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Interruption Phenomena and Testing of

Very Large SF6 Generator Circuit-Breakers


DNV GL - Energy Alstom Grid
The Netherlands France


Very large generator circuit-breakers are often installed between step-up transformer and generator in
power plants. This specific location causes special requirements regarding the electrical stresses these
devices are exposed to in fault conditions of system-fed fault and generator fed fault. These stresses
differ significantly from the stresses impressed on general purpose circuit-breakers: both maximum
transient recovery voltages and extremely high short-circuit current appear in the system source fault

In the first part of this contribution, the various fault conditions and their typical stresses will be

In the second part, a brief description is given on the generator circuit-breaker system and the various
switching duties in service.

In the third part, full-power testing is described of a very large SF6 generator circuit-breaker in a
synthetic test circuit. In this circuit, for the first time, a combination of a direct and a synthetic circuit
is used, in order to demonstrate the capability of the breaker to withstand a continuous power
frequency recovery voltage, normally not present in synthetic tests.
As a current source, 4 generators are used, able to supply symmetrical and asymmetrical fault current
up to approx. 300 kA. Because of the required very steep rising transient recovery voltage, a synthetic
current injection circuit will be applied, followed by a constant AC voltage circuit. For the separation
of the high-current source from the high-voltage source, an auxiliary circuit-breaker is used with the
same rating as the breaker under test. This device is tested separately for this application.

In the fourth section, the application of current-zero measurements are described. Special voltage and
current transducers were designed for this application. For high-resolution voltage measurement, a
custom-made resistive divider is used. For current measurement, a special large bandwidth Rogowski
coil is applied. In combination with a 14 bit 100 Msamples/s real-time optical data acquisition system
properly protected against the extreme EM environment and digital data processing for compensation
of induced voltages, a resolution in current (1 A on hundreds of kA) and voltage (10 V on tens of kV)
is demonstrated.
The various stages in the interruption process, like the opening of the various contact systems, arc
voltage, current zero phenomena such as arc voltage extinction peak, post-arc current and initial TRV
are recorded in detail. From the recorded wave traces, the commutation process from main to arcing
contacts can be observed clearly, although only few volts are involved. These data are used in the
tuning of parameters of multi-physics models, used during the development phase.
Arc model parameters are derived from the measured current-zero wave traces and these can be used
to predict the interrupting performance under conditions that are different from the tested ones.


Generator, circuit-breaker, testing, short-circuit, fault, interruption, measurement, modelling.

Generator circuit-breakers are normally located between generator and step-up transformer in power
plants. This location (the vicinity of transformer and generator) calls for a number of special
requirements that generator breakers have to fulfil that differ greatly from "general purpose" circuit-
breakers. Apart from the very high nominal current carrying capacity, the faults that have to be dealt
with by generator breakers have special electrical characteristics.

This is notably clear in the voltage that appears across the breaker immediately after interruption of the
fault current. This voltage is generally known as Transient Recovery Voltage (TRV). The capability of
a breaker to withstand this TRV is a prime requirement to fulfil its switching duties. The key
parameters of the TRV are its rate-of-rise (RRRV) and peak value.

Test-circuits have to be designed to reproduce the TRV as specified in the standards. After decay of
the transient (recovery) voltage, the normal power frequency voltage (the Recovery Voltage or RV)
settles across the breaker and remains across the breaker after the TRV has disappeared. Reproduction
in testing of both TRV and RV is clearly acknowledged in the (IEC) standard for general purpose
circuit-breakers 1, and RV is also required in the (IEEE) standard for generator circuit-breakers2.

This contribution emphasizes the importance of not only reproducing in testing the transient recovery
voltage (TRV), but also the power frequency recovery voltage (RV) that remains across the breaker
after the TRV has disappeared. For high-voltage circuit-breakers, recovery voltage is allowed to decay
in the IEC standard, because this is the common practice in the synthetic testing method, normally
applied for high-voltage breakers. Decaying RV, however, is not in conformity with the service
situation, where the TRV is always followed by a constant RV.


