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IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON INDUSTRY AND GENERAL APPLICATIONS, VOL. IGA-6, NO. 6, NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 1970

607

Resistance of Low-Voltage AC Arcs

LAWRENCE E. FISHER, FELLOW, IEEE

Abstract-Arcing tests conducted in the electrical laboratory indicate that the most probable value of resistance of the low- voltage arc in ohms is equal to 40 divided by the arcing current to the 0.85 power. It is believed that this equation is approximately correct for 120 to 600 volt, 60--Hz ac stable arcing as ir a typical arcing burn- down in a panelboard or switchboard in which the arc length is

approximately 21/2 inches. At any point in the low-voltage system

having an impedance of R + jX, the most probable value of arcing

current is equal to V/(Raro + R + jX). The calculation is made by a process of iteration starting with the bolted fault value of current. Curves of arcing current versus bolted fault current simplify the problem of calculating the arcing-current value.

INTRODUCTION VALUES for the resistance of typical arcing on low-

voltage circuits were determined by single-phase ac tests in the electrical laboratory. Stable arcing was

initiated from the end of a bus bar to the box of a panel-

board. The arc resistance was calculated by subtracting

the measured value of R + jX for a bolted short-circuit test from that for the arcing test. Admittedly, low-

voltage arcing- is quite unpredictable. The tests, however,

indicate that the most probable value of resistance of the

arc as in a burndown is 40 divided by the arcing current

to the 0.85 power based on 21/2 inches (6.35 cm) as a

typical arc length. MIore generally, the arc resistance

varies with the length of the arc. The resistance is equal to 25 VL/I0 85 in which L is the arc length in inches; or it is equal to 155 VL/I0 85 in which L is the length in centi-

meters, and I is the arcing current in amperes. The tests cover a range from 650 to 41 600 amperes bolted fault

values and 600 to 20 640 amperes arcing-current values at

voltages from 146 to 277 volts. Further testing is needed

using great care in reading the bolted- and arcing-current

values to establish the arcing resistance more accurately

and investigate the influence of other factors. These

present tests, however, demonstrate the method of test

Paper 70 TP 78-IGA,

approved by the Industrial and Com-

mericial Power Systems Committee of the IEEE IGA Group for

presentation at the 1970 IEEE Industry and General Applications

Group

received September 15,

Annual Meeting,

Chicago, Ill., October 5-8. Manuscript

1970.

The author is an

ford, Conn. 06107.

Electrical Engineering Consultant, West Hart-

and provide the ball-park most probable values of arc

resistance. Knowing the value of resistance Rare it is then possible to calculate the most probable value of arcing current at any point in the low-voltage system where the impedance

is R + jX by the equation

Iarc = V/(Rarc + R + jX).

The calculation is explained by an example for any point where the bolted fault impedance is a fixed known value. Since Rare varies with current, the calculation involves a simple process of iteration starting with the bolted fault-current value. The calculated arcing current

decreases rapidly with each calculation so that only a few

calculations are required to obtain the final stable value.

For any point in a system having a fixed bolted fault current, printout sheetsfrom a computer program indicate

the most probable arcing current at that point for the

typical voltages of 120, 208, 240, 277, and 480 volts at R/Z factors (power factors) of 0.2, 0.4, 0.6, 0.8, and 1.0, corresponding to bolted fault values from 1000 to 200 000 amperes. Curves plotted from these printout sheets

simplify the problem since the final interated value of arcing fault current is read directly from the curves for any value of available bolted fault current at that

point.

PRELIMINARY EXPLORATORY TESTS

A number of exploratory arcing tests were conducted in the electrical laboratory in Plainville, Conn., in Sep- tember 1967 (Table I). The primary purpose of these tests was to develop an acceptable technique for measuring

the arc resistance. These tests were conducted in a small

busway feed-in box with 1/2- and 1-inch through-air

spacings from bus bar to box. The arcing was initiated by

using the wire from a paper clip to bridge the gap be-

tween bar and box. The wire burned off instantly, and

stable arcing burned continuously untilthe circuitbreaker

tripped on tests 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 9, and 12. On test 9, with an

open-circuit voltage of 146, the voltage during arcing was

near 125 volts. As was expected, the arcing burned con-

tinuously, even at this low value of voltage.

