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Circuit Breakers (Theory, Classification, & Applications)

Circuit Breakers
(Theory, Classification, & Applications)

Explored By:

Engr. Syed Muhammad Munavvar Hussain

Engr. Syed Muhammad Munavvar Hussain 10/18/2009


Circuit Breakers (Theory, Classification, & Applications)

Circuit Breakers

D
uring the operation of the power systems, it is often
desirable and necessary to switch on or off the various
circuits (e.g., transmission lines, distributors,
generating plants etc.) under both normal and faulty conditions.
Previously this function was performed by a switch and a fuse in
series with the circuit. However, such a means of control presents
two disadvantages. Firstly, when fuse blows out, it takes quite
sometime to replace it and restore the supply to the customers.
Secondly, a fuse can not successfully interrupt the heavy fault
currents that occur on the modern high voltage power systems and
large capacity circuits. Therefore, with the advancement in the
power systems, there was a need to develop a more reliable means of
control. The circuit breaker was developed to switch on and off the
various circuits of a power system.

Devices used for circuit breaking (or making)

1. Fuse and ironclad switches

Fuse is an over current switch in the sense that when the current exceeds a pre-
assigned value in a circuit or device, it melts and causes the current interruption. The
supply is restored only when a healthy fuse replaces the damaged (melted) one in the
line. To permit this without any danger of shock to the operator, fuses are connected on
the load side of an ironclad switch.

Engr. Syed Muhammad Munavvar Hussain 10/18/2009


Circuit Breakers (Theory, Classification, & Applications)

2. Isolators

An isolator is a switch connected after a circuit breaker. When a circuit or a


busbar is taken out of service by tripping the circuit breaker, the isolator is then open
circuited and the isolated line is earthed through earth switch so that the trapped line
charges are safely conducted to ground.

3. Circuit breakers

A circuit breaker is a complex circuit-breaking device with the following duties:

Makes or breaks both normal and abnormal currents


Appropriately manages the high-energy arc associated with current interruption.
The problem has become more acute due to interconnection of power stations
resulting in very high fault levels.
Effects current interruption only when it is called upon to do so by the relay
circuits. In fact they are required to trip for a minimum of the internal fault
current and remain inoperative for a maximum of through fault current
Rapid and successive automatic breaking and making to aid stable system
operation
Three pole (3-pole) and single pole (1-pole) auto-reclosing arrangement

In addition to the making and breaking capabilities, a circuit breaker is required


to do following tasks under the following typical conditions:

Short-circuit interruption
Interruption of small inductive currents
Capacitor switching
Interruption of short-line fault
Asynchronous switching

A circuit breaker is a switching i.e. current interrupting or making device in


switchgear. In more proper words, a circuit breaker is defined as a piece of equipment
which can do any one of the following tasks:
Makes or breaks a circuit either manually or by remote control under normal
conditions

Engr. Syed Muhammad Munavvar Hussain 10/18/2009


Circuit Breakers (Theory, Classification, & Applications)

Breaks a circuit automatically under fault conditions


Makes a circuit either manually or by remote control under fault conditions

Figure 1: “A Circuit Breaker with Internal Structure”

Thus a circuit breaker is used for incorporating manual as well as automatic


control for the switching function. It is easy to percept what manual operation means for
the circuit breakers. On the other hand, the automatic control of the circuit breaker is
incorporated with the help of relays and is only done in case of fault conditions. The
main advantage associated with the use of circuit breaker is that, unlike a fuse, which
operates once and then has to be replaced, a circuit breaker can be reset (either manually
or automatically) to resume normal operation. Circuit breakers are made in varying
sizes, from small devices that protect an individual household appliance up to large
switchgear designed to protect high voltage circuits feeding an entire city.

Operating Principle
The primary function of the circuit breakers mechanism is to provide the means
for opening and closing the contacts. Initially, this seems to be a rather simple and
straightforward requirement. However, when one considers the fact that most circuit
breakers, once placed into service, will remain in the closed position for long periods of
time, and yet on the few occasions when they are called upon to open or close, they must
do so reliably, without any delay or sluggishness, then one realizes that the demands on
the mechanisms are not as simple as was first thought.
A circuit breaker essentially consists of fixed and moving contacts. These contacts
are called electrodes. The need for carrying the continuous current and for withstanding

Engr. Syed Muhammad Munavvar Hussain 10/18/2009


Circuit Breakers (Theory, Classification, & Applications)

a period of arcing makes it necessary to use two sets of contacts in parallel, one is the
primary contact and the second is the arcing contact. The primary contact is always
made of a high conductive material such as copper and the arcing contact is made of arc
resistance material such as tungsten or molybdenum, which has a much lower
conductivity than those used for primary contacts. When the circuit breaker opens to
interrupt the current, the primary contacts open before the arcing contacts.
Under the normal operating conditions, these contacts remain closed and are not
open automatically until and unless the system becomes faulty. Of course, the contacts
can be opened manually or by remote control when ever desired. When a fault occurs on
any part of the system, the trip coils of the circuit breaker get energized and the moving
contacts are pulled apart by some mechanism, thus opening the circuit.
When the contacts of a circuit break are separated under fault conditions, an arc
is struck between them. The current is thus able to continue until the discharge ceases.
The production of the arc not only delays the current interruption process but it also
generates enormous heat which may cause damage to the system or to the circuit breaker
itself. Therefore, the main problem in the circuit breaker is to extinguish the arc within
the shortest possible time so that heat generated by it may not reach a dangerous value.
In single phase (1-phase) circuits (i.e., lighting circuits etc.), a switch is located in
only one of the two conductors to the load. However in the power circuits, a circuit
interrupting device (i.e., circuit breaker) is put in each phase or conductor. These are,
sometimes, called 3-pole circuit breakers.

Arc Phenomenon
Arc in an ac circuit breaker occurs in two ways:
1. When the current-carrying contacts are being separated, arcing is possible
even when the circuit e.m.f. is considerably below the minimum cold
electrode breakdown voltage, because of the ions neutralizing the electronic
space charge and thus allowing large currents to flow at relatively low voltage
gradients. This way of occurrence of an arc is common to both dc and ac
circuit breakers.
2. The other way of occurrence of an arc happens only in ac circuit breakers. In
such case, the arc is extinguished every time the current passes through zero
and can restrike only if the transient recovery voltage across the electrodes,

Engr. Syed Muhammad Munavvar Hussain 10/18/2009


Circuit Breakers (Theory, Classification, & Applications)

already separated and continuing to separate, reaches a sufficiently high


value causing breakdown.
The function of an ac circuit breaker is to prevent restriking of the arc, which
depends upon the following important factors:
The nature and pressure of the medium of arc
The external ionizing and de-ionizing agents present
The voltage across the electrodes and its variation with time
The material and configuration of the electrodes
The nature and configuration of the arcing chamber

Categories of Arcs
Arcs in the circuit breakers are categorized as:
a) High-pressure arcs: with ambient pressures of 1 atm and above
b) Vacuum arcs: with ambient pressures below 10-4 torr

Arc is an essential part of any circuit breaker operation where contact is


physically parted. Before they are opened by the protective system, a heavy current flows
through the contacts of circuit breaker, when a short circuit occurs.

Figure 2: “Arc Phenomenon in Circuit Breakers”

When two current carrying contacts open, an arc bridges the contact gap and
prevents an abrupt interruption of the current. At the instant when the contacts begin to

Engr. Syed Muhammad Munavvar Hussain 10/18/2009


Circuit Breakers (Theory, Classification, & Applications)

separate, the contact area decreases rapidly and large fault current causes increased
current density and hence rise in temperature. The heat produced in the medium
between contacts (usually the medium is oil or air) is sufficient to ionize the air or
vaporize and ionize the oil. The ionized air or vapors act as conductor and an arc is
struck between the contacts. The potential difference between the contacts is quite small
and is just sufficient to maintain the arc. The arc provides a low resistance path and
consequently the current in the circuit remains uninterrupted so long as the arc persists.
The arc is useful in a way as it provides a low resistance path for the current after
contact separation. It prevents current chopping and associated abnormal switching
over-voltages in the system. The arc plays an important role in the process of current
interruption and therefore must not be regarded as an undesirable phenomenon.
It must also be realized that, in the absence of the arc, the current flow would be
interrupted instantaneously, and due to the rate of collapse of the associated magnetic
field, very high voltage would be induced which severely stress the insulation of the
system. On the other hand, the arc provides a gradual, but quick, transition from the
current-carrying to the current-breaking states of the contacts. Therefore, it permits the
disconnection to take place at zero current without indicating the potentials of dangerous
values. The function of an arc-control device in a circuit breaker is therefore clearly to
employ the beneficent action of the arc as efficiently as possible.

Significance of Arc Resistance


During the arcing period, the current flowing between the contacts depends upon
the arc resistance. The greater the arc resistance, the smaller is the current that flows
between the contacts. The arc resistance depends upon the following factors:
Degree of Ionization
Length of the Arc
Cross-section of the Arc

a. Degree of Ionization
The arc resistance increases with the decrease in the number of ionized particles
between the contacts.
b. Length of the Arc
The arc resistance increases with the length of the arc i.e., separation of contacts.

Engr. Syed Muhammad Munavvar Hussain 10/18/2009


Circuit Breakers (Theory, Classification, & Applications)

c. Cross-section of the Arc


The arc resistance increases with the decrease in the area of cross-section of the
arc.

Principle of Arc Extinction


Prior to discussing the methods of arc extinction, it is essential to scrutinize the
factors accountable for the maintenance of arc between the contacts. These are:
Potential difference between the contacts
Ionized particles between the contacts

i) Potential Difference between the Contacts


When the contacts have small separation, the potential difference between them
is sufficient to maintain the arc. One way to extinguish the arc is to separate the contacts
to such a distance that potential difference becomes inadequate to maintain the arc.
However this method is impracticable in high voltage systems where a separation of
many meters may be required.

ii) Ionized Particles between the Contacts


The ionized particles between the contacts tend to maintain the arc. If the arc
path is de-ionized, the arc extinction will be facilitated. This may be achieved by cooling
the arc or bodily removing the ionized particles from the space between the contacts.

Classification of Circuit Breakers


There are quite a few ways to classify the circuit breakers. However, the most
general way of classification is on the basis of medium used for the arc extinction.
Other bases for the classification of circuit breakers are summarized in the flow
chart on the next page.

Engr. Syed Muhammad Munavvar Hussain 10/18/2009


Circuit Breakers (Theory, Classification, & Applications)

Circuit Breakers

1. Based on Voltage
 Low
 Medium
 High/Extra High
 Ultra High

2. Based on Location
 Indoor
 Outdoor

3. Based on External Design


 Dead Tank
 Live Tank

4. Based on Interrupting
Media
 Air Break
 Air Blast
 Oil
 SF6
 Vacuum

Figure 3: Classification of Circuit Breakers

Engr. Syed Muhammad Munavvar Hussain 10/18/2009


Circuit Breakers (Theory, Classification, & Applications)

1. Based on Voltage
On the basis of the voltage levels for which they are used, the circuit breakers are
classified as listed in table (with corresponding voltage ranges of use).

Category Range of Voltage

Low voltage Less than 1 kV

Medium voltage 1 kV to 52 kV

High/Extra High voltage 66 kV to 765 kV

Ultra High voltage Above 765 kV

Table 1: “Classification of circuit breakers on Voltage Basis”

2. Based on Location
Circuit breakers are, based upon where they are located, classified as, indoor and
outdoor types.
Medium and low voltage breakers are categorized as Indoor circuit breakers,
whereas the circuit breakers which have air as external insulating medium are classified
as outdoor circuit breakers.

3. Based on External Design


Outdoor circuit breakers can be identified as either dead tank or live tank type
circuit breakers, from the point of view of their physical structural design.
In the dead tank circuit breakers, the switching device is located, with suitable
insulator supports, inside a metallic vessel at ground potential and filled with insulating
medium. In dead tank circuit breakers, the incoming and outgoing conductors are taken
out through suitable insulator bushings, and low voltage type current transformers are
located at lower end of both insulator bushings, i.e. at the line side and the load side.
In live tank circuit breakers, the interrupter is located I an insulator bushing, at a
potential above ground potential. The live tank circuit breakers are cheaper (with no
current transformer), and require less mounting space.

Engr. Syed Muhammad Munavvar Hussain 10/18/2009


Circuit Breakers (Theory, Classification, & Applications)

4. Based on Interrupting Media


The interrupting media has been a vital factor in the evolution of circuit breakers. It
dedicates the overall design parameters of the breaker. The choice of air and oil, as the
interrupting media, was predominant till late 70s. but today, vacuum and SF6 are the
only dominant interrupting technologies, for medium and high voltage segments of
circuit breaker design respectively. The medium used for the arc extinction can be:
Oil
Air
Vacuum
Sulphur Hexafluoride (SF6)

Accordingly, the circuit breakers may be classified into following categories


(which will be treated in detail in the present report):
Oil Circuit Breakers
Air-blast Circuit Breakers
Sulphur Hexafluoride (SF6) Circuit Breakers
Vacuum Circuit Breakers

1. Oil Circuit Breakers


In such circuit breakers, some insulating oil (i.e., transformer oil) is used as an
arc quenching medium. The contacts are opened under oil and an arc is struck between
them. The heat of the arc evaporates the surrounding oil and dissociates it into a
substantial volume of hydrogen gas at a high pressure. This large volume of the hydrogen
gas pushes the oil away from the arc.
In an oil circuit breaker, the arc quenching process is entirely dependent on arc
energy generated. The arc drawn across the contacts is contained inside the interrupting
pot, and thus the hydrogen gas formed by the vaporized oil (gas) is also contained inside
the chamber. As the contacts continue to move, and the moving contact rod separates
itself from the orifice of the chamber, an exit similar to a nozzle allows escape of the
hydrogen gas trapped inside the interrupting chamber. The escaping high pressure
hydrogen gas, having a high thermal conductivity, takes away the heat, thus making the
contact gap cool and free from ionization, immediately after current zero.
However, the oil breakers have prolonged arcing times, due to insufficient vapor
pressure generated at lower interrupting currents. Periodic monitoring of the oil

Engr. Syed Muhammad Munavvar Hussain 10/18/2009


Circuit Breakers (Theory, Classification, & Applications)

dielectric conduction and its maintenance is important for the effective operation of
medium oil circuit breaker. However, maintenance required for oil circuit breakers is of
low technology.

Figure 3: Oil Circuit Breaker

The arc extinction is facilitated mainly by two processes:


1. Firstly, the hydrogen gas has high heat conductivity and cools the arc, thus
aiding the de-ionization of the medium between the contacts.
2. Secondly, the gas sets up turbulence in the oil and forces it into the space
between contacts, thus eliminating the arcing products from the arc path.
This results in extinguishing the arc and as a result the circuit current is
interrupted.

Advantages:
As an Arc extinguishing medium oil has the following advantages:
1. Oil absorbs the arc energy to produces hydrogen gas during arcing. The hydrogen
has excellent cooling properties and helps extinguish the arc. (In addition to
hydrogen gas, a small proportion of methane, ethylene, and acetylene are also
generated in oil decomposition.)
2. The oil provides insulation for the live exposed contacts from the earthed
portions of the container.
3. Oil provides insulation between the contacts after the arc has been extinguished.
4. The oil close to the arc region provides cooling surface.

Engr. Syed Muhammad Munavvar Hussain 10/18/2009


Circuit Breakers (Theory, Classification, & Applications)

Disadvantages:

1. Oil is inflammable and may cause fire hazards. When a defective circuit breaker
fails under pressure, it may cause an explosion.
2. The hydrogen generated during arcing, when combined with air, may form an
explosive mixture.
3. During arcing, oil decomposes and becomes polluted by carbon particles, which
reduces its dielectric strength. Hence, it requires periodic maintenance and
replacement.

Types of Oil Circuit Breakers

The oil circuit breakers find extensive use in the power systems. They can be
classified with the reference to the quantity of oil used. The types are:
Bulk Oil Circuit Breakers
Minimum Oil Circuit Breakers

a) Bulk Oil Circuit Breakers


These circuit breakers use a large quantity of oil. The oil has to serve two purposes:
1. It extinguishes the arc during opening of contacts.
2. It insulates the current conducting parts from one another and from the
earthed tank.
In the bulk oil circuit breakers, the interrupting unit is placed in a tank of oil at
earth potential and the incoming and outgoing conductors are connected through
insulator bushings.

b) Minimum Oil Circuit Breakers


These circuit breakers use a small quantity of oil. In such circuit breakers, oil is
used only for arc extinction; the current conducting parts insulated by air or porcelain or
organic insulating material.
In these circuit breakers, the oil requirement can be minimized by placing the
interrupting units, in insulating chambers at live potential, on an insulator column.

Engr. Syed Muhammad Munavvar Hussain 10/18/2009


Circuit Breakers (Theory, Classification, & Applications)

2. Air-Blast Circuit Breakers


These circuit breakers employ a high pressure air-blast as an arc quenching
medium. The contacts are opened in a flow of air-blast established by the opening of the
blast valve. The air-blast cools the arc and sweeps away the arcing products of the
atmosphere. Consequently, the arc is extinguished and flow of current is interrupted.
Whenever current at high voltages needs to be interrupted, more breaking units
are used, in series. Dry and clean air supply is one of the most essential requirements for
the operation of the air-blast circuit breakers.

Figure 4: Air-Blast Circuit Breaker

In addition, other gases such as Nitrogen, Carbon dioxide, and Hydrogen can also
be used. But air is preferred because of the fact that the Carbon dioxide tends to freeze,
and the hydrogen gas is very expensive.
This type of circuit breaker has been used earlier for open terminal HV
applications, for voltages of 245 kV, and 400 kV up to 765 kV, especially where faster
breaker operation was required.
This type of breaker has been used for special applications wherein several super
thermal power stations located in close vicinity to each other have been inter-connected.
These one-cycle breakers from the inter-connecting link which, in the event of a fault in
an outgoing feeder of a particular station, isolates the station from the neighboring ones
thereby limiting the fault level for the feeder breaker.

Engr. Syed Muhammad Munavvar Hussain 10/18/2009


Circuit Breakers (Theory, Classification, & Applications)

The interrupting capability of air circuit breaker is usually increased by


increasing the normal pressure range. Normally, the pressure level is around 30 to 35
bars. In order to maintain the insulation level and reliability of operation, it is also
necessary for the condition of the air to be very dry.
Currently, however, SF6 circuit breakers have practically eliminated the use of
this technology.

Advantages:
1. The risk of fire is eliminated in these circuit breakers.
2. The arcing products are completely removed by the blast whereas the oil
deteriorates with successive operations. So the expenditure of oil replacement is
avoided in air-blast circuit breakers.
3. The size of these breakers is reduced, as the dielectric strength grows so rapidly
that final contact gap for the arc extinction is very small.
4. Due to the rapid growth of the dielectric strength, the arcing time is also very
small. It causes less burning of oil. The arc energy is also very small fraction of
that in oil circuit breakers.
5. The arc extinction is facilitate by the high pressure air, and is independent of the
fault current to be interrupted.
Disadvantages:
1. These circuit breakers are very sensitive to the variation s in the rate of rise of
restriking voltage.
2. The air-blast is supplied by the compressor plant that needs considerable
maintenance.