The following faults are known to have a more severe impact on the breaker than faults in a standard
distribution network:

1. The system source (SS) fault (fault between generator breaker and generator) produces very steep
transformer-dominated transient recovery voltages (TRV). The rate of rise of this TRV can reach
extreme values due to the small capacitance of the transformer and the short connections.
2. Generator source (GS) faults (faults between generator breaker and transformer) can result in
missing current zeroes that prolong the arcing time. Missing current zeroes arise because of the
combination of various transient reactances and time constants of the generator, causing a DC
component that can be temporarily higher than the AC component of the fault current.
3. In addition, also the out-of-phase (OP) requirements are much more severe than the out-of-phase
requirements of general purpose circuit-breakers because of the higher current and the steeper

In Figure 1, the basic circuit lay-
out is shown, with system source
(left) and generator source fault

The IEC standard 62271-100 1 on

circuit-breakers explicitly excludes
generator circuit-breakers. IEEE
Std. C37-013 2 3 is generally
accepted for generator breakers
and will be included in the IEC
framework by a joint IEEE/IEC
working group by 2014. The IEEE
standard was first drafted in 1997
to cover large size generator
applications (100 MVA and
above). It was amended in 2007 to Figure 1. System source fault (left) and generator source fault (right).
include also medium size generator
applications (10 100 MVA). 50
transient recovery voltage
temporary pow freq voltage for first-pole-to-clear
3. RECOVERY VOLTAGE permanent power frequency recovery voltage
Transient recovery voltage (TRV) is the voltage that
appears across the switching device immediately after 10

current interruption at current zero. In case of a fault, 0

due to the inductive nature of faulted networks, the -10

voltage across the switching gap has to jump from a -20
reality & direct three-phase testing
very low value (basically the arc voltage) to the 0 50 100 150 200 250 300
momentary system voltage which is at peak at current 50
zero. The rate of rise (characterized by the RRRV 40 transient recovery voltage
Rate-of-Rise of Recovery Voltage) and the amount of 30 DC revovery voltage
overshoot, characterized by the peak value of TRV,
depends on the application. 20


In service, after damping of the high-frequency 0

transient part of the recovery voltage, the breaker gap -10
remains stressed continuously by the power frequency synthetic testing with unipolar recovery
voltage. In three-phase systems without effective
0 50 100 150 200 250 300
earthing, the circuit-breaker pole that clears first at its 50
current zero (the first pole-to-clear) is subjected to the 40 transient recovery voltage
power frequency voltage, augmented with the shift of
the (non-earthed) neutral. Therefore, the power 30
oscillatory recovery voltage
frequency recovery voltage across this pole has 20

temporarily a value of 1.5 times the phase-to-ground 10

voltage. The elevated voltage lasts until all phases 0
have interrupted the current. After this, the rated
power frequency voltage (at phase-to-ground value)
synthetic testing with oscillatory recovery
sets in and remains. -20

0 50 100 150 200 250 300

In fig. 2 upper section, all components of voltage Fig. 2: Recovery voltage across breaker:
upper: in network and in three-phase direct testing
across a breaker (in this case a 24 kV generator
middle: in synthetic testing with unipolar ("DC")
breaker) are outlined. recovery voltage; lower: in synthetic testing with
damped oscillatory recovery voltage.

4.1 Direct test-methods
For general purpose circuit-breakers, IEC 62271-100 clause 6.104.7 1 requires the presence of at least
95% of the (phase-to-ground) power frequency voltage until 300 ms after interruption. This is to verify
the dielectrical withstand capability of the breaker also beyond the TRV region, where the switchgear
has not yet reached a mechanically (and dielectrically) stable situation.
In direct test circuits, where current and voltage are supplied from the same source, this is a natural
situation. In this sense, direct testing (especially three-phase) is the best simulation of network reality.
Distribution breakers are normally tested by this method and in three-phase test circuits voltage
stresses are as in fig. 2 upper.
Since the transient recovery voltage for generator breakers is much steeper than for general purpose
breakers, testing of these breakers is not straightforward. Conventional direct test-circuits are normally
designed for distribution breakers and it may be difficult to realize steep TRVs. This is mainly due to
the relatively large total capacitance of the supply transformers in test stations that limit the upper
frequency of transient recovery voltages. For DNV GL, generator breaker TRVs can be produced in
direct three-phase test circuits roughly up to 17.5 kV rated voltage. This was demonstrated with a
vacuum generator breaker rated 17.5 kV successfully tested up to 80 kA 4.