608

IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON INDUSTRY AND GENERAL APPLICATIONS, NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 1970

TABLE I LOW-VOLTAGE POWER ARCING TESTS, SEPTEMBER 22 AND 25, 1967

 

Length

Bolted

Open-

 

Current

Arcing

of

Arc

Fault

Circuit

Load

Did Arc

Arcing

Test

Available

(amperes)

Current

(amperes)

Gap

(inches)

Voltage

(volts)

Voltage

(volts)

PF

(percent)

Maintain

Itself?

Time

(cycles)

1

500

1/2

278

5.9

Yes

10

2

1

277

5.9

Yes

10

3

996

1

224

276

7.9

Yes

15

4

996

900

1

224

276

7.9

Yes

15

5

1140

1

240

277

100

No

1

6

1140

1/2

240

277

100

No

11/2

7

980

900

1/2

208

Low

Yes

15

8a

940

750

1/2

104

120'/2

Low

No

4

8b

940

1/2

104

120'/2

Low

No

1/2

9

1150

1000

1/2

125

146

Low

Yes

15

10

500

1

186

207

41.3

No

1

l/2

11

12

500

650

600

1/2

1/2

186

241

207

278

41.3

41.8

No

Yes

2

15

Circuit breaker was set to trip at end of 10 cycles on tests 1 and 2 and 15 cycles on tests 3-12.

 

TABLE II ARCING TESTS IN BLACK ROCK LABORATORY

 

Bolted

Arcing

Current

Arc

Gap

 

Was

Arcing

Time

Was

Box

Current

PF

Arcing

Test

(amperes)

(amperes)

(inches)

(percent)

Stable?

(cycles)

Grounded?

1

1490

1

22

No

0

No

2

1490

1

22

No

2

No

3

1490

1

22

No

No

4

2910

1

44

No

No

5

2910

1

44

No

1

No

6

2910

2570

1

44

Yes

12

Yes

7

2910

2570

1

44

Yes

12

Yes

8

7400

6000

1

44

Yes

12

Yes

9

10580

8450

1

40

Yes

12

Yes

10

10580

1

40

No

1/2

Yes

11

10580

8450

2

40

Yes

8

Yes

12

10580

2

40

No

0

No

13

25000

2

22

No

1/8

No

14

25000

2

22

No

Yes

15

25000

16600

21/4

22

Yes

12

Yes

16

25000

16600

2'/4

22

No

Yes

17

41600

22

Yes

12

Yes

18

41600

22

No

-

Yes

19

41600

20640

31/2

22

Yes

15

Yes

20

41600

20640

4

22

Yes

15

Yes

All tests were conducted single phase at 263 volts.

Tests 5 and 6 tend to indicate that sustained arcing is

not likely on high power factor circuits, but two tests are

not sufficient to be sure. Experience in arcing on over-

load tests on enclosed switches and circuit breakers show

that the weak unstable

arcing at high power factors is

at and below 0.45

easy to interrupt, but vicious

arcing

PF requires a very effective interrupting device. Experi-

mental tests at 80 amperes, 480 volts indicate weak un-

stable arcing at 100-percent PF but spectacular sustained

arcing at low power factors at the same current and

voltage [1]. A detailed analysis of the results of these tests is not important since they were intended as pre-

liminary exploratory tests. The decision was made, how-

ever, to use the wire from a paper -clip as the method of

initiating arcing on future tests.

