go back 60 hours. Presently, the hot-spot temperature is 100 °C. Therefore the diffusion time constant is 6.8 hours and the required stability period is 20 hours. Over this period, the maximum hot-spot temperature is 100 °C and the minimum is 86 °C for a total temperature excursion of 14 °C, thus satisfying the stability criterion. The following parameters are averaged over the stability period: •= Average hot-spot temperature: 90.5 °C •= Average relative humidity from the AQUAOIL™ 300: 16.2 % •= Average temperature of the humidity sensor: 45 °C
RH%, Load (A/10), Temperature(°C)

120 100 80 60 40 20 0 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 Time (hours)
TopOilTemp SensorTemp AmbientTemp RH%
Average moisture in oil Average sensor temperature

Load HotSpotTemp
Average hot-spot

Figure 6 - Historical Data for Moisture Content Calculation From Figure 1 it is found that for a hot-spot temperature of 90.5 °C, the relative humidity of the oil in contact with the insulating paper is 4 %, and that the condensation temperature is 3 °C. From Figure 5 it is found that for a relative oil saturation of 4 % and a temperature of 90.5 °C, the moisture content of the insulating paper is 0.8 %.

Effect of Water on Insulation Aging An aging acceleration factor (AAF) specific to the moisture content of the paper (WCP) is calculated, assuming that the moisture content for normal aging is 1.0 %. This factor is to be multiplied by the thermal aging acceleration factor that remains the predominant factor of aging.


WCP 1.0%

Copyright © 2000 GE Syprotec Inc. All Rights Reserved.


Determination of Bubbling Temperature It has been shown that at high temperatures, the residual moisture in the insulation paper can lead to the release of free gas bubbles. This situation is to be avoided at all costs since it constitutes a major threat to insulation integrity. Gas bubbles occurring in highly stressed areas can lead to dielectric breakdown of the main insulation[10]. Simplified relations have been proposed by Oommen et al.[11] and also by Davydov et al.[12] (Figure 2).
The most conservative is used in the FARADAY™ monitoring system. In this example, a moisture content of 0.8 % in the winding insulation paper leads to an estimated bubbling temperature of 170 °C. The margin between the present hot-spot temperature and the estimated bubbling inception temperature is 70 °C. This margin is calculated at every computing interval and is used to trigger an alarm, should the temperature difference fall below a preset minimum value.

Conclusions The water content in transformer oil can be monitored on-line with a relative humidity sensor such as GE Syprotec’s AQUAOIL™ 300. This information leads easily to the water condensation temperature. The relative humidity of the oil in contact with the winding insulation can also be inferred from the relative saturation characteristics.
In order to assess the moisture content of the solid insulation, some compromises need to be made to deal with the difficult dynamic pattern of moisture migration between paper and oil. It appears reasonable to focus on the thin winding insulation paper and disregard the bulk insulation where most of the water is hiding. The main concerns with moisture in paper are accelerated aging and risk of bubbling. These detrimental effects are to be feared only in the winding insulation and only at high temperatures. It is therefore sufficient to limit the accurate assessment of moisture content to the condition of high hot-spot temperature. Taking advantage of these two simplifications, it is possible to apply on-line condition monitoring systems to identify quasi-steady hot-spot temperature conditions that allow for the assessment of the moisture content in insulation paper in the most critical operating conditions.

1. IEEE 62-1995 “Guide for Diagnostic Field Testing of Electric Power Apparatus – Part 1: Oil Filled Power Transformers, Regulators, and Reactors” 2. J. Fabre and A. Pichon “Deteriorating Processes and Products of Paper in Oil – Application to Transformers” CIGRE Conference, Paper No. 137, Paris, September 1960 3. T.V. Oommen “Moisture Equilibrium in Paper-Oil Insulation Systems” Proc. Electrical Insulation Conference, Chicago, October 1983

Copyright © 2000 GE Syprotec Inc. All Rights Reserved.


4. V. Sokolov and B. Vanin “In-Service Assessment of Water Content in Power Transformers” Doble Client Conference, Boston, May 1995 5. T.V. Oommen “On-Line Moisture Sensing in Transformers” Proceedings of the 20th Electrical/Electronic Insulation Conference, Boston, October 1991 6. H. Azizian, J.A. Proskurnicki and J.G. Lackey “Relative Saturation Versus Moisture Content of Insulating Oil and Its Application in Monitoring Electrical Equipment” Doble Client Conference, Boston, 1995 7. V.G. Davydov, O.M. Roizman and W.J. Bonwick “Evaluation of Water Content in Transformer Insulation Systems” EPRI Substation Equipment Diagnostic Conference VI, New Orleans, February 1998 8. J. Aubin and B. Noirhomme “Modelization of Water Migration in Power Transformers” CIGRE WG12.18 - Life Management Colloquium, Lodz, June 1998 9. IEEE Standard C57.91-1995 “IEEE Guide For Loading Mineral-Oil-Immersed Transformers” 10. W.J. McNutt, G.H. Kaufmann, A.P. Vitols and J.D. MacDonald “Short-Time Failure Mode Considerations Associated with Power Transformer Overloading” IEEE Trans. PAS, Vol. PAS-99, No. 3, May/June 1980 11. T.V. Oommen, E.M. Petrie and S.R. Lindgren “Bubble Generation in Transformer Windings Under Overload Conditions” Doble Client Conference, Boston, 1995 12. V.G. Davydov, O.M. Roizman and W.J. Bonwick “Transformer Insulation Behaviour During Overload” EPRI Substation Equipment Diagnostic Conference V, New Orleans, February 1997 13. P.J. Griffin “Water in Transformers – So What!“ Doble Client Conference, Boston, May 1997 14. Y. Du, M. Zahn, B.C. Lesieutre, A.V. Mamishev and S.R. Lindgren “Moisture Equilibrium in Transformer Paper-Oil Systems” IEEE Electrical Insulation Magazine, January/February 1999 15. P.A. Von Guggenberg “Discussion of Sokolov and Vanin Paper” (Ref. 4) Doble Client Conference, Boston, May 1995 16. V. Sokolov, P. Griffin and B. Vanin “Moisture Equilibrium and Moisture Migration Within Transformer Insulation System” Doble Client Conference, Boston, May 1999

Copyright © 2000 GE Syprotec Inc. All Rights Reserved.


17. W.A. Fessler, T.O. Rouse, W.J. McNutt and O.R. Compton “A Refined Mathematical Model for Prediction of Bubble Evolution in Transformers” IEEE Transaction on Power Delivery, Vol. 4, No. 1, January 1989

Copyright © 2000 GE Syprotec Inc. All Rights Reserved.


Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful