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Conference Record of the 2004 IEEE International Symposium on Electrical Insulation, Indianapolis, IN USA, 19-22 September 2004

Partial Discharge Diagnosis on Large Power Transformers

Detlev W. Gross, M & h s Soller
Power Diagnostix Systems GmbH
Bmesseler Ring 95a
52074, Aachen, Germany
gross@pd-systems.com, soeller@pd-systems.com

Abstract: Phase resolved partial discharge measurements offer

excellent passibillties to characterize the properties of defects in
insulation materials. The appearance of the partial discharge
pattern reflects the defect's geometry, the availability of the
initial electron, and the properties of the contributing materials.

The ongoing discharge ads further gases, which allow the gasfilled cavities to persist. Further, there is also so-called corona
discharge at bushings and external high voltage Icads.
Thus, for most of the stable partial discharge in transformers
the rules of gas discharge apply. For the occurrence of gas
discharge two conditions must be met. Firstly, the local
electrical field must have reached the streamer inception field
and, secondly, a free electron must be available. This 'first'
electron is then accelerated in the electrical field strong
enough to cause secondary electrons to build the electron
avalanche, when it hits a gas molecule (Figure 1). The
ongoing partial discharge is then 'supplied' by electrons
derived from de-trapping of electrons kept in flat traps on the
surfaces of the cavity.

With partial discharge measurements on large power

transformers the complexity of the winding has a strong impact
on the high frequency properties of the transformer and, thus, on
the applicability and range of a charge impulse calibration in
different frequency bands.
Especially, when performing field measurements, using elevated
frequencies offers sensitive partial discharge measurements even
in electromagnetically polluted environments. However, the
influence of effects such as attenuation, reflection, and cross
coupling must be considered and evaluated hotb in frequency
and in time domain.


Among high voltage generation,.transmission,and distribution
equipment, large power 'transformers have an insulation
system with the highest complexity. Other than with rotating
machines, for instance, the inner components of a transformer
are not accessible. Thus, besides the time and cost-consuming
opening of a transformer, any testing is limited to the
terminals and the tank wall.

Figure 1 - Partial discharge in a spherical gas inclusion (void)

This complexity, the inaccessibility, as well as tbe value and

the importance of large power transformers make partial
diagnosis on this type of equipment a demanding and
challenging task. Besides adequate measurement equipment
well-trained and experienced personnel is mandatoty to
successfully complete such tasks.

The statistical properties of the availability of these electrons

along with the geomeay of the defect and the properties of the
contributing surfaces control the appearance of the partial
discharge and, hence, contain complex information concerning
the type and size of the defect.



Partial discharge activity is the most prominent indicator for
insulation degradation. In transformers, partial discharge, a
local breakdown of a part of the insulation predominantly is
found in gas-filled cracks or voids of solid insulation material,
gas bubbles in the oil, or gas filled delaminations of paperwound insulation. Additionally, locally trapped humidity can
cause strong local losses, which lead to local over-heating.
After a while, discharge occurs in the resulting steam bubbles.


After decades of using meter [l] and oscilloscopic

representation of the partial discharge activity, instruments to
display a phase-resolved partial discharge pattern (PRPDP)
became commercially available in 1993 [2,3]. Here, each
detected partial discharge impulse is represented as a dot at its
position in the amplitude-phase-matrix, Further detected
impulses at the same phase and amplitude position are added
and change the color of the dot. Thus, the PRPD pattern is an


In the test room, the supply is *ically provided by a motorgenerator set. The test frequency is usually chosen three to
five times the line frequency. Induced voltage tests on-site are
mostly performed using Diesel engine generator sets [l I].



Besides the differences introduced with applied versus

induced voltage, the treatment of the neutral offers further
variation of the internal distribution of the electrical field.
Figure 3 shows, as an example for a multitude of connection
schemes [12], the configuration with elevated neutral under
single-phase excitation.