To explain how the arc resistance was determined from

these tests, note that on test 12 at 278 volts open circuit,

the bolted or available current was 650 amperes at 41.8-

percent PF, and the arcing current was 600 amperes with

a 1/2-inch arc length:

0.4275 ohm = 0.179 + jO.388 ohm = 0.463 ohm.

Zbolted = 278/650 =

Zarc = 278/600

Since there is no reason for the 0.388-ohm reactance to

change, the total resistance on the arcing test is

A/V.4632-0.3882 = 0.254 ohm.

Then the arc resistance is

0.254 - 0.179 = 0.075 ohm.

This agrees approximatelywiththeequationestablished by later tests:

Rare = 25A/arc length/Ij0rM -=

25\/i72/6000 85 - 0.077 ohm.

FISHER: RESISTANCE OF LOW-VOLTAGE AC ARCS

(a)

(d)

(b)

(e)

(e)

609

Fig. 1. Arcing tests in Black Rock Short-Circuit Laboratory.

ARCING TESTS IN BLACK ROCK LABORATORY On February 6, 1968, in an effort to obtain further

information on the resistance of low-voltage arcing, a

number of arcing tests were conducted in the General

Electric Company's Black Rock Short-Circuit Laboratory

in New Britain, Conn. (Table II).

Since the most serious arcing burndowns have occurred

at 277 volts on 480Y/277-volt systems, it was decided to

conduct the arcing tests at a voltage near or somewhat below 277 volts. At the Black Rock Laboratory, the

single-phase 263-volt transformer tap was used. Calibrated

settings at this voltage were available with (bolted fault)

currents ranging from 1500 to 42 500 amperes with still higher values if desired.

For the tests a standard 41/2- by 17- by 30-inch panel-

board box without front was used with one phase pair of

1/4- by 2-inch bus bars mounted with a 1-inch air space

between bars and to the box and another pair with a

2-inch air space. The panelboard is shown connected to

the laboratory terminal in Fig. l(a). Fig. l(b) shows an

interesting display of 2570-ampere arcing with 2900

amperes available. Fig. l(c) shows the extent of damage

after 12 cycles of arcing at 16 600 amperes with 25 350 amperes available. Fig. l(d) and (e) shows the extent of damage after 20 640-ampere arcing for 12 cycles with 41 600 (bolted fault) amperes available.

Method of Arc Initiation and Control

On each test the arc was initiated by a wire from a paper clip bent in a U shape placed between the bars with

the upper ends of the U-shaped wire pressing against the

edges of the two 1/4- by 2-inch bars at a location in the

upper

third of the box. This method was selected based on its successful use in performing hundreds of arcing tests during a period of over 30 years. Extensive arcing tests in buswavs with bare bus bars and porcelain insulators were conducted in the 1930's using a paper clip wire to initiate arcing, and it was established definitely that, unless restricted, single- or three-phase arcing is driven by electromagnetic force away from the source of power

[1]. The force is the same as that in an electric motor (Fig. 2). The expired patent of [2] teaches how 480-volt

three-phase arcing can be driven any distance to the end of the busway so fast that the busway is not damaged

significantly, and the arc is then extinguished in an en-

larged end box with protective screen mesh on the end.

On these arcing tests in the panelboard, it was decided to use the paper clip wire primarily because it burns off instantly and produces only a small amount of molten metal. Also, it was decided to initiate the arcing from bar

to bar and permit the arc to travel at least a short distance

the two bars to most accurately simulate the movement in an actual burndown and yet maintain control of the

on

location of the stable arcing from the end of the one bar to

the box. (On the previous exploratory arcing tests, only one bus bar was used.)

Arcing Test Voltage and Currents All tests were conducted at 263-volt single-phase 60-Hz

ac between the two bars and from one bar to the box. The steel box and the bar toward the center line of the

box were connected to one laboratory terminal. On each test when the laboratory circuit breaker was closed, the

610

IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON INDUSTRY AND GENERAL APPLICATIONS) NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 1970

SHEET OF PAPER ON WHICH HAS BEEN DRAWN THE DOWN-

WARD FLUX CAUSED BY THE CURRENT IN THE BARS AND CIRCULAR FLUX LINES CAUSED BY THE CURRENT FLOWINC

!TOWARD THE LEFT IN THE ARC.

