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ISSUES IN TRANSFORMER MAITENANCE Transformers are undoubtedly the most reliable and efficient piece of equipment in any electrical distribution network, but after many years of service the likelihood of failure inevitably increases. And when failures do occur the consequences can be very expensive with power utilities facing the costs, not only of having to source and fit a replacement transformer on a very short time scale, but also the possibility of fines for leaving customers without supply. Even though a transformer may have been well manufactured using high quality materials, as it ages, there is no way of actually predicting when a failure will occur unless up-to-date information is available about its condition. Hence, it is important, particularly with older transformers, to implement regular programme of electrical performance testing. Since all of the transformer parts are susceptible

to failure a comprehensive battery of tests is needed to gather all of the necessary condition information. But how often should regular inspection and testing be carried out? It is difficult to give a definite answer as much depends on the age of the transformer and its importance in the network. As a starting point a testing interval of between one and five years is generally recommended. However, the testing techniques to be described later are ideal for plotting trends in transformer condition, and any adverse developments revealed in this way can be used to trigger more frequent testing.

FIG.1: Transformer core-coil assembly

TESTS THAT CAN BE PERFORMED ON TRANSFORMERS 2.1 TTR TEST: The transformer turns ratio test is one of the most

useful tests. The turns ratio can be determined accurately by measuring the ratio of input and output voltages under no-load conditions. A greatly reduced voltage, 415V say, is used for this test for reasons of safety and convenience. This form of test is designed to identify problems with shorted turns, one of the most frequent causes of transformer failure. It can also reveal other problems, such as faulty tap changer or incorrectly set tapping. 2.2 IR TEST: The insulation resistance test is another useful test,

which involves measuring the DC resistance of the transformer winding with an insulation tester of which several makes are available. Resistance values are taken between all windings and each winding to earth. If tests of this type are carried out regularly under defined


Conditions they are very good at predicting changes that may

indicate incipient faults. 2.4 OIL TESTS: Oil is commonly used in transformers both as an

insulator and as a coolant. Routine testing of the oil provides an excellent indication of the overall condition of the transformer and facilitates failure prediction and fault diagnosis. There are many different tests that can be performed on the oil, including dielectric strength, resistivity and specialized tests for water and gas content. The dielectric strength test is a good indicator of the level of contamination, such as water or conductive particles. The breakdown voltage of the insulating oil depends on the conditions where the test is carried out and the contaminants present. Various standards, including IEC156, ASTMD1816, BSS5874 and VDE0370, which detail the applied test voltage,type,size and spacing of electrodes, having been created to ensure repeatability of testing.


TAN DELTA TESTS: This is a highly accurate alternative to

dielectric strength test, although it is hardly used to evaluate transformer performance in PHCN.The test is carried out at a much lower voltage, as it does not attempt to breakdown the oil sample. Instead it measures the ratio of resistive to capacitive current flows. Since the test is carried out at power frequency and since it also measures the resistive current, it is possible to determine any change in insulation characteristics with a greater degree of accuracy than with the dielectric strength method. Long established as a reliable method of insulation evaluation, Tan Delta testing can also be used to periodically check the winding insulation and insulator/bushing insulation of transformers. 2.6 OPEN AND SHORT CIRCUIT TESTS: These two tests enable

the efficiency and voltage regulation of transformers to be calculated without actually loading the transformer.

OPEN CIRCUIT TEST: The transformer is connected to power supply at one end, H.VorL.V, and the other end is left open circuited. The applied voltage should be at the transformer nameplate rated frequency. The H.V and L.V voltages are measured and recorded. Their ratio, V1:V2 gives the ratio of the number of turns. A clamp on meter gives the no-load current and its reading is a check on the magnetic quality of the iron core and joints. The primary current on no-load is usually less than 5% of the full load current. So that the I2R loss on no load is less than 1/400th of the primary I2R loss on full load and is therefore negligible compared with the iron loss. SHORTCIRCUIT TEST: The secondary is short-circuited and a low voltage, say 415V, is applied to the primary circuit. The short-circuit current is measured with a clamp on meter. The current values give indication of the copper loss I2R.The copper loss should be the same as that on full load.