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Figure 2 - Phase-resolved partial discharge pattem (PRF'DP),

Figure 2 shows an example of a partial discharge pattem of

several spherical gas inclusions (voids) in solid polymeric
material. The pattern of the positive half-cycle contains at
least six clearly independent traces of voids of different sizes
reflecting a low availability of free electrons. Here, whenever
an electron becomes available by de-trapping, a discharge
occurs, causing the statistical distribution of the individual
trace. The discharge magnitude correlates to the local
electrical field. Here, the third harmonic causes a triangular
shape of the high voltage and, accordingly, causes a triangular
partial discharge pattem.
In the negative half-cycle, the pattem is different and shows a
typical distribution of a higher availability of electrons. The
reason is that the gas inclusions are attached to a semiconductive surface causing a different discharge process for
each direction, as shown with the small graphic (Figure 2).
During the past decade, besides theoretical work on the
characterization of the properties of such pattern [4,5], a high
number of laboratory and field studies were conducted on the
properties of such partial discharge pattern and the related
defect mechanism for different insulation systems [6,7,8,9,10].

Various test configurations are possible for a large power
transformer. Firstly, with the applied voltage configuration, a
test transformer is used to energize the transformer under test
on one bushing of the high voltage winding. In the test room,
this is often a single-phase standard transformer. Alternatively,
and especially under field conditions, resonant test sets are
used for the applied voltage test. More commonly, the induced
voltage configuration is used to energize the transformer.
Normally, a single-phase or three-phase step-up transformer is
connected to the low voltage winding. With machine
transformers energizing from the tertiary winding is a
commonly applied option.

Figure 3 - Single-phaseexcitation on a power transformer (YNd)

Using these different configurations, while observing the

behavior of the partial discharge activity (inception voltage,
phase position, etc.), is one important key to locate the source
of the discharge activity.


Today, acceptance testing on large power transformers follows
a tight schedule. Mostly, no preliminary partial discharge
measurement was done prior to the official acceptance test
witnessed by a representative of the customer. Using the threephase induced voltage configuration with a partial discharge
detector that offer full parallel acquisition on eight channels
significantly helps reducing the overall testing time [12].
Based on the requirements ,of a large manufacturer of power
transformers, a special version of an existing partial discharge
detector (ICMsysfem) was designed (Figure 4). This
instrument offers fully parallel acquisition on up to eight
channels. Besides offering the weighting as requested with the
IEC60270-2000 [13], the instrument offers as well
possibilities to perform RlV measurements in parallel [14].
During the past three years, based on experience gained from
nearly twenty inshument installed in the acceptance test rooms
of transformer factories, the operation software as well as the
accessories were further improved.


reflections, while travelling longer distances cause an

increasing attenuation, besides the delay. Thus, an impulse
picked up at the test tap of a condenser bushing bears the
impact on the signal properties induced by the path it has
traveled. Therefore, analyzing the captured impulses at the
bushing tap and other accessible points, such as the core and
frame connection, for instance, in frequency domain and in
time domain can unveil valuable information concerning the
location of the partial discharge activity.

' Figure 4 - Eight-channel parallel padal discharge acquisition.

During the acceptance test, focus is put on the strip-chart

recording of the discharge activity. However, even here, in the
background a PRPD pattem acquisition can be started, while it
is stored automatically. In case the discharge activity exceeds
the acceptance level, changing *to the multi-channel PRF'D
patkm display offers immediate comparison of the acquired
' fingerprints. Based on the cross-coupling matrix taken during
the calibration, analyzing this multi-channel pattem display
often already gives clear indications of cause and approximate
Location of the discharge activity.

Figure 5 -Instrumentation used for in-depth PD analysis.