4.2 Synthetic test methods

In synthetic test circuits, normally applied for high-voltage circuit-breaker testing, current is supplied
by a generator and (transient) recovery voltage is supplied by a pre-charged capacitor bank.

4.2.1 Three-phase synthetic test methods

In this case the synthetic installation is added to the high-current circuit. Hereby, the appropriate
values of TRV can be produced using the current injection method. DNV GL has three synthetic
installations available that enable full three-phase synthetic testing when necessary. One synthetic
circuit applies the adequate TRV to the first pole-to-clear- and the other circuit(s) applies TRV across
the last clearing poles.

4.2.2 Single-phase synthetic test methods

This method is used for testing the very large SF6 and (formerly) air-blast units typically 25 kV with
100 kA - 300 kA (for generators in the order of 1000 MVA and above) and implies TRV application
to one pole.
The main problem is in the magnitude of current involved (above 700 kA peak). This requires very
tight control of the extreme electro-dynamic forces on the conductors supplying the main current.
Specially designed heavy buswork is in use, yet allowing a certain degree of flexibility. This is
connected to the main 400 kA busbar system of the laboratory which is directly connected to the
current source of four generators in parallel.
In these tests one synthetic unit supplies TRV to the first clearing pole, the other unit is used for arc
prolongation. Such a circuit is necessary to produce realistic arc duration in synthetic tests. A method
for arc prolongation is developed that can produce far higher current than the arc prolongation circuits
normally used in high-voltage synthetic testing.

Basically, three-phase or single phase currents are applied:

a) Three-phase current tests correctly represent the dynamic interaction between the phases as well as
between extinction chambers and mechanism. Experience at DNV GL with this circuit is up to 120 kA
at 25.3 kV 5.
b) Single phase current tests. In case the circuit-breaker poles share a single common drive,
verification of the influence of the three-phase current and arc on the contact motion is necessary. This
is done by comparison of the mechanical contact travel characteristics recorded during direct three-
phase make and break tests at full current with these characteristics during the single phase test. This
philosophy is taken from IEC 62271-100 and is not described in the IEEE standard. Experience at
DNV GL with this circuit is up to 250 kA at 25.3 kV 6.

Fig. 3: Lay-out and functionality of hybrid synthetic-direct test method with full-power generator breaker
test. G: Short-circuit generators; MB: master breaker; MS: making switch; AB: auxiliary breakers; TO:
test-generator breaker; PT: power transformer; ML: re-ignition installation; GP: triggered spark-gap;
SA: surge arrester; R, L, C: resistor, reactor, capacitor; U, I: voltage-, current measurement.

4.3 Hybrid synthetic-direct test- method

Whereas a capacitor bank of a synthetic circuit is very well suited to supply the adequate TRV, it
cannot maintain an adequate recovery voltage for a sufficiently long time.
Basically, there are two possibilities to discharge these capacitors:
1. Maintain the remaining capacitor bank voltage as a unipolar (DC) voltage across the breaker. This
is unrealistic, and stresses the test-object in a way very different from reality. This situation is
shown in fig. 2 middle.
2. Realization of a damped oscillatory voltage by applying a large inductor across the capacitor bank.
Strong damping cannot be avoided in the circuit, even when inductors with a high quality factor are

In both cases, for general purpose circuit-breakers, IEC 62271-1017 clause 4.1.3 allows recovery
voltage to drop not lower than 50% of the rated phase-to-ground voltage after 100 ms. Although this is
also not realistic, it is a generally accepted compromise.

In order to fulfill customer's requirements of producing both generator breaker TRV as well as a
constant power frequency recovery voltage, a new type of hybrid (single phase) circuit is developed
and tested that combines the advantages of direct and synthetic circuits. It has the capabilities to:
produce the required fault current;
produce TRVs of steepness adequate for generator breakers as in IEEE C37.013 2;
produce realistic, constant power frequency recovery voltages as in IEC 622711. This property is
very helpful in providing assurance of the dielectric strength of the breaker during the whole
recovery phase (defined by IEC as 300 ms following interruption). Application of a constant
recovery voltage eliminates discussion on possible dielectrical issues such as re-strikes and late
independent control of current, TRV and RV voltages in development tests;
realistic simulation of events occurring at re-strike. Upon re-strike, a large current is provided by
the current circuit.

