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Partial discharge measurement

A partial discharge in an insulating medium is a localized electrical discharge, which does not bridge the electrodes of the insulation structure. The field strength of a weak part of the dielectric may exceed the strength, which causes a breakdown.

Test procedures for large power transformers
Test procedures for large power transformers

It is, however, to be observed that the weak parts mentioned may form a small portion of the insulation structure only. The remaining whole insulating gap can, therefore, withstand voltage stresses corresponding even to the test voltage, and the breakdown remains partial.

The ionic discharge following the test voltage, and the breakdown is called a partial discharge for the above mentioned reasons. Resulting from a partial breakdown the voltage difference across the weak part of the dielectric decreases so much that the discharge current is interrupted.

Due to the sinusoidal variation of the applied voltage the electrical field strength increases again after the discharge has been extinguished. When the field strength reaches its critical value, a new discharge occurs.

Thus discharges take place repeatedly (Figure 1).

Partial discharges in a gas-filled cavity
Figure 1 – Partial discharges in a gas-filled cavity

The situation is enlightened by the simple analogue circuit of a cavity (Figure 2). Ca is the capacitance of the whole insulating gap, the spark-gap and the capacitance Cc represent the cavity and the capacitance Cb represents the dielectric in series with Cc.

When the voltage Uc across Cc has increased enough, the spark-gap ignites. The capacitance Cc disharges and the voltage difference across the cavity vanishes within 1…1000 ns.

Analogue circuit of a gas-filled cavity
Figure 2 – Analogue circuit of a gas-filled cavity

The discharge magnitude or apparent charge q and the voltage Uc are related by the following equation:

q = Cb × Uc

The discharge gives rise to a current pulse, which causes a fast voltage charge at the terminals of the transformer. This change can be measured by means of a capacitive voltage divider and a pulse transformer.

Title: Test procedures for large power transformers – ABB
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Test procedures for large power transformers
Test procedures for large power transformers

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