THE CROWDING OF THE

.FLUX LINES BEHIND THE ARC FORCES THE ARC TO

TRAVEL AWAY FROM T'E SOURCE.

Fig. 2. Electromagnetic forces causing single- and three-phase

arcing to travel at high speed in direction away from source of

power.

Fig.

3. Oscillogram of 16 600-ampere arcing current with 25 350

middle wave is supply

amperes available. Top

voltage, and a timing wave is at bottom.

wave is current,

paper clip burned off, and the arcing was driven instantly

downward to the ends of the bars where it burned con-

tinuously from the end of one bar to the end wall of the

box until the circuit breaker was turned off. Tests were conducted at the following available bolted fault values:

2910, 7400, 10630, 25350, and 41 600 amperes. The

arcing burned continuously for about 10 or 12 cycles until the breaker was tripped. The 11-cycle arcing current on

test 19 with 41600 amperes available was 20 640 amperes. This was repeated on test 20 with almost the same results except for arc length. On these tests the are length varied

from 1 inch on the first test to 31/2 inches on test 19. The

large hole was

end of the bar had burned back, and a

burned in the end wall of the box, increasing the arc

length (Fig. 1(e)) to approximately 31/2 inches. After test 20, the arc length was 4 inches.

Calculation of Arc Resistance The method used to determine the arc resistance was

as follows. First, the total circuit values of V, I, R, X, and Z

were determined from oscillograms of the bolted fault short-circuit test. Then from the arcing-test oscillograms

the values of rms current and impedance were determined

in the same manner. The arcing-current waveshape dif-

fered somewhat from a sine wave due to the wave dis- tortion produced by the arcing. Therefore, an analysis of the sine wave was necessary to determine the rms value of the arcing current. This caused a 5-percent reduction in the arcing current from the rms value based on the

peak value (Fig. 3). Knowing that the reactance X

remains unchanged, the resistance on the arcing test is equal to the square root of (Z2 - X2). Then the arc resistance Rarc = Rare test - Rbolted test. An analysis of these tests, especially tests 9, 15, and 19, resulted in the equation for the resistance of low-voltage arcing.

DISCUSSION OF TEST RESULTS Further carefully planned arcing tests should be conducted to determine the value of arc r-esistance more accurately. It is believed, however, that these tests estab]ish the ball-park resistance in ohms of 60-Hz ac arcing by the equation

Rare = 25 X/L/IarcO 85

in which R is the arc resistance in ohms and L is the arc

length in inches. In low-voltage panelboards and switch-

boards the distance between opposite-polarity bus bars is

typically 2 inches over surface and at least 1 inch through

air. The length of arc in a typical burndown is believed to

be about 21/2 inches, resulting in

Rarc = 40/Ia,c 8"

However, in some large switchboards, the bus bars are far- ther apart, and in 240-volt lighting panelboards, for exam- ple, they are closer together. If a switchboard has bare main

bus bars fed from one end with all tapoff connections heavily taped, the bars at the output end might be brought close together and close to the housing to increase the

arcing current or spread apart to decrease it or they may be provided with an arc extinguisher. A more practical solution however, appears to be the ground-fault relay

or any means of tripping the main breaker quickly. It may or may not be significant that on this series of

single-phase tests, no stable arcing was achieved on tests with the panelboard box ungrounded. For example, stable

arcing did not occur on tests 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 12, and 13.