Verifymg the assumed location of a partial discharge activity

and attempting a repair is costly and time-consuming. In a test
room environment and when the tank has not yet been fmally
welded, draining of the oil and removing the tank bell for
inspection is possible, but still costly: Large power
transformers offer (limited) space for intemal inspection,
modifications, and repair. Of course, preparing a transformer
for re-testing, i.e., re-closing, re-filling, and degassing, is a .
time-consuming process as well. In order to minimize the
related difficulties and delays of re-testing, it is mandatory that
prior to attempting an inspection or repair, all suitable
measurements were applied during the first session.
Intemally, large power transformers act as very complex
network of non-shielded conductors, which can emit and
receive high frequency signals from adjacent conductors and
coils. Non uniform diameters of the conductors cause

To leam about the high frequency properties of the

transformer network, the measurements are started with a
calibration session. Here, the steep impulse from a charge
calibrator with suitable bandwidth is connected to one bushing
tap and the injected signal is compared with the signal
received at an adjacent bushing. The measurements are taken
with a partial discharge detector (ICMsystem) and standard
laboratory equipment (Tektronix Oscilloscope, Agilent
Spectrum Analyzer) enhanced with special software written to
control both the instruments and quickly get screen-shots for
storage and pasting into the report (Figure 5).




Figure 6 -Cross coupling of a calibration impulse in time domain.


In time domain (Figure 6), firstly the travel time from the
point of injection to the point of acquisition is seen. Secondly,
the graph shows the resonant behavior when injecting at a
high voltage bushing and measuring at a tertiary terminal. The
frequency domain (Figure 7) shows the coupled signal for
IOOOpC (upper trace), IOOpC (mid trace), and noise floor
(lower trace) for the same connection. This graph shows that
during this test for frequencies below 2MHz the sensitivity is
reduced by ambient noise signals. It further shows that the
cross coupling has an increasing efficiency above 6MHz.




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Figure 9 - Phase-shiiled PD panern under three-phase excitation.


Thus, the discharge activity is caused by this differential field.

Referring to the construction drawings, this fact already
clearly narrows down the potential locations.
Figure I - Cross-coupled calibration signal in frequency domain.
In the following induced voltage test the PRPD patterns are
compared for three-phase excitation versus the single-phase
configuration. With three-phase excitation, the internal
structure of a transformer allows partial discharge under
differential electrical fields having a huge variation of
different phase positions depending on the location and the
winding scheme, while there is only one phase position with
single-phase excitation.


Figure 10 -Discharge activity shown with Fig. 9 in time domain.

When then looking at the signahlre acquired in time domain

(Figure lo), the clear sharp impulse of the upper trace
indicates a galvanic connection of this terminal to the
discharge site. The terminal showing the signal in the lower
trace is in terms of travel time closer to the discharge site, but
the oscillatory signal indicates that it is a cross-coupled signal,


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Figure 8 -Partial discharge pattem under single-phaseexcitation.

Figure 8, for instance, shows a partial discharge pattern taken
in single-phase setup. Connected in three-phase configuration,
the phase position changed with this example. The
position of the acquired pattem (Figure 9) is corrected
position of the single-phase excitation and possible differential
voltage traces were added. Here, the differential field B-C,
shown in red, fits to the patterns.

S T R R T 188 L H I

I R E S BW 3 0 k l l r


30 XHI

S T O P iB.iB PI".

Figure 11 -Discharge activity shown with Fig. 9 in fiequency


Accordingly, the results from the frequency domain

measurements (Figure 11) indicate a well-distributed nonresonant signal for the terminal shown in the upper trace of the
time domain signal (Figure 9):
Finally, to validate the assumed location of the discharge
activity, acoustic measurements are conducted. Especially for
low level discharge activities of few hundred pC, displaying
the acoustically captured partial discharge signal as a PRPD
pattern clearly indicates that the measurement is on the same
activity as captured electrically. Besides the similarity of the
pattern, using this display additionally offers a calculation of
the travel time and, hence, determining the distance to the
activity by looking at the phase shift (Figure 12). Here, the
phase shift of about 80" refers to a distance of about 0 . h .
Nota bene, the frequency of the test voltage is 250Hz.
Figure 13 -Fiber-optic transminer and acoustic sensor.
Thus, in case, acoustic sensors need to be placed with a good
understanding of the internal construction of the transformer
in order to avoid misleading results.


Generally, besides w i n g adequate instruments,' successfully

performing such in-depth partial discharge diagnosis requires
access to the construction plans of the transformer, extended
laboratory experience, and, important as well, some kind of
criminological. .sense to. increasingly narrow down theremaining possibilities of the partial discharge to stay hidden
in the transformer.

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180 .-

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Figure 12 - Panial discharge panem acquired acoustically.

The finally identified cause of the discharge activity of the
example discussed here, was an improper welding at the cleatbar assembly of a tertiary connection facing a high voltage
coil, which caused the differential field.


Equipping the test taps of condenser bushings with
measurements impedance units suitable for permanent
installation, allows continuous on-line monitoring as well as
schedule based on-line testing of the partial discharge activity
of a transformer of special concern (Figure 14).

For conventional triangulation several acoustic sensors are

placed on the transformer tank. Especially in case of partial
discharge location under impulse testing, using fiber optic
isolation is mandatory (Figure 13). The small battery operated
transmitter unit provides the power supply for the embedded
pre-amplifier of the ultrasonic sensor. Both sensor and
transmitter unit are held in place using permanent magnets.

However, when speaking of triangulation of acoustic partial

discharge signals in power transformers, the internal structure
of a transformer needs to be considered [15]. Basic triangulation relies on an oil-filled, but otherwise empty tank, ideally
equipped with a thin wall, only. In reality, transformers are
confusingly filled with different materials offering strongly
different (acoustic) attenuation and travel time. Further, wallshunts and sand-filled sections built-in to avoid structural
resonance cause excessive attenuation of the acoustic signal.

Figure 14 -Measurement impedance for continuous monitoring.


Partly, such monitoring units [6] are integrated with

supervising plant-monitoring systems. In other cases *the
generators as well as the generator transformers of a hydraulic
power plant are monitored in parallel to assess the impact of
load cycling. Besides acquiring the partial discharge activity
via an input multiplexer, the monitoring units offer
additionally up to eight 0(4)-20mA input channels to track
load-related parameters, such as power, temperatures, etc.,
along with the partial discharge activity.

Fmth, B., Gross, D. "Partial Discharge Signal
Generation Transmission and Acquisition," IEE Proc.-Sci.
Meas. Technol., Vol. 142, No. 1,January 1995, pp. 22-28.

Niemeyer, L. "A Generalized Approach to Partial
Discharge Modeling", IEEE Trans DEI, Vol. 2, No. 4, August
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Heitz, C. "A Generalized Model for Partial Discharge
Processes Based on a Stochastic Process Approach", J. Phys.
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Gross, D., Soeller, M., "Partial Discharge Acceptance
Testing and Monitoring on Power. Transformers,'' ETG
Fachtagung, Diagnostik el. Betriebsmittel, Berlin, Germany,
February 26-27,2002, ISBN 3-8007-2671-8, pp. 213-216.
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N power cables", Conf. Proc. of Jicable, June,
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Figure IS - ICMmonilor unit installed on a power transformer

Analog modem connections or TCP/IP interfaces are used to

remotely access the ICMmoriitor units (Figure 15) from a
central monitoring office, which frequently updates a structure
of the acquired measurements data and which handles the
alarm conditions [6].

Large power transformers are valuable and important
components of the grid. Partial discharge testing on power
transformers is a demanding and challenging task because of
their intemal complexity. However, in-depth analysis using
well-adapted instruments can greatly reduce the efforts of the
time-consuming and costly opening and re-testing of power

Diessner, A., Gorahlenkow, J., Hashoff, I., and
Schreieder, A. "Experience with Diagnostic Techniques for
Electrical Insulation in G I s . CIGRE Symp:, Berlin, 1993,
Report 130-10.
Gross, D., "Partial Discharge Measurement and
Monitoring on Rotating Machines," ISEI 2002 Conference,
Boston, MA, April 7-10,2002,02CH37316, pp. 570.574.

Braunlich, R., Hassig, M., Fuhr, J., and Aschwanden,
T. "Assessment of Insulation Condition of Large Power
Transformers by On-Site Electrical Diagnostic Methods", ISEI
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CA, U.S.A., April 2-5,2000.

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Transformers, 2003, ISBN 3-00-010400-3.

- Partial


IEC60270, High-voltage test techniques
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