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The Degradation of Power Capacitors under the Influence of Harmonics

L. H .S.Duarte' and M F. Alves, Member IEEE '

ABSTRACT: Power capacitors (PC) may be impaired by the presence of harmonic components. An adequate evaluation of the degradation process imposed by harmonies on a PC should take

into account the long-term mechanisms of degradation of PC and

the possiblle additional stresses imposed by the harmonies.

This paper presents the degradation mechanisms for all-film PC, with emphasis on the activities of partial discharger (PD).

A methodology for the evaluation of the influence of the

harmonic in the degradation of PC, based on the applied voltage

and its respective waveform, is developed.








The presence of harmonic components in the electric systems. which can be intensified by the installation of PC, very ofLen result in degradation of the capacitors design performance. The subject PC versus harmonic components is characterized by a particular interaction in the electric power systems. Generally, the harmonic components represent possible additional thermal, dielectrics and perhaps other stresses, imposed to PC. The origin of these additional stresses generated by the

presence of the harmonics is not verified in a direct, detailed

or sufficient way in the available literature in the area of PC.

The different approaches adopted by different standards groups to establish the operative limits of PC. is indicative of

the fact that there is no unique interpretation for these questions. A possible reason for that is the difficulty in establishing parameters for the study of the long-term degradation of PC r1-21.


attributed to thermal factors (until the decade of 70). Later on,

also to chemical reactions (decade of 80) [2], and nowadays, mainly to dielectrics factors. This evolution in the way the technical community sees the degradation concepts is strongly linked to the technological progress obtained for the raw materials of PC, and consequent improvement on the designs of these equipments in the last decades [1-4].







An adequate evaluation of the degradation process imposed by


mechanisms of degradation of PC and the possible additional stresses imposed by the harmonics, as discussed in this paper, will add to the proper understanding of this problem.










The essence of a PC is its dielectric system. Thus, through the choice of appropriate materials, a great effort has been developed in the improvement of the dielectric system. This allows to increase the power density and also to reduce the cost of the reactive energy produced. The current design practiced for high voltage all-film PC consists of a certain number of capacitive elements, each one, consisting of several thin layers of polypropylene film (PP) as dielectric and thin foils of aluminum as electrodes. The elements are stacked inside the capacitor container, denominated as the ran of the PC, and connected to each other in series and parallel in order to obtain the rated capacitance and voltage of the whole capacitive unit. Additionally, the capacitive elements are impregnated with a special fluid or impregnant, the mono-dibenzyltoluene (M/DBT) in hermetic atmosphere. The main design parameter is the value of applied dielectric stress, when the dielectric materials are used to the " maximum " of theirs limits. This implies a dielectric stress of about IO times higher for PC, as compared to the other electric equipments. For illustration purpose, the typical values for the dielectric stresses for PC are:

a) for the design with paper: 18 KVimm (years 70180) b) forthe all-film design: SO to 80 KV/mm (years 80/90)

Therefore, it can he noticed that the development of the dielectrics allowed a gain in the power density of PC in the last decades. However, this imposes the need for a reasonable knowledge regarding the properties and application limits for the materials and adopted designs. This fact and the different applications of PC set the scenario for the process of degradation and failures of the dielectric system, delineating the operative limits. It is important to observe that the mechanisms of short and long-term durations,

'Companhia Energklicade Minas Gerais- CEMIG, AV. Barbaema, 1200- Santo Agoslinho. 30190-131.Belo Horirontc, MG,Brazil,

(e-mail: 1hduaneacFmig.Eom.br).

Pontificia Univcrridade Cat6lica de Minas Gerais - PUC-MG. AV. Dom JorCGaspar, 500, Coraclo Eucarislico. 30535-610,Belo Hocizonfc,MG, Brazil.