Possibly when the box is ungrounded, the electromagnetic forces expand the loop of arcing from the ends of the

two bars outward on each side, increasing the arc length until it is extinguished. This probably would not- occur

with three-phase arcing. Note, however, that with the

box grounded, stable arcing did not always occur, for

example, in tests 10, 14, 16, and 18. Those tests on which

stable arcing did occur prove that stable arcing can

occur but do not prove that it will always occur. Con-

versely, the absence of stable arcing on a few tests does

not prove that it can never occur. It is known from ex-

perience and other tests that three-phase stable destruc-

tive arcing can occur on ungrounded systems. For ex-

ample, in some cases with inadequate protection a bus- way has been burned off completely (Fig. 4).

FISHER: RESISTANCE OF LOW-VOLTAGE AC ARCS

Fig. 4. Busway burnoff. To prevent this on grounded and un-

will interrupt

grounded systems, select

arcing current in 6 cycles or

protective device that less.

CURVES OF ARCING CURRENT VERSUS AVAILABLE CURRENT

Computer printout sheets shown in the Appendix list

the arcing current corresponding to any

given fixed bolted

fault values from 500 to 200 000 amperes at typical voltages of 120, 208, 240, 277, and 480 volts at R/Z factors (power

factors) of 0.2, 0.4,

0.6, 0.8, and 1.0 and for arc lengths of

1, 21/2, 4, and 9 inches. Figs. 5 and 6 show the same output for the 2'/2-inch arc length in the form of curves from which the arcing

current can be read directly. For example, on Fig. 5 at

277 volts with 50 000 amperes available, follow the 450

line to point Q at 0.2 PF; then straight upward reading 31 000-ampere arcing current. This is approximately 0.6

of 50 000 which can be seen on the ordinate scale on the left.

Calculation of Arcing Burndown Current in Main Switchboard

Example: Assume a main switchboard or unit sub- stationhavinga 2000-kVA480Y/277-volt transformer with 49 000 amperes bolted three-phase short-circuit current available:

Z3. = 0.00111 + jO.00554 = 0.00565 ohm

I = 277/0.00565 = 49 000 amperes rms symetrical.

Assume that the transformer is close to the switchboard with low-impedance connections so that this 49 000

amperes is available three phase and approximately the same for a single-phase line-to-neutral and line-to-housing short circuit in the switchboard. To calculate the most

probable single-phase line-to-housing arcing burndown current assuming, for example, that two fuses are blown, proceed as follows. The calculation can be made on the

LL scales of the slide rule or preferably by computer by a few steps of iteration as follows. This example applies to any point on the low-voltage system where the bolted fault current is a fixed value such as 49 000 amperes.

Step 1: For the first step use the bolted value of 49 000

amperes:

Rare = 40/490000-85.

By slide rule 49 000° 85 = 1000.85 X 4900.85 = 50 X 194 = 9700 Rare = 40/9700 = 0.00413 ohm

Zarc =

0.00413 + 00111 + jO.00554 = 0.00763

Iarc = 277/0.00763 = 36 300 amperes.

Step 2: At 36 300 amperes

Rarc = 40/363000 85 = 0.00530 ohm

Zarn = 0.00641 + jO.00554 = 0.00843

Iare = 277/0.00843 = 32 800.

Step 3:

Rarc = 40/6900 = 0.0058 ohm

Z = 00691 + jO.00554 = 0.00885

I = 277/0.00885 = 31 200 amperes.

Step 4:

 

Rarc = 40/6600 = 0.00606 ohm

Z =

00717 + jO.00554 = 0.00906

I =

30 600 amperes.

Step 5:

 

Rare =

40/6400 = 0.00625 ohm

Z = 0.00736 + jO.00554 = 0.0092

IarC = 277/0.0092 = 30 000 amperes.

USE OF CURVES TO DETERMINE ARCING CURRENT For this same example, the arcing current can be read

directly from the curves of Fig. 6. This method is satis-

factory for any point in the low-voltage system where the bolted short-circuit current is a known fixed value such as

49000 amperes, 277 volts at 0.2 PF in this

50 000

