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Home / Technical Articles / The influence of voltage unbalance on NEMA motor performance

Voltage unbalance

Voltage unbalance can be more detrimental than voltage variation to motor performance and motor life. When the line voltages applied to a polyphase induction motor are not equal in magnitude and phase angle, unbalanced currents in the stator windings will result.

The influence of voltage unbalance on NEMA motor performance
The influence of voltage unbalance on NEMA motor performance (on photo: Baldor explosion-proof motor with excellent energy savings with its NEMA Premium efficient electrical design; credit:
A small percentage voltage unbalance will produce a much larger percentage current unbalance!

Some of the causes of voltage unbalance are the following:

Cause No.1

An open circuit in the primary distribution system.

Cause No.2

A combination of single-phase and three-phase loads on the same distribution system, with the single-phase loads unequally distributed.

Cause No.3

An open wye-delta system.

a) Variation in ground supply impedance

An increase in primary ground impedance increases the voltage and current balances. Maximum unbalance occurs with overloaded transformers, and the large single-phase load is in the lagging phase. The motor serves to balance the system voltage better when the motor is loaded than when it is unloaded.

b) Transformer loading varied 50 to 150%

The greatest unbalance occurs when a smaller transformer is lightly loaded and a larger transformer is overloaded.

If a single-phase load varies over a large range, it is better to supply this phase with the larger transformer on the leading phase.

c) Impedance of lines to the single-phase loads

The voltage and current unbalance ratios increase with the line impedances. Again, the unbalance ratios decrease as the motor is loaded more heavily.

d) Impedance of the supply line to the motor

The voltage and current unbalance ratios decrease with an increase in the line impedance to the motor. However, this results in lower voltage at the motor and decreased motor torque and speed.

e) Other parameters

Variations in the magnitude of transformer impedances, the power factor of single-phase loads, and primary line impedances have minor effects (not more than 3%) on the phase currents and unbalance ratios.

Cause No.4

An open delta-delta system:

When the two transformers are supplied by three-phase conductors, the only differenee is in the lack of neutral impedance. Therefore, under usual conditions, the open delta-delta configuration will show superior performance to the open wye-delta configuration.

However, when there are unequal line impedances or unusually long supply lines, there are additional observations.

  1. There are mixed effects with variation of the lines supplying the single-phase loads.
  2. An increase in the common primary supply line impedance results in increased voltage and current unbalances.
The unbalanced line voltages introduce negative sequence voltages in the polyphase motor. This negative sequence voltage produces an air gap flux rotating in a direction opposite to the rotor, thus producing high currents in the motor. A small negative sequence voltage can produce motor currents considerably in excess of those present under balanced voltage conditions.

NEMA Standard MG1 defines the percent voltage unbalance as follows:

Percent voltage unbalance formulae

These unbalanced voltages will result in unbalanced currents on the order of 6 to 10 times the voltage unbalance. Consequently, the temperature rise of the motor operating at a particular load and voltage unbalance will be greater than for the motor operating under the same conditions with balanced voltages. In addition, the large unbalance of the motor currents will result in nonuniform temperatures in the motor windings.

An example of the effect of unbalanced voltages on performance is illustrated in Table 1 for a 5-hp, 1725-rpm, 230-V, three-phase, 60-Hz motor.

TABLE 1 – Effect of Voltage Unbalance on Motor Performance

Average voltage230230230
Percent unbalanced voltage0.32.35.4
Percent unbalanced current0.417.740.0
Increased temperature rise, °C03040

Voltages should be evenly balanced as closely as possible.

Operation of a motor above 5% voltage unbalance is not recommended. Even at 5% voltage unbalance, motor current unbalance on the order of 40% can exist.

In recognizing the detrimental effect of unbalanced line voltage on electric motor performance, NEMA Standard MG1 recommends derating motors that are applied to unbalanced systems, in accordance with Figure 1 (NEMA MG1-14.35):

When the derating factor is applied, the selection and setting of the overload device should take into account the combination of the derating factor applied to the motor and the increase in current resulting from the unbalanced voltages.

This is a complex problem involving the variation in motor current as a function of load and voltage unbalance in addition to the characteristics of the overload device relative to Imaximum or Iaverage.

In the absence of specific information, it is recommended that overload devices be selected and/or adjusted at the minimum value that does not result in tripping for the derating factor and voltage unbalance that applies. When unbalanced voltages are anticipated, it is recommended that the overload devices be selected so as to be responsive to Imaximum in preference to overload devices responsive to Iaverage.*

Derating factor for unbalanced voltages on polyphase induction motors
Figure 1 – Derating factor for unbalanced voltages on polyphase induction motors

The order of magnitude of the current unbalance is influenced not only by the system voltage unbalance but also by the system impedance, the nature of the loads causing the unbalance, and the operating load on the motor.

Figure 2 indicates the range of unbalanced currents for various motor load conditions and system voltage unbalance.

Effect of voltage unbalance on polyphase induction motor currents
Figure 2 – Effect of voltage unbalance on polyphase induction motor currents

The effect on other electric motor characteristics can be summarized as follows:

  1. Torques – The locked-rotor and breakdown torques are decreased. If the voltage unbalance should be extremely severe, the torques might not be adequate for the application.
  2. Full-Load Speed – The full-load speed is reduced slightly.
  3. Locked-Rotor Current – The locked-rotor current will be unbalanced to the same degree that the voltages are unbalanced, but the locked-rotor kilovolt-amperes will increase only slightly.
  4. Noise and Vibration – The unbalanced voltages can cause an increase in noise and vibration. Vibration can be particularly severe on 3600-rpm motors.

Reference // Energy Efficient electric motors by Marlin O. Thurston; Department of Electrical Engineering The Ohio State University Columbus, Ohio

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Edvard Csanyi

Electrical engineer, programmer and founder of EEP. Highly specialized for design of LV/MV switchgears and LV high power busbar trunking (<6300A) in power substations, commercial buildings and industry facilities. Professional in AutoCAD programming.


  1. Tom
    May 29, 2017

    Good article. In many cases improvements can be made via phase transpositions or shifting single phase loads to a different phase in order to even up the supply voltage. I wrote an article covering how to reduce current asymmetry on a wind farm (where there are no single phase loads to be shifted) by performing phase transpositions:

  2. Nikos Daskalakis
    Feb 01, 2017

    In case of 3phase(230/400V)AC Δ motor can we “correct/smooth” the unbalance condition through capacitors if we know the voltage drop and the current values in every phase?
    If we can, how we calculate the value of capacity (F)?
    Is there some method with which to calculate the deviation of continuity of phases in degrees/angle, in unbalanced system?
    Thanks in advance.

  3. José Severino Queiroz
    Jan 28, 2017

    Very good subject. It’s important to the Engeneers and ease to learn and understandable!

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