3. Sulphur Hexafluoride (SF6) Circuit Breakers


In these circuit breakers, Sulpher hexafluoride gas (SF6) is used as the arc
quenching medium. The SF6 is an electronegative gas and has a strong tendency to
absorb free electrons. The contacts of the breaker are opened in a high pressure flow of
SF6 gas and an arc is struck between them. The conducting free electrons in the arc are
rapidly captured by the gas to form relatively immobile negative ions. This loss of
conducting electrons in the arc quickly builds up enough insulation strength to
extinguish the arc. The SF6 circuit breakers have been found to be very effective for high
power and high voltage services.

Engr. Syed Muhammad Munavvar Hussain 10/18/2009


Circuit Breakers (Theory, Classification, & Applications)

The excellent insulating properties of SF6 gas make it possible to design circuit
breakers with smaller overall dimensions, shorter contact gaps, which help in the
construction of outdoor breakers with fewer interrupters.
The behavior of the arc during current zero and immediately afterwards, is of
decisive importance for the reliable interruption of the current. In SF6 gas, the diameter
of an arc is relative small. As a consequence, the thermal time constant of the arc,
approaching current zero, is almost 100 times smaller than in air. The dielectric strength
of the break increases rapidly after current zero; so that the breaker is able to control
even extreme rates of rise of the transient recovery voltage (TRV), in case of short line
faults.
These circuit breakers are available for complete range of medium voltage and
high voltage application up to 800 kV and above. This medium is most suitable for
metal-clad and hybrid HV sub-stations.
Although the share of SF6 circuit breakers in medium voltage application is
gradually shrinking, this technology is still emerging as the only choice in the HV range.

Applications
SF6 circuit breakers find use in systems with voltages ranging in 115 kV to 230 kV, as
they are designed for this range with power ratings of 10 MVA to 20 MVA and
interrupting time less than 3 cycles.

Advantages:
1. Because of the high conductivity of the arc in the SF6 gas, the arc energy is low.
(Arc voltage is between 150 and 200V.)
2. Due to the low energy the contact erosion is small.
3. The gaseous medium SF6 possesses excellent dielectric and arc quenching
properties. After arc extinction, the dissociated gas molecules recombine almost
completely to reform SF6. This means that practically no loss/consumption of the
quenching medium occurs.
4. Due to the superior arc quenching property of the SF6 gas, such circuit breakers
have very short arcing time. Furthermore, they can interrupt much larger
current.
5. These breakers give noiseless operation due to its closed gas circuit and no
exhaust to atmosphere unlike the air-blast circuit breaker.

Engr. Syed Muhammad Munavvar Hussain 10/18/2009


Circuit Breakers (Theory, Classification, & Applications)

6. The SF6 gas is not inflammable, so there is no risk of fire in SF6 breakers.
7. Since SF6 breakers are totally enclosed and sealed from the atmosphere, they are
particularly suitable where explosion hazards exist, i.e. in coal mines.

Disadvantages:
1. These circuit breakers are expensive due to the high cost of SF6 gas.
2. Since SF6 gas has to be reconditioned after every operation of the breaker,
additional equipment is required for this purpose.
3. The SF6 gas has been identified as a greenhouse gas, and safety regulations are
being introduced in many countries in order to prevent its release into the
atmosphere.
Therefore, the HV circuit breaker would be designed to ensure that there is
minimum leakage during the service period and that the utilities let out the least
amount of SF6 gas into the atmosphere during maintenance.
As SF6 gas has an impact 23 times stronger than the CO2 gas on the greenhouse
effect, in order to minimize the emission of SF6 gas, N2- SF6 and CF4- SF6 gas mixtures
use may be more prominent in future as an alternative to using pure SF6 gas.

4. Vacuum Circuit Breakers


In such circuit breakers, the vacuum is used as the arc quenching medium. The
vacuum circuit breaker takes the advantage of non-sustainability of electric arc in
vacuum, and employs the principle of contact separation under vacuum where there is
no ionization due to medium. The initial arc caused by field and thermionic emissions
during the contacts separation, will die away soon, as there is no further ionization
because of vacuum.
The degree of vacuum in these circuit breakers is in the range from 10-7 to 10-5
torr. Since vacuum offers the highest insulating strength, it has far superior arc
quenching properties than any other medium. When the contacts in the vacuum circuit
breakers are opened in vacuum, an arc is produced between the contacts by the
ionization of metal vapors of contacts. However, the arc is quickly extinguished because
the metallic vapors, electrons and ions produced during arc rapidly condense on the
surface of the circuit breaker contacts.