In figure 3, the building blocks of the hybrid test-circuit are outlined, with the functionalities of each
of the relevant parts: current circuit (red), TRV circuit (green) and RV circuit (red). Also shown are
the real wave traces as realized in a generator circuit-breaker test with this circuit.

In a world where energy demand is always higher and higher, the number of power plants is increasing
by integration on the grid of several types of power generation as nuclear, thermal, hydro, pump
storage, wind farms etc. The main components of a power plant are the generator and the step-up
transformer. To operate and protect the power plants, specific circuit-breakers are installed on the
medium voltage side of the step-up transformer, called generator circuit-breakers.

The range of the generators is very large, from 50 to 1500 MVA; and according to the type of energy
used for mechanical source, the way to operate the power plant may be very different:
a nuclear power plant may be synchronised on the network a few times a year, a pump storage
power plant maybe several times a day;
to start a gas turbine, the generator may be used in a motor mode and may be fed by a static
frequency converter;
to pump the water up to the upper storage, a turbine may be used as a pump though a phase reverse
disconnecting switch;
to start a generator used in a pump mode, pump and turbine may be linked by an electrical shaft,
and connected through starting bus bar and starting switch.

Due to this large range of power generators, and the different ways to operate a power plant, a large
range of generator circuit-breakers exists in order to meet all the special requirements at optimized
A generator circuit-breaker (GCB) is a complete cell composed by a circuit-breaker, a line
disconnector, an earthing switch, a starting switch, CTs and VTs. It can be installed in an enclosure in
order to be connected to the isolated phase bus bar used in the power plants. Generator circuit-breakers
can be operated by one-pole or three-pole mechanisms.

The two main stresses for GCBs are the main current to support, which is very high compared to HV
circuit-breakers (from 6 to 50 kA) and the short circuit current to interrupt (from 63 to 300 kA). When
the generator is feeding the grid, the rated current is passing through the circuit-breaker and the line
disconnector. Specific architectures have been developed to use one set of main contacts for both
circuit-breaker and disconnector in order to optimize maintenance 8 .

Fig. 4: Typical diagram of a GCB bay: Legend: FKG: generator circuit-breaker; SKG: disconnector; MKG:
earthing switch; IKG: starting switch; CT/PT: Current transformer/Voltage transformer

Robust technologies are required to withstand and to interrupt very high short circuit currents.

Each new GCB has to be tested according to the GCB

standard, using the test method describe above. But in
addition to the measurement required by the standard, the
manufacturer who develops such products may need
additional information for a better adjustment to the
performances. Arc voltage and post-arc current
measurements belong to these means.

The arc voltage measurement is particularly a great added

value permitting to quantify the thermal capacity of the
arc plasma to withstand the voltage and to assume the
insulation of the chamber. In high-resolution arc voltage
recordings, the various phases in switching can be
identified. The post-arc current value will be strongly
linked to the thermal status of the gas. Both arc voltage
and post-arc current will be very useful to validate the
numerical models and to build decision criteria, used for
the circuit-breaker developments.

6. CURRENT ZERO PHENOMENA Fig. 5 : Example of a complete GCB bay:

FKGA2 (27 kV/100 kA). In this case, a
In the current zero region the switching gap of any circuit- breakthrough in GCB design leads to
breaker experiences the stresses of the arc plasma before commute the main contacts in air while arc
current zero and the rising TRV immediately thereafter. extinguishing remains within the SF6
Generator circuit-breakers are extraordinarily stressed environment
having tremendous arc currents (and associated di/dt) and
very steep rising TRV (du/dt). This implies thermal stresses that resemble the short-line fault duties of
standard high-voltage circuit-breakers.

Measurement of current and voltage during these crucial microseconds can reveal relevant
characteristics. In addition, high-resolution measurement of the voltage across the breaker can reveal
information on the commutation process between main- and arcing contacts under full current
condition as well as on the development of arc voltage. This information supplies input data for arc

DNV GLs current zero measurement system, normally applied to high-voltage SF6 breakers up to 80
kA9, has been extended for use up to 400 kA. Therefore, a new high-bandwidth Rogowski coil was
designed and tested. Together with a high-resolution data acquisition system and digital signal
processing, post-arc current of 200 mA can be measured after several hundreds of kA of power-
frequency current. For voltage measurement, custom made resistive voltage dividers are used, that
allow the system to measure a few tens of volts reliably.