0-7803-76714102R17.0002002 IEEE


in other words, the aging process. are directly linked to the design-manufacturing process of PC. Thus, a hencr understanding of the phenomena relevant for the identification of the dielectric system "weak points", is a must, if the goal are improvements and optimization on the projects of PC.



operative voltages

The dielectric system of PC may suffer a reduction of its dielectric strength during aging under moderate dielectric stresses.


characterization of the defects, hut the possibility exists for

this to be related to the so called weak points of PP. This phenomenon could he attributed to the presence of ionic impurities or other particles present in the insulation. These impurities would potentially cause the degradation of PP and maybe of the impregnant, both through chemical reactions.
















111.2 The phenomenon of the degradation of PP in PC

In agreement with the general formula for degradation of the polypropylene (PP), the initial stage is essentially the reaction with free radicals, R", which captures an atom of hydrogen of a tertiary carbon of the macromolecule of PP, producing the macro radical PPO.

PP + Ro


Thermal Decomposition, PPOOH 3 PPO" + OH";

QC by the elimination reaction denominated p fission:

PPO" 3


Where PP' is a fragment of a macromolecule PP.


consequences are the scission of macromolecular chains,


formation of fragments of low-molecular-weight and its

dissolution in the liquid, the emhrittlement of the PP and the

reduction of the respective breakdown voltage. Actually, some thermal-oxidative degradation studies in polyQropylenehave demonstrated that the free radicals react quickly with the molecular oxygen (02)yielding. peroxides radical [SI. At its time, the unstable peroxides combines with more stable functional groups resulting in chains scission and reduction of the respective molecular weight.

In most of commercial PC, where it is verified the absence or deficiency of oxygen, the tertiary alkyl radicals in PP will he submitted to the reaction of elimination called p fission; whose reduced formula is the following:


3 PP2" + PPC=C.


this time, the process is not accelerated by the hydro-

peroxides, hence those elements are of smaller importance relative to the fissions of the oxidative chains. Therefore, a

However, the formation of Ro cannot he attributed to the

reduction of the breakdown voltage of the film, in a smaller

incidence of electric discharges in modem PC, hut to the reactions due to the transfer of charges in the electrodes.


than with the presence of oxygen, is foreseen.


Therefore, the origin of these R" is very probably in the

111.3 Correlation

between levels






impregnant, in its additives or even in some impurities, such as water or dissolved oxygen. In general, R" is yielded from

dielectrics stresses


more propitious molecules to be oxidized or reduced in the










electrodes. These electrochemistry reactions lead to cations and anions radicals formation which can react directly with PP or pass to subsequent chemical reactions producing R".

demonstrated the potentiality of PD as parameter for diagnosis of PC.

The second stage of the decomposition mechanism of the radicals of PP (PP") depends on the presence or not of oxygen. In principle, it can be thought of decomposition mechanisms under absence, deficiency, or even in the presence of oxygen. Let us analyze, with didactic purpose, a hypothetical presence of a substantial concentration of oxygen. where the macroradicals PP' produce the peroxides radicals (PP2"), and then, hydroperoxides (PP02H).


+oz3 PPO + PP20



These hydroperoxides are decomposed creating other free macroradicals and, this way, increasing the initial concentration of those and increasing the kinetics of oxidation OfPP.

This can occur by:

Special attention should he given to the concept of level of

activities of PD and respective dielectrics stresses. Most of the time, the additional degradation conditions of PC, usually happen for a operating voltage slightly higher to the rated one.

For this condition, a certain level of activity of PD will be

present. Also, there is a corresponding partial discharge

inception voltage (PDIV), implying in PD along the life of

PC, possibly of the order of units or even few dozens of pC.


concerning with dielectric stresses related to a PDIV that

allows activities of PD at low levels, which we will call "PDIVC.