3.1 FAULTS WITHIN THE TRANSFORMER TANK: These may comprise phase-to-phase, phase-to-earth, or interturn faults on the windings, interwinding faults, tap changer faults, insulator bushing failure and core overheating due to failure of core insulation. The possibility of damage is high for these faults as is the risk of fire,

and short fault clearance times are advantageous. Phase-to-phase faults rarely occur on a power transformer and such faults, when they do occur, give rise to large currents. Interturn faults are more likely to occur than phase -to-phase faults. The interturn insulation on a power transformer is not so great as the interwinding insulation, and the possibility exists of breakdown between turns. Core faults can occur due to lamination insulation becoming short-circuited. This can cause serious overheating due to eddy current losses. Core clamping bolts must always be insulated to prevent this trouble. If core insulation becomes defective, due possibly to the failure of core bolt insulation or debris in the tank, it must be detected quickly. 3.2 FAULTS ON TRANSFORMERS CONNECTIONS: These may comprise of any type of normal system fault on open copper work connections or flashover of coordinating gaps. Damage due to such fault is not usually great though they may constitute a serious hazard to power system stability if not cleared quickly. Faults

between the current transformers and the associated circuit breaker have to be included in this category. 3.3 OVERHEATING: Failure of the cooling system will cause overheating and consequent danger of damage to the windings. 3.4 FAULTS EXTERNAL TO THE TRANSFORMER ZONE: These will be of the usual range of system phase and earth faults to be cleared by appropriate external protection systems. They will affect therefore, only the requirement of transformer back up protection.

TRANSFORMER PROTECTION The protection provided for a power transformer depends to some extent upon its size and rating, and will comprise a number of systems each designed to provide the requisite degree of protection for the different fault conditions. 4.1 DIFFERENTIAL PROTECTION:

Differential relays are used to provide protection against internal earth and phase-to-phase faults. The differential protection compares the

H.V and L.V currents, which are in a known relationship under healthy conditions. It is for this reason that the transformer differential protection system is capable of detecting interturn short circuits since this will change the effective overall transformation ratio of the power transformer. Therefore, the basic test to be conducted on a transformer that tripped on differential protection is the ratio test. Once the ratio test is satisfactory, stability test is then conducted to establish the level of stability of the protection system. In designing the differential protection scheme, the current transformer connections must be arranged to give a through fault balance taking into account the vector group reference with respect to windings, connections, and turns ratio. A harmonic restraint feature is included in the differential relay to prevent relay operation under magnetizing inrush current conditions. This feature also prevents spurious trips in transformers that are equipped with on load tap changer facilities. Inspite of the biased differential relay, it is advisable not to switch a transformer

back into circuit until after about thirty minutes of being switched offcircuit. Non-adherence may result in high magnetizing inrush current which could in addition operating the differential relay, agitate the oil molecules and cause the transformer to trip on buchholz protection following accumulation of gas bubbles in the tank. 4.2 RESTRICTED EARTHFAULT PROTECTION: This scheme is used to protect a transformer winding against earthfaults. This will include the area between the current transformers and the power transformer in cases where toroidal current transformers are not used. The REF scheme can be added to both the H.V and L.V winding of the transformer using the neutral current transformer in the case of star winding and also a neutral current transformer placed on the neutral obtained via the earthing transformer in case of delta winding. Insulation resistance and ratio tests should be conducted on a transformer that trip on REF.

4.3 STANDBY EARTHFAULT PROTECTION: The SBEF relays provide back up against L.V faults. The relay, which is very sensitive, should have a time setting high enough to discriminate with the L.V network protection, and be arranged to trip the transformer in the event of sustained L.V fault. The relay also serves to protect the neutral earthing resistor against the effects of a sustained fault. Duplicate relays may be used, the coils being connected in series. The first (stage 1) relay should have the shortest time setting of say, 3seconds,and should trip the breakers of the L.V feeders being fed by the transformer. The stage 2 relay, say 5 seconds, should trip the transformer L.V circuit breaker directly or where appropriate, via intertripping equipment. In some sytems, stage 1 should trip the L.V circuit breaker while the stage 2 trips the H.V circuit breaker. When a transformer trips on stand by earth fault relays of the associated feeders should be inspected to find out the faulted feeder. If no relay

flags on the downstream, it shows that the relay for the faulted feeder is not claiming responsibility and should be investigated further. 4.4 GAS GENERATION AND OIL-SURGE PROTECTION: All faults within the transformer tank give rise to generation of gas, which may be, slow for minor or incipient faults or violent in the case of heavy faults. The generation of gas is used as a means of fault detection in the gas and oil operated buchholz relay, which is inserted between the transformer main and conservator tanks, which are normally held in equilibrium by the oil. The rising bubbles produced by the slow generation of gas, due to a minor fault, pass upwards towards the conservator but are trapped in the relay chamber causing a fall in the oil level inside inside it. This disturbs the equilibrium of the gas float, thereby closing its contacts, which would normally be connected to give alarm. A heavy fault will produce a rapid generation of gas causing violent displacement of the oil, which moves the surge float system of the relay in passing to the conservator. This will result