Major challenges in the measurement are the
large values of the induced voltage in the
voltage measurement loop during current flow,
the resistive voltage drop across the contacts,
the capacitive current during the TRV phase
and the large magnetic fields, generated by the
test-circuit loop that may affect the electronic
digitizers close to the test-object. In Figure 6,
the measurement systems (transducers plus
digitizers) are shown in a real test set-up.
In Figure 7, typical results of the high-
resolution measurements are shown.

In the actual generator circuit-breaker testing

project, at first various designs were
experimentally evaluated for their suitability to
serve as an auxiliary circuit-breaker (AB 1 in
Figure 3) in the synthetic circuit. In order to
verify the thermal withstand during the arcing Fig. 6: Current (upper) and voltage (lower)
period, these tests have been performed in a measurement systems for generator circuit-breaker
direct circuit and TRV was supplied by the current zero measurement installed in the circuit.

Fig. 7: Examples of high-resolution measurements during a full-power generator circuit-breakers test in a

hybrid direct-synthetic circuit. Upper: current (red) and voltage (blue) during test; lower left: high-resolution
arc voltage measurement; lower right: current zero measurement in a 7 s window.
Note the very small scales in the lower right figure compared to the other oscillograms.

current supply circuit only. In Figure 8, upper, the difference in TRV is shown between a direct and a
synthetic test circuit.

During all tests, the pre-zero arc conductivity, 500 ns before current zero (G-500) was measured, as
well as the post-arc current immediately following interruption.
It was observed that:
the post-arc current can have a value of up to 12 A, much higher than observed in high-voltage
circuit-breakers 9;
the high post-arc current does not lead to thermal re-ignition, also unlike high-voltage breakers;
there exists a clear relationship between pre-zero conductivity and post-arc current.

From tests in a hybrid synthetic-direct circuit, it became clear that application of a capacitance across
the breaker reduces the post-arc current significantly. In Figure 8 (lower), the near-zero wave traces of
current and voltage in the two cases are compared.
Although the rate-of-rise of recovery voltage and its peak value are significantly increased in the
synthetic circuit with respect to the direct
circuit (in spite of application of a parallel
capacitance), the observed post-arc current is
reduced significantly in the synthetic tests.

The reason of this seemingly contradictory

observation is the more severe initial TRV
(during the first 2 s post-zero when the post-
arc plasma has not decayed yet) in the direct
circuit and the pre-zero commutation of part of
the arc current in the parallel capacitor in the
synthetic circuit. Because of the commutation,
di/dt immediately before current zero is
reduced considerably (as can be seen in Figure
8, lower), which greatly enhances the
probability of interruption.

The effects described above are visualized in

Figure 9. The effect of parallel capacitance is
very clear: reduction of pre-zero arc
conductivity and reduction of post-arc current.
The relationship between pre- and post-zero
phenomena is very clear.

In an attempt to use the current-zero
information for the prediction of the
interruption behaviour depending on parallel
capacitance, the following steps were followed: Fig. 8: Comparison of TRV and post-arc current in direct
circuit (red) and synthetic circuit (blue). A capacitance of
500 nF was mounted across the interrupter in the latter
1. The parameters of an arc model are fitted to
case. Upper: TRV comparison; lower: comparison in the
each of the tests performed in the direct current-zero region of post-arc current and TRV.
circuit (with inadequate TRV and without
parallel capacitance) to get the best possible
fit of the measured wave traces;
2. The behaviour of the modelled arc with these parameters was calculated in a synthetic circuit with
adequate TRV (in agreement with the IEEE standard3 for system source fault) but without
capacitance. This generally results in several failures to interrupt (re-ignition);