So, the degradation condition considered

in this paper

IV.l Electrochemistry reactions and partial discharges


The creation of R" has been attributed to the loads transferring reactions in the electrodes, i.e., the power capacitor can also


be seen as favorable environment to electrochemistry reactions, in particular, the electrolysis. The generator cannot create or eliminate electrons in an electrolytic tub, but, its function in the electrochemistry circuit is only “to inject them” into negative pole and Yo aspire them” from the positive pole. This unidirectional feature demands a direct current source. Obviously, this electrons flow throughout the electrolyte. The energy supplied by the generator will provoke the oxy-reduction reaction. transferring electrons from an element to other, accomplishing a non- spontaneous reaction. Identifying the elements of the electrolysis in the electrolytic tub called I PC I, firstly it would attribute the function of the generator to the pertinent electric system. However, the “electrons injection” through the electrodes does not necessarily happen in a steady-state condition, but, it surely occurs in the occurrence of PD. The mentioned electric discharges, i.e., amount of electricity, are the energy supplied to the electrochemistry reaction. The electrons transferring reactions are carried-out between elements (molecules) propitious to be oxidized or reduced. They are present in the impregnant as additives or impurities (water, dissolved oxygen, ions, etc.). In conclusion, the MDBT acts as an electrolyte in this process.

In this sense, the production of the free radicals Ro by the electrolysis could be minimized or limited by the reduction of the levels of PD activities. So, such condition can be achieved by avoiding dielectric stresses greater than the PD inception voltages (PDIV).

Organic reactions and PD

Now it is required to evaluate the quantitative implications of

the number of produced

organic reactions. This can be


. the increasing rate of reactions due to the formation of new macroradicalsiradicals from the initial stage; the eventual saturation of the degradation process due to a high number of produced R”. On the first aspect, it could be said that the degradation of PP by chains breaking reaction is autocatalytic. Therefore, the formation of free radicals has as important consequences for our analysis: the degradation of PP itself, and the production of new free radicals. So, there is a positive exponential relationship between the PP degradation and the free radicals, or better, the activities of PD in PC. Regarding to the mentioned possible phenomenon of saturation of the degradation process in analysis, it can be affirmed that it does not exist. The organic reactions involving the degradation of polymeric materials finish in the absence or extinction of the material under deterioration. In the present case this condition will never be reached. In others words, during whole degradation process considered for PC, there will be the presence of the reactions with the formation of the radicals or macroradicals.

free radicals





by assessing TWO

Therefore, it can be concluded that the degradation of the films of PP in PC is very probably positive and exponentially

related with the activities of PD developed in that equipment. Moreover, a quantification of this relationship would demand a great effort of analyses and experimental investigations, which is out of the scope of the present work.









Total Harmonic Voltage Distortion (THVD), one of the major measures of harmonic distortion, is not adequate to evaluate the possible dielectric stresses imposed to PC. Such evaluation should take into account, for example, the specific crest voltage. This requires the knowledge of the magnitude and phase shift of the harmonics in relation to the fundamental component.

In practice, the voltage waveform distortion may result in crest values considerably higher in relation to the crest value of the fundamental component. A voltage waveform with a rms value close to rated, may still have undesirable high crest values applied to the PC.

Comparative analysis between dielectric stresses

In order to perform a comparative analysis, we will consider the following boundary conditions simulating two design’s project possibilities frequently verified in practice.:

U, (rated voltage) = I .O P.u.;

PDIV, 1 = U, = 1.OO P.u


PDIVb 2 = 1.IO x U, = 1.10 p.u

Consider, initially, a steady-state condition with the rated voltage (U,). For this condition, the rated design lifetime is expected for the PC. In other words. the applied voltage does not reach the values of PDIV,. This can be represented by the equation V,, = 1.00 p.u. (r.m.s.) = 1.00 p.u. (crest), in the respective bases. V,, is the r.m.s. value of the actual operation voltage, and V., CrCIl is the crest value of actual operation voltage. The voltage waveform shown in Figure 1 illustrates this case.

