Electrical Power & Protection

Common power quality factors affecting transformers

May 2024 Electrical Power & Protection

Commercial and industrial buildings commonly have a 208/120 V transformer in a delta-wye configuration to feed receptacles. Single-phase, non-linear loads connected to the receptacles produce triple harmonics, which add up in the neutral. When this neutral current reaches the transformer, it is reflected into the delta primary winding, which causes overheating and transformer failures.

Another transformer problem results from core loss and copper loss. Transformers are typically rated for a 60 Hz phase current load only. Higher frequency harmonic currents cause increased core loss due to eddy currents and hysteresis, resulting in more heating than would occur at the same 60 Hz current.

Transformers supplying nonlinear loads should be checked periodically to verify operation within acceptable limits. Transformers are also critical to the integrity of the grounding system.

The proper grounding of the transformer is critical. There are several solutions for transformer-related power quality (PQ) problems:

Separately derived systems (SDS)

The distribution transformer is the supply for a separately derived system (SDS). The key idea is that the secondary transformer is the new power source for all its downstream loads. This is a powerful concept in developing a PQ distribution system. The SDS accomplishes several important objectives, all beneficial for PQ:

• It establishes a new voltage reference.

• It lowers source impedance by decreasing, sometimes drastically, the distance between the load and the source.

• It achieves isolation.

• A new ground reference is established.

K-rated transformers

Harmonics cause heat in transformers at a greater rate than the equivalent fundamental currents. This is because of their higher frequency. There are three heating effects in transformers that increase with frequency: hysteresis, eddy currents and skin effect.

Application issues with K-factor transformers

K-rated transformers have been widely applied, but there are specific issues with them. Many consultants do not see the need to use transformers with a rating higher than K-13, although K-20 and higher might be supplied as part of an integrated power distribution unit (PDU).

Derating standard transformers

Some facilities managers use a 50% derating as a rule of thumb for their transformers serving single-phase, predominantly nonlinear loads. This means that a 150 kVA transformer would only supply 75 kVA of load. The derating curve, taken from IEEE 1100-1992 (Emerald Book), shows that a transformer, with 60% of its loads consisting of switched-mode power supplies, should be derated by 50%.

Forced air cooling

If heat is the problem, cooling is the solution. Break out the fan, turn it on the transformer, and use forced air cooling. Some experienced hands figure that’s worth 20-30 % on the upside.

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