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Overvoltage Protection Due to Lightning and Switching

What is overvoltage: A sudden rise in voltage for a short duration on the power system is known as overvoltage or voltage surge. Overvoltage is always temporary that  exist for short period but that may cause damage to the power system due to surge in voltages. There are many causes for occurrence of overvoltage condition, some of them are internal from the power system itself and lightning is one major external cause of overvoltage. Internal causes may include switching surges, insulation failure, arcing ground and resonance etc.

There are always a chance of suffering an electrical power system from abnormal over voltages. These abnormal over voltages may be caused due to various reason such as, sudden interruption of heavy load, lightening impulses, switching impulses etc. These over voltage stresses may damage insulation of various equipment’s and insulators of the power system. Although, all the over voltage stresses are not strong enough to damage insulation of system, but still these over voltages also to be avoided to ensure the smooth operation of electrical power system.


Overvoltage or Voltage Surge

The over voltage stresses applied upon the power system, are generally transient in nature. Transient voltage or voltage surge is defined as sudden sizing of voltage to a high peak in very short duration. The voltage surges are transient in nature, that means they exist for very short duration. The main cause of these voltage surges in power system are due to lightning impulses and switching impulses of the system. But over voltage in the power system may also be caused by, insulation failure, arcing ground and resonance etc.

The voltage surges appear in the electrical power system due to switching surge, insulation failure, arcing ground and resonance are not very large in magnitude. These over voltages hardly cross the twice of the normal voltage level. Generally, proper insulation to the different equipment of power system is sufficient to prevent any damage due to these over voltages. But over voltages occur in the power system due to lightning is very high. If overvoltage protection is not provided to the power system, there may be high chance of severe damage. Hence all over voltage protection devices used in power system mainly due to lightning surges.

Different causes of over voltages

Switching Impulse or Switching Surge: When a no load transmission line is suddenly switched on, the voltage on the line becomes twice of normal system voltage. This voltage is transient in nature. When a loaded line is suddenly switched off or interrupted, voltage across the line also becomes high enough current chopping in the system mainly during opening operation of air blast circuit breaker, causes over voltage in the system.

Insulation Failure: During insulation failure a live conductor is suddenly earthed. This may also caused sudden over voltage in the system. If emf wave produced by alternator is distorted, the trouble of resonance may occur due to 5th or higher harmonics. Actually for frequencies of 5th or higher harmonics, a critical situation in the system so appears, that inductive reactance of the system becomes just equal to capacitive reactance of the system. As these both reactance cancel each other the system becomes purely resistive. This phenomenon is called resonance and at resonance the system voltage may be increased enough.

Above mentioned reasons create over voltages in the system which are not very high in magnitude. But overvoltage surges that appear in the system due to lightning impulses are very high in amplitude and highly destructive. The affect of lightning impulse hence must be avoided for over voltage protection of power system.

A lightning strike can be as powerful as 100 million volts of electricity and current of about 100,000 amperes therefore the importance and use of lightning arrestor is very much critical for protection of costly power distribution structures.

Methods of Protection Against Lightning

These are mainly three main methods generally used for protection against lightning. They are earthing screen, overhead earth wire and lightning arrester or surge dividers. Below these are discussed one by one.

Earthing Screen: Earthing screen is generally used over electrical sub-station. In this arrangement a net of GI wire is mounted over the sub-station. The GI wires, used for earthing screen are properly grounded through different sub-station structures. This network of grounded GI wire over electrical sub-station, provides very low resistance path to the ground for lightning strokes. This method of high overvoltage protection is very simple and economic but the main drawback is, it can not protect the system from travelling wave which may reach to the sub-station via different feeders.

Overhead Earth Wire: This method of over voltage protection is similar as earthing screen. The only difference is, an earthing screen is placed over an electrical sub-station, whereas, overhead earth wire is placed over electrical transmission network. One or two stranded GI wires of suitable cross-section are placed over the transmission conductors. These GI wires are properly grounded at each transmission tower. These overhead ground wires or earthwire divert all the lightning strokes to the ground instead of allowing them to strike directly on the transmission conductors.

Lightning Arrester Overvoltage Protection

The previously discussed two methods, i.e. earthing screen and over-head earth wire are very suitable for protecting an electrical power system from directed lightning strokes but system from directed lightning strokes but these methods can not provide any protection against high voltage travelling wave which may propagate through the line to the equipment of the sub-station.

The lightning arrester is a devices which provides very low impedance path to the ground for high voltage travelling waves. The concept of a lightning arrester is very simple. This device behaves like a nonlinear electrical resistance. The resistance decreases as voltage increases and vice-versa, after a certain level of voltage.

Functions of Lightning Arrestor

The functions of a lightning arrester or surge dividers can be listed as below.

  • Under normal voltage level, these devices withstand easily the system voltage as electrical insulator and provide no conducting path to the system current.
  • On occurrence of voltage surge in the system, these devices provide very low impedance path for the excess charge of the surge to the ground.
  • After conducting the charges of surge, to the ground, the voltage becomes to its normal level. Then lightning arrester regains its insulation properly and prevents regains its insulation property and prevents further conduction of current, to the ground.

There are different types of lightning arresters used in power system, such as rod gap arrester, horn gap arrester, multi-gap arrester, expulsion type LA, value type LA. In addition to these the most commonly used lightning arrester for overvoltage protection is gapless ZnO lightning arrester.

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