Figure 1 - Applied voltage (r.m.s.) of 1.0 p.u. - 60 Hz


Note: In order to make easy the interpretation for this and the next graphics called "Applied Voltage (V) x Phase Angle (degrees)", the following adoption should be considered:

a. Rated voltage (r.m.s.) = 1V = 1.00 P.u


c. The horizontal straight-lines indicate the values of PDIVbI and PDIVh2, as indicated.

d. The term " Respective Voltage 60 Hz 'I (when applicable)

Rated Voltage (crest) = 1.41 V,,,,

= 1.00 p.u.(crest).

indicates this quantities in the fundamental frequency, but with crest value equal to the resulting voltage on the same


Let us now consider a situation where there is a 1.00 pu rms fundamental frequency, plus a harmonic distortion of 5% for the 3" harmonic:

vop = 1.00 p.u.;

Vop = 1.05 P.u.,,,,

Figure 2 illustrates this new case.


hgi. ,dqn.q

plus 5% of 3d

harmonic distortion Note: considered the most critical situation, with fundamental

and 3'd harmonic in phase.

Figure 2 - Applied Voltage (r.m.s.) of 1.00 PA

The r.m.s. values of V,, in both Figure 1 and Figure 2 are

in Figure 2 is higher

than TDIPbl, as opposed to Figure I. TDIPh should be evaluated as instantaneous values, since that does not make physics sense a direct correlation with r.m.s. values. Nevertheless, for didactic reason, this is a convenient approach.

lower than PDIVhI, however, V,,,,,

Since V,,,,, is larger than PDIVhl, there exists a time interval in each half-cycle of the voltage waveform where PD activities occur. In other words, during a given time interval the PC is submitted to a stress larger than the rated one corresponding to the rated r.m.s. voltage, without harmonic distortion. Therefore, the presence of that 5% harmonic distortion implies an effective additional degradation of the PC. Regarding the PDIVb2 design, there will be no PD activities.

In 171 it is verified, through detection of emitted light, an



of the


of discharges with


voltage gradient starting from PDIV; while in [8] it is demonstrated that the average time of PC lifetime is inversely proportional to the applied voltage gradient (KVimm). Experimental curves for PC average lifetime versus applied voltage gradient is shown in Figure 3 [B].

---- I

LlFClllC "Or,.Ln~.nr*~

Figure 3 - Experimental curves: Average PC lifetime x Applied Voltage Gradient [SI

In accordance to item 4.0, the degradation of PP in PC is probably positive direct and exponentially related to the PD activities. So, based on the above discussions, it can be affirmed that the additional stresses are represented by the available additional energy for the process of PP degradation during the PD activities, and by the applied additional dielectric stress, considering the crest voltage values.

Let us focus in a specific region of the curve of the Figure 3:

between the values of 67 and 167 KVim. This implies that the PC degradation is due exclusively to low PD activities levels, a condition relevant to the majority of harmonic distortion practical cases. The value of 67 KVim is also taken as the design gradient, which represents appropriately the current practices in PC manufacturing.

The possible additional energy depends fundamentally on the magnitude and voltage waveform, as compared to the parameters regarding the fundamental frequency. So, the area defined by the applied voltage waveform and the straight line respective to specific PDIV, could represent that energy.

The following empirical equation that takes into account the electric stress is proposed for evaluation of the additional stresses imposed to PC by the harmonic components:






This value

'considers the PC degradation due a electric stresses from a sinusoidal voltage at fundamental frequency.

RL is the average real lifetime of PC in P.u


DL is the average design lifetime, considering an applied

voltage gradient equal or lower to rated design, in p-U,. MVG is the additional applied voltage gradient. For example, for an applied voltage of 120% (crest) and PDIV,

equal to 1.10 P.u.,

a represents the exponential relationship between DL and

AAVG, considering dielectric stresses from 1.10 to 2.00 p.u. of the PC rated voltage.

The proposed curve shows the degradation of PC due to the

additional electric stress represented by the crest value of the

applied voltage. The proposed exponent a has been obtained from tests at fundamental frequency [8]. However, for a certain applied voltage with waveform distorted by harmonic components, a different value of a could result due to the difference amount of energy available to the PC (or PP) degradation process. Although the proposed method does not quantify the influence of distorted applied voltage waveform, the comparison between that and the respective sinusoidal voltage at fundamental frequency with same crest value, provides a good measure for the problem.

the AAVG is equal to 10% or 0.10 p.u


Consider a PC subjected to the following conditions:

Operating fundamental voltage voltage)EXAMPLE Consider a PC subjected to the following conditions: 3'd harmonic voltage = 0.2 p.u. DL

3'dharmonic voltage = 0.2 p.u. harmonic voltage = 0.2 p.u.

DL (rated life) = 1 . 0 0 p.u. = 1.00 p.u.

a = 4,l (proposed) = 4,l (proposed)


1.00 p.u. (rated

For a PC with PDlVbl = 1.00 PAL,the result is:

AAVG = 0.20 p.u. = 0.20 p.u.

RL= 0.39p.u. 0.39p.u.

This result implies a RL equal to 39% of DL, i.e., a reduction

of 61% of the PC designed lifetime. However, considering

that the area above PDIV,l for the applied voltage (Ah) is

68% of the respective area for the fundamental voltage (A60), the real degradation of the PC result attenuated, as indicated in Figure 4.

Figure 4 -No- sinusoidal Voltage

As a second example, for a PC with PDIVb2 = 1.10 p.u. the result is:

AAVG = 0.10 p.u. RL = 0.63 p.u.

Considering the area Ah being 65% of A60, the result is an attenuated reduction of lifetime for the PC. See Figure 4.

These examples indicate critical conditions of applications for the PC. The proposed formula yields only approximated values for the estimation of life degradation, but they can be used as a good indication of what to expect for PCs working under relatively low stress conditions.


The study of the dielectric system of PC, its components and respective behavior are essential for the understanding of the PC long-term degradation process. The proposed theory is a first step for the quantification of the degradation process, and it is supported by practical investigations carried-out by others in the last years. The scientific approach presented allow a qualitative and a quantitative analysis for the PC long-term degradation mechanisms.

The combined analysis of the PC degradation mechanisms and harmonic distortions have indicated the resulting voltage waveform as an important source of information to evaluate the possible additional stresses due to the harmonic components.

The fact that it is possible to have a high reduction of life for a PC subjected to relatively low voltage stress, is a very important conclusion. Moreover, operating conditions presenting the same values of voltage harmonic distortion levels may result different stresses in a PC.


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4, p. 578-584, aug. 1994. [6] Cesari. S., Hantouche, C. Muraoka, T., Pouliqen. B. Partial Discharge Measurement Diagnostic Tool. ELECTRA, n. 181. p. 24-51, dec. 1998.

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Luh Henrique Silva Dusrtr, was bmn in Belo Hmimte, MG, Brazil. in 1967. He is an electrical engineer, graduated fmm the Pantificicia

Univenidade Cat6lica de Minas Gerair in 1995. In 2000. he got a Maner

De- from the same University, also in electrical cngincchg. Since 1986,

he works in CEMIG, the Minas Gerais state public utility, where his main

activities are engineering and leehnical suhstBfions.

management of quipments for

MPrIo Fabian0 Akn is a Professor at Pontificia UniveMdade Cnblica de Minas Gemis - Brazil. where he is actively involved in pawer quality research. Mirio received B B.Sc. degree in electrical engineering f" Pontificia Universidade Cat6lica do Rio de Janeiro in 1970, and an M.A.Sc. degree and a Ph.D. degree in eleevical engineering from the University of Tomnlo, in 1972 and 1916 respectively. He has been actively engaged in consulting work for industry, in the areas of industrial power system analysis. power quality, and high voltage equipment design.