3. The amount of parallel capacitance was calculated that turned a re-ignition into an interruption.

The arc model was a series combination of a classical Cassie and Mayr arc model:

dg c 1 i2 dg m 1 i2 1 1 1 u
2 g c and g m with ,
dt c U C dt m Pm g gc gm i

with i the arc current, u the arc voltage and g the arc conductivity, all time dependent functions. The
arc parameters are c, m, Uc and Pm and these are adjusted to make an optimal match between
calculated and simulated traces of current (from -2 to 5 s with 10 ns timestep) and arc voltage (from -
30 to 0 s with 100 ns timestep).
A typical result of such an analysis (in one
typical test in the direct, reduced TRV 80
circuit) is shown in Figure 10. The arc
parameters for this test used were:
c = 1.1 s, m = 0.4 s, Uc = 1.85 kV and 60
Pm = 30 kW.
In a next step of the R&D program, the
G(500) [mS]

validity of the approach will be verified. 40

with capacitor, synth. circuit
Generator circuit-breakers are challenged
without capacitor, direct circuit
by very high short-circuit currents and 0
very steep rising transient recovery 0 5 10 15 20 25
voltage. In case of very large units, postarc current peak [A]
synthetic circuits must be used. A
Fig. 9: Post-arc current vs. arc conductivity 500 ns before
common deficiency of synthetic testing is current zero G(-500) for tests in a direct circuit (without
the decay of the recovery voltage. This parallel capacitance) and in a synthetic circuit (with a
can be overcome by using a hybrid parallel capacitance)
synthetic-direct test circuit that maintains
the power frequency recovery voltage to the level required in the IEC circuit-breaker
An example of a complete generator circuit-breaker is given.
A number of R&D tests were performed in a low-TRV direct circuit and in the hybrid test
circuit. During these tests, current zero measurements were performed, showing in extreme
resolution the development of voltage during the arcing period as well as current and voltage
during the critical current zero period.

It is demonstrated from current zero measurement how the effect of parallel capacitance can
mitigate the severe TRV requirements in the synthetic circuit. Because of parallel capacitance
post-arc current and pre-zero arc conductivity are reduced significantly.
Finally, a simulation study is presented that calculates the effect of parallel capacitance on the
interruption. In the simulation, the arc-circuit interaction in a synthetic circuit is modelled
based on an arc model the parameters of which are obtained from tests in a direct circuit.


b: fitted with arc model in direct circuit (step 1) a: measurement in direct circuit
2 0

Current [A])

Voltage [kV])
b: without capacitor in
synthetic circuit (step 2)
-4 -10

a: measurement in direct circuit

b: fitted with arc model in direct circuit (step 1)
d: with capacitor in synthetic circuit (step 3)
d: with capacitor in
b: without capacitor in synthetic circuit (step 2) synthetic circuit (step 3)
-10 -20
-1 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 -4 -2 0 2 4 6 8 10 12
Time [s]
8 Time [ s]

Fig.10: Post-arc currents (left) and voltages (right):

a: Measured in the direct circuit with reduced, non-standard TRV;
b: traces fitted with arc model;
c: calculated in a synthetic circuit without capacitor leads to re-ignition;
d: calculated in synthetic circuit with sufficient parallel capacitance to interrupt.


1 IEC 62271-100, High-voltage switchgear and controlgear Part 100: Alternating-current circuit-breakers, Ed.
2.1, 2012.
2 IEEE Std C37.013-1997: "Standard for AC-High Voltage Generator Circuit-breakers Rated on a Symmetrical
Current Basis", IEEE New York, 1997.
3 IEEE Std C37.013a-2007, "IEEE Standard for AC High Voltage Generator Circuit-breakers Rated on a
Symmetrical Current Basis - Amendment 1: Supplement for use with Generators Rated 10 - 100 MVA",
IEEE New York, 2007.
4 R. Smeets, J. Hooijmans, J. Jger, N. Anger, Test experiences with a new generator circuit-breaker based on
vacuum technology, CIRED Conference paper 383, 2007.
5 R.P.P. Smeets, W.A. van der Linden, "The Testing of SF6 Generator Circuit-Breakers", IEEE Trans. Pow.
Del., vol.13, no.4, pp. 1188 - 1193, 1998.
6 R.P.P. Smeets, H.D. Barts, L. Zehnder, "Extreme Stresses of Generator Circuit-breakers", CIGRE Conference
paper A3-306, 2006.
7 IEC 62271-101 "High-voltage switchgear and controlgear Part 101: Synthetic testing, 2010.
8 J.-M. Willime, D. Uhde, W Boissy, D. Rodrigues, F. Jacquier, Breakthrough in GCB world, CEPSI
conference, Bali, 2013.
9 R.P.P. Smeets, V. Kertsz, A new arc-parameter database for characterization of short-line fault interruption
capability of high-voltage circuit-breakers, CIGRE Conference, paper A3-110, 2006.