Engr. Syed Muhammad Munavvar Hussain 10/18/2009


Circuit Breakers (Theory, Classification, & Applications)

Figure 5: A Vacuum Circuit Breaker

Vacuum circuit breakers are cost-effective in the medium voltage range. Vacuum
interrupters are sealed units and maintenance-free for 10,000 normal load operations.

Construction
The vacuum circuit breaker consists of fixed contact, moving contact and arc
shield mounted inside the vacuum chamber. The movable member is connected to the
control mechanism by stainless steel bellows. This enables the permanent sealing of the
vacuum chamber so as to eliminate the possibility of leak. A glass vessel or ceramic
vessel is used as the outer insulating body. The arc shield prevents the deterioration of
the internal dielectric strength by preventing metallic vapors falling on the inside surface
of the outer insulating cover.

Engr. Syed Muhammad Munavvar Hussain 10/18/2009


Circuit Breakers (Theory, Classification, & Applications)

Figure 6: Cross Sectional View of Vacuum Circuit Breaker

Applications
For a country like Pakistan, where distances are quite long and accessibility to
remote areas are difficult, the installation of such outdoor, maintenance-free circuit
breakers should prove a definite advantage. Vacuum circuit breakers are being employed
for outdoor applications ranging from 22 kV to 66 kV.
This technology has been found to be most suitable for medium voltage
application though the experimental interrupters for the 72.5 kV and 145 kV have been
developed, they were not found to be commercially viable.

Advantages:
1. The vacuum circuit breakers are compact in size and have longer lives.
2. Operating energy requirements are low, because the mechanism must move only
relatively small masses at moderate speed, over very short distances.
3. Because of the very low voltage across the metal vapor arc, energy is very low.
(Arc voltage is between 50 and 100V.)
4. Due to the very low arc energy, the rapid movement of the arc root over the
contact and to the fact that most of the metal vapor re-condenses on the contact,
contact erosion is extremely small.
5. There is no generation of gases during and after the circuit breaker operation.
6. The outstanding feature of these breakers is that it can break any heavy fault
current perfectly just before the contacts reach a definite open position.

Engr. Syed Muhammad Munavvar Hussain 10/18/2009


Circuit Breakers (Theory, Classification, & Applications)

7. They can successfully withstand lightning surges.


8. It is now possible to produce cost-effective VI (vacuum interrupter) designs with
electrical lives that exceed the required mechanical life of the circuit breakers,
and that will even be able to satisfy a recent requirement of extended short-
circuit operating life.

5. Air Circuit Breakers


Air circuit breaker is defined as a circuit breaker, in which the contacts open and
close in air at atmospheric pressure. In general, the use of this type of circuit breakers is
restricted to low voltage applications or high security installations where the risk of an
oil fire or oil contamination of the environment is too high to be tolerated. Countries
following the American practice used air circuit breakers almost exclusively for systems
up to 15 kV until the advent of the new vacuum and SF6 technologies.
The principles of arc interruption used in an air circuit breaker are rather
different from those in any other type of circuit breaker. However, the objective is the
same for both categories of the circuit breakers, i.e. to prevent the resumption of arcing
after current zero by creating a situation wherein the contact gap will withstand the
system recovery voltage; the air circuit breaker does this by creating an arc voltage in
excess of the supply voltage. This can be achieved in three ways:
Intense cooling of the arc plasma, so that the voltage gradient is very high
Lengthening the arc path to increase the arc voltage
Splitting up the arc into a number of series arcs

Although these circuit breakers are considered obsolete for medium voltage
applications, they continue to be preferred choice for high current rating in low voltage
applications.

Circuit Breakers Ratings


A circuit breaker must operate under all conditions, but its operation becomes critical
when there is a fault on the system in which the breaker is used. During fault conditions,
a circuit breaker must open the faulty circuit and break the fault current. The ratings of
the circuit breakers are also for breaking and making capabilities. There are three ratings
for breakers as:

Engr. Syed Muhammad Munavvar Hussain 10/18/2009


Circuit Breakers (Theory, Classification, & Applications)

Breaking Capacity
Making Capacity
Short-time Rating

Breaking Capacity
Breaking capacity is defined as the r.m.s. current that a circuit breaker is capable
of breaking at given recovery voltage and under specified conditions (i.e. power factor,
rate of rise of restriking voltage).
The breaking capacity is always stated at the r.m.s. value of fault current at the
instant of contact separation. When the fault occurs, there is a considerable asymmetry
in the fault current due to the presence of a d.c. component. In the Britain, it is a usual
practice to take breaking current equal to the symmetrical breaking current. However, in
America, the practice is to take breaking current equal to asymmetrical breaking current.
Therefore, the American rating given to a circuit breaker is higher than the British rating.
It is a common practice to express the breaking capacity in MVA by taking into
account the rated the rated breaking current and rated service voltage. Thus if I is the
rated breaking current in Amperes and the rated service voltage is V in volts, the
breaking capacity for three-phase circuit is:
Breaking Capacity = sqrt 3 x V x I x 10-6 MVA
However, the agreed international standard of specifying breaking capacity is
defined as the rated symmetrical breaking current at a rated voltage. The MVA breaking
capacity is illogical in a sense that when the short circuit current is flowing there is only a
small voltage across the breaker contacts, while the service voltage appears across the
contacts only after the current has been interrupted. Thus MVA rating is the product of
two quantities which do not exist simultaneously in the circuit.

