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Putting Hipot Out to Pasture

As DC high-potential testing starts to show its age,
test methods recommended by IEEE are ready to fill the void
By Wally Vahlstrom, Electro-Test, Inc.

or many years, high-voltage
DC testing has been the tra-
ditionally accepted method to
judge the serviceability of
medium-voltage cables. DC
high-potential (hipot) tests
worked well as a withstand and condi-
tion assessment test for paper- and oil-
insulated, lead-covered (PILC) cable.
Even when plastic insulated cables were
first introduced in the ’60s, it was still the
preferred method.
Although applicable industry stan-
dards began to change in 1994, manufac-
turers, testing firms, and standards
groups still agreed that DC hipot test
equipment could be used to perform fac-
tory tests, acceptance tests, and mainte-
nance tests. As far as the installer or main-
tenance electrician was concerned, cables
that withstood the DC hipot test were good
enough to be placed—or placed back— An IEEE study on water trees shows electrical trees will likely progress to failure quickly, so PD
into service. But recent research and field testing is more valuable if performed along with dissipation factor/power factor (DF/PF) testing.
data is calling that practice into question
and raising serious doubts about whether new medium voltage cable doesn’t cause try standards began to change is only just
DC hipot testing might damage or cause any reduction in cable life. now gaining industry-wide acceptance.
extruded cables—especially field aged As noted in IEEE Standard 400-2001, Current versions of some of these stan-
cross-linked polyethylene (XLPE) insu- Guide for Field Testing and Evaluation of dards no longer provide for DC hipot
lated cable—to fail prematurely. Shielded Power Cable Systems, “testing testing of extruded cables as a mainte-
After receiving reports in the early ’90s of cables that have been service aged in a nance test. Of those that still do, all have
that DC hipot testing could be to blame wet environment (specifically, XLPE) reduced the recommended test duration
for latent damage experienced by ex- with DC at the currently recommended from 15 min to only 5 min. None endorses
truded medium-voltage cable insulation, DC voltage levels may cause the cables DC hipot testing as a factory test for ex-
the Electric Power Research Institute to fail after they are returned to service. truded cables, but all continue to provide
(EPRI) funded two studies relating to The failures would not have occurred at for DC hipot testing as an acceptance test
XLPE and ethylene propylene rubber that point in time if the cables had re- on newly installed extruded cable. These
(EPR) cables. These studies, EPRI Reports mained in service and had not been tested industry standards also no longer endorse
TR-101245 and EL-6902, yielded the fol- with DC.” This standard also indicates DC hipot testing as a maintenance test
lowing conclusions regarding XLPE cable: other testing has shown that “even mas- for extruded cables that have been in ser-
• DC hipot testing of field-aged sive insulation defects in extruded dielec- vice for more than five years.
cable reduces its life. tric insulation cannot be detected with
• DC hipot testing of field-aged cable DC at the recommended voltage levels.” Deterioration mechanisms. Partial
generally increases water tree growth. The shift in opinion of hipot testing discharge (PD) and water intrusion are the
• DC hipot testing before energizing that began in 1994 when applicable indus- two age-related deterioration mechanisms

20 EC&M October 2003

of most interest for both laminated PD can occur primarily in voids in can be caused by several things, includ-
(PILC) and extruded (XLPE and EPR) the insulation of cables and cable acces- ing extrusion problems, improper han-
cable designs (Table below). Although the sories. Within a PILC cable, voids may dling during installation, or errors in ter-
source of PD and the process by which result when the insulating oil migrates— mination assembly.
water enters the insulation are different due to elevation differences, cracks in Whether water gets in through a crack
for both cable types, these forms of dete- the lead sheath, or incorrect assembly of in the lead sheath of a PILC cable or per-
rioration have become a primary focus terminations—away from an area within meates through the outer layers of an ex-
for cable manufacturers and owners. the cable. Voids in extruded cable systems truded cable, it can result in deterioration.

Deterioration assessment test methods.