in closure of the surge float contacts, which are arranged to trip the transformer. To relieve the violent surging of oil which may cause splitting of the transformer tank wall and ejection of its bushings, transformers are fitted with spring loaded pressure relief valves which may be used to initiate alarm or trip. The buchholz relay gives the best possible protection against such condition as defective coil bolt insulation and short-circuited laminations, and incipient failure of the main insulation. Analysis of the gas collected in the buchholz relay chamber may frequently assist in the diagnosis of fault, and the rate of gas generation gives an indication of the severity. Where the tap changer selector switches are in a separate oil compartment from the main transformer, protection can be provided by either a separate oil tap changer buchholz relay, or by arranging the oil pipe work so that the tap changer compartment is connected to the transformer via the main buchholz relay. In analyzing the gas collected in the buchholz relay, a small quantity of gas should be tried against a flame to see if it

will ignite. Also, using a rubber tube, some of the gases should be passed through a solution of silver nitrate. The latter will detect the presence of acetylene by causing a white clouding of the liquid, turning subsequently to brown when exposed to the action of sunlight. If both these tests give positive results it can be safely concluded that gas due to a fault is being evolved. If the gas is neither flammable nor shows the presence of acetylene, it is probably due to small bubbles of air being released from the oil and windings as the transformer heats up, an effect which is likely to occur in new transformers which have been recently commissioned. If the collection of air is regular, however, it may be due to a defect in the oil circulation system allowing the ingress of air at some point. Lack of oil in the conservator caused by oil leaks or perhaps insufficient toping up can cause the buchholz relay to operate. As the transformer cools off in cooler weather the oil will contract and should the pipe between the top of the transformer tank and the conservator empty, the relay chamber will

loose oil and is filled with air. Before commissioning therefore, care should be taken that the conservator is filled well above the top of the interconnecting pipe. Air entry into the system is bad in another way as it will accelerate oxidation of the oil with its attendant evils of sludging. Other possible causes of gas evolution are acid attack, electrolysis and high electric stress. 4.5 WINDING AND OIL TEMPERATURE PROTECTION: Transformers are fitted with winding and oil temperature devices to detect overloading of the transformer or failure of the cooling equipment. The devices are wired to start cooling fans and pumps, give alarm and to trip the L.V circuit breaker at different preset temperatures.

TRANSFORMER OIL PURIFICATION Dissolved gases in transformer oil can cause arcing, corona discharges and overheating-reducing the electrical efficiency and lifetime of the transformer. Likewise, water contamination at levels as low as 30ppm(parts per million) can adversely affect the insulation strength of the oil. Dissolved gas is different from gas bubbles; it is distributed in the oil molecules or as clusters of molecules, which are invisible to the naked eye. The way to get the gas out is to reduce the pressure. It is similar to carbonation in soda water, which is invisible until the cap is removed. Once the cap is removed, the pressure is lowered and some of the carbon dioxide gas comes out as bubbles. Likewise, to remove the dissolved gasses in transformer oil, you must lower the pressure enough so that the molecules collect into bubbles; the bubbles expand due to the natural tendency of gases to increase their volume as pressure is reduced; and finally, the bubbles rise to

the surface or are forced through a coalescer where it can be pumped away. TO ensure that de-gassing is happening effectively and to know when the oil has been sufficiently degassed, a process based on pressure measurement is much more reliable than one based simply on time. When fitting a transformer, moisture in the winding insulation and other components will degrade the oil quality. It is much easier to remove traces of moisture from the transformer before filling than after. The oil degassing process begins with as pump down from atmosphere and continues until a pre specified vacuum level indicates that complete degassing has been achieved. Depending on the dissolved gas requirements, the temperature of the oil, and the method for evolving the gas, the level is typically set between 0.1 and 5.0Torr.Evacuating a transformer prior to filling removes trace liquid and gas impurities which if allowed to remain would quickly deteriorate the purity of the fill oil. A mild bake while pumping out is most effective for driving off these contaminants.

Depending on the specific transformer requirements, typical vacuum levels of 0.1 to 0.5Torr indicates successful pump out.

(1) J&P Transformer book, 13th edition by Martin Heathcote (2) Power Systems Modeling and Fault analysis: Theory and Practice by Nasser Tleis (3) The commissioning of electrical plant and associated problems by R.C.H Richardson (4) Power System Protection by J.Rushton and K.G.M.Mewes (5) IEE Journal POWER ENGINEER Vol.3 issue4 (6) Lecture notes on Power system protection by Engr.O.F. Akintola