Making Capacity
It is the peak value of current (including d.c. component) during the first cycle of
current wave after the closure of circuit breaker.
There is always a possibility of closing or making the circuit breaker under the
short circuit conditions. The capacity of a circuit breaker to make current depends upon
its ability to withstand and close successfully against the effects of electromagnetic
forces. These forces are proportional to the square of maximum instantaneous current

Engr. Syed Muhammad Munavvar Hussain 10/18/2009


Circuit Breakers (Theory, Classification, & Applications)

on closing. Therefore, making capacity is stated in terms of a peak value of current


instead of r.m.s. value.
Mathematically stated, making capacity is given as:
Making Capacity = 2.55 x symmetrical breaking capacity

Short-time Rating
The period for which the circuit breaker is able to carry fault current while
remaining closed is known as short-time rating.
This rating is needed because sometimes a fault on the system is of a temporary
nature and persists for only a second or two after which the fault is automatically
cleared. For the sake of continuity of the supply, the breaker should not trip in such
situations. This means that the circuit breakers should be able to carry high current
safely for some specified period while remaining closed. This means that they should
have a specified short-time rating. However, if the fault persists for a duration longer
than the specified time limit, the circuit breaker will trip, disconnecting the faulty
section.
The short-time rating of a circuit breaker depends upon its ability to withstand:
The electromagnetic force effects
The temperature rise

TYPE TESTS
Sr.# Type test Purpose
1 Dielectric tests To check characteristics of Circuit breaker for the following
tests:

I) Dry, wet, power frequency

II) Lightning impulse voltage

III) Switching impulse voltage ( applicable for 420 kV


CB and above)
2 Radio To determine RIV on CB pole in both close & open position
Interference
voltage test

Engr. Syed Muhammad Munavvar Hussain 10/18/2009


Circuit Breakers (Theory, Classification, & Applications)

3 Resistance of To record circuit resistance during temp. rise test at 200 C


the main
circuit
4 Temp. rise To ensure capability of contacts to carry rated normal
test current within specified temp. rise limits
5 Short-time To check the ability of the circuit to carry the maximum rated
withstand short-circuit withstand current ( 2.5 times the RMS value) at
current & peak 50 Hz in close position during the specified short-term
withstand duration of 1 or 3 sec.
current
6 Mechanical To check the characteristics of the breaker for 2000
operation test operations on each pole ( with multiple circuit breaker with
at ambient individual drive) OR complete assembled breaker
temp. (mechanically gang-operated breaker with one common
drive)
7 Short-circuit To check ability of the CB to clear the current on different
current tests in symmetrical & asymmetrical conditions as per
making/ provisions of IEC
breaking tests
8 Capacitive To check withstand capability of the CB for no load transient
current lines, cables , and capacitor banks
charging tests:

-Line charging
current
breaking tests

-Cable
charging
current
breaking tests

Engr. Syed Muhammad Munavvar Hussain 10/18/2009


Circuit Breakers (Theory, Classification, & Applications)

ROUTINE TESTS

S. Routine test Purpose


No.
1 Dielectric test on To check the dielectric’s withstand capability of live terminals
main circuit to live terminals and to earth in both close & open condition
of CB
2 Dielectric test on To check the dielectric’s withstand capability of auxiliary &
auxiliary & control circuit of CB subject to short duration (60 sec) voltage
control circuit withstand test for 2 kV . ( For motor or other devices , they
are subjected to a dielectric test as per appropriate specs.)
3 Design Verifies the CB for compliances in terms of language of name
identification test plate, identification of aux. Equipment, colour & quality of
paint etc.
4 Mechanical Includes
operating test
1) 5 open-close operations at max. rated and minimum
control voltage

2) 5 close-open operation at rated control voltage

3) recording opening & closing times at the rated


operating pressure & voltage
5 Measurement of To record contact resistance of CB for mechanical operations
resistance of to be within specified limits
main circuit

THE ROUTINE TESTS ARE TO BE COSIDERED AS ACCEPTANCE TESTS

Engr. Syed Muhammad Munavvar Hussain 10/18/2009


Circuit Breakers (Theory, Classification, & Applications)

Important Terms and Definitions


Here are described some vital terms, used in the circuit breakers’ analysis, with
simple definitions and a short description.