October 2003 EC&M 21

Moisture decreases the dielectric strength withstand testing and condition assess-
of the insulation and provides a path for ment testing. DC, very low frequency, os-
leakage current or other forms of dete- cillating wave, and power frequency are all
rioration within the insulation. However, types of tests that fall into the first category.
most cable experts are convinced that wet Withstand tests are go/no-go tests,
paper insulation and water trees—named that involve applying an overvoltage and
for their characteristic visual pattern— provide no trend data. A key concept of
in extruded insulation don’t initially pro- withstand tests is that if the overvoltage
duce PD. In their 1997 IEEE paper, doesn’t fail the cable, the insulation
“Mechanism for Impulse Conversion of condition is then considered adequate.
Water Trees to Electrical Trees in XLPE,” To make a crude comparison, these tests
Steven Boggs, John Densley, and Jinbo are analogous to putting a patient on a
Kuang proposed that transient overvolt- treadmill for a predetermined time at a
ages were responsible for converting wa- predetermined speed and pronouncing
ter trees to electrical treeing, or the deg- him healthy if he doesn’t die. Such a test
radation of electrical insulation by the overlooks the possibility of smaller prob-
formation of conductive carbonized lems that don’t seem like a big deal at the
paths, which allows for small electrical time. All withstand tests require the cable
discharges. It’s commonly accepted that to be de-energized, disconnected, and
electrical trees do produce PD. tested with a special voltage source.
On the other hand, condition assess-
Condition assessment methods. ment tests involve the measurement of Online partial discharge testing is one PD test
IEEE Standard 400-2001 establishes characteristics of the insulation. A key that will detect and measure partial discharge
six field tests for shielded power cable that concept of assessment tests is that the data in Pico Coloumbs. It’s beneficial to conduct it
can be broken down into two categories: they compile can be trended over time to in conjunction with DF/PF testing.
help determine whether and to what ex- voltage is applied to insulation that’s in trees in extruded cables. All forms of
tent the insulation has deteriorated. Al- pristine condition, the cable performs available PF and DF test equipment require
though some methods of performing these much like a capacitor: capacitive, or the cable to be de-energized, disconnected,
tests involve applying an overvoltage, it charging, current will flow based prima- and tested with a special voltage source.
isn’t intended as a withstand test that rily on insulation type, cable length, and Now that the industry has soured on
might cause a weak spot to fail. Condi- insulation geometry. Virtually no resis- DC hipot testing, cable installers and
tion assessment tests can be further sub- tive current will flow, resulting in a near- maintenance workers have had to begin
divided into partial discharge and dissi- zero power factor. Power factor (PF) is looking elsewhere to judge the efficacy of
pation factor testing. the ratio of resistive current to total cur- medium-voltage cables. The IEEE stan-
Partial discharge tests. There are sev- rent. Dissipation factor (DF) is the ratio dard for field testing and evaluating
eral methods for detecting and measur- of resistive current to reactive current. For shielded power cable systems presents six
ing PD. Some methods involve de-ener- small values of resistive current, PF and options. Each test has distinct advantages
gizing, disconnecting, and powering the DF are about equal. Any form of deterio- and disadvantages. Of these methods,
cable from a special voltage source, while ration that results in an increase of resis- four are withstand tests. Only two pro-
other methods allow the cable to remain tive current will cause a corresponding vide trendable condition assessment in-
energized at normal line voltage. Both increase in PF and DF. formation: PF/DF and PD. Of these, only
methods will detect and measure partial Since moisture in PILC cable decreases the PD test can be performed while the
discharge in Pico Coulombs (PC). The insulation resistance and allows resistive cable remains energized and in service. For
authors of the IEEE study on water trees leakage current to increase, the result will those applications where it’s impractical to
state that electrical trees will likely be an increase in insulation PF and DF. remove cables from service to perform
progress to failure quickly, so PD testing Similarly, the presence of water trees in maintenance testing, only the online PD
would be more valuable if performed in extruded cable will increase resistive leak- test offers a practical alternative. EC&M
conjunction with dissipation factor/ age current. The manufacturers of DF
power factor (DF/PF) testing. testing equipment claim their products can Vahlstrom is director, technical services for
Dissipation factor tests. When AC detect moisture in PILC cable and water Electro-Test, Inc. in San Ramon, Calif.