Arc Voltage
Arc voltage is defined as the voltage that appears across the contacts of the
circuit breaker during the arcing period (the period in which the arc persists).
As soon as the contacts of the circuit breaker are separated, an arc is formed
between them. The voltage that appears across the contacts during this period, until the
arc is extinct, is called the arc voltage. The value of this voltage is highest at the zero
current point. This peak value of the arc voltage helps maintain the current flow in the
form of arc.

Restriking Voltage
Restriking voltage is the transient voltage that appears across the contacts at or
near current zero during the arcing period.
The current interruption in the circuit depends upon the high frequency transient
voltage, the restriking voltage. If the restriking voltage rises more rapidly than the
dielectric strength of the medium between the contacts, the arc will persist for the next
half-cycle. On the other hand, if the dielectric strength of the medium builds up more
rapidly than the restriking voltage, the arc fails to restrike and the current will be
interrupted.

Recovery Voltage
Recovery voltage is defined as the normal (50 Hz) voltage that appears across
the contacts of the circuit breaker immediately after the final arc extinction. It is
approximately equal to the system voltage.
When the contacts of the circuit breaker are opened, current drops to zero after
every half cycle. At some current zero, the contacts are separated adequately apart and
dielectric strength of the medium between the contacts attains high value due to the
elimination of ionized particles. At such an instant, the medium between the contacts is
strong enough to prevent the breakdown by restriking voltage. Consequently, the final

Engr. Syed Muhammad Munavvar Hussain 10/18/2009


Circuit Breakers (Theory, Classification, & Applications)

arc extinction takes place and circuit current is interrupted. Immediately after the final
current interruption, the voltage that appears across the contacts has a transient part.
However, these transient oscillations cave in rapidly due to the damping effect of the
system resistance and normal circuit voltage appears across the contacts. The voltage
across the contacts is of normal frequency and is identified as recovery voltage.

Engr. Syed Muhammad Munavvar Hussain 10/18/2009


Circuit Breakers (Theory, Classification, & Applications)

Summary
The basic requirements of switching in power system practice are two-fold; to
permit apparatus and circuits to be conveniently put into or taken out of service,
and to permit appropriate and safe isolation of apparatus and circuits
automatically, in a pre-determined time period, when they develop faults.
Circuit breakers are preferred over fuses because they are needed to be replaced
after every fault in the power system, as they blow out in such case. The isolators
are used to isolate a faulty circuit breaker from the rest of the system to aid in
repairing it.
When a circuit break operates under fault conditions, an arc is struck between the
contacts. The arc delays the current interruption and also generates enormous
heat which may cause damage to the system or to the circuit breaker itself.
Therefore, the arc must be extinguished within the shortest possible time.
In the oil circuit breaker, the oil absorbs the arc energy to produces hydrogen gas
during arcing; the hydrogen helps extinguish the arc, due to its excellent cooling
properties. The oil also provides insulation for the live exposed contacts from the
earthed portions of the container.
In the air-blast circuit breakers, the risk of fire is eliminated, the arcing products
are completely removed by the blast, and the size of these breakers is reduced.
Although the air circuit breakers are considered obsolete for medium voltage
applications, they continue to be preferred choice for high current rating in low
voltage applications.
Circuit breakers are classified (on the basis of medium used) as; oil circuit
breakers, air-blast circuit breakers, sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) circuit breakers,
vacuum circuit breakers.
It is important that for the maintenance of SF6 gas equipment like circuit
breakers, the technical personnel involved should have a complete understanding
of the system. They should not only know how to personnel involved should be a
complete understanding of the system. They should not only know how to
perform maintenance tasks, but also why and when these should be performed.
Condition-based maintenance (CBM) and Reliability center maintenance (RCM)

Engr. Syed Muhammad Munavvar Hussain 10/18/2009


Circuit Breakers (Theory, Classification, & Applications)

are being proposed to replace periodic maintenance of EHV circuit breakers, in


order to minimize the maintenance costs.
Vacuum circuit breakers are being employed for outdoor applications ranging
from 22 kV to 66 kV. The vacuum circuit breakers are compact in size and have
longer lives. Operating energy requirements are also low, as the mechanism must
move only relatively small masses at moderate speed, over very short distances.
The circuit breaker ratings as making capacity, breaking capacity, and the short-
time rating are to be considered carefully while selecting the type of breaker in a
particular application.
The type and routine tests of the circuit breakers are stated in tabular form,
making it easier for the reader to quickly go through them.
The important terms and their definitions are necessary in context with the
circuit breaker theory. I stated the terms; arc voltage, restriking voltage, and
recovery voltage.

For comments and any sort of questions regarding this article, you can contact me from
10:00 hours to 23:00 hours (Pakistan Standard Time; PST) on:
+92-333-805-3114
Or by e-mail:
engr.munavvar@yahoo.com
engr.munavvar@gmail.com

Engr. Syed Muhammad Munavvar Hussain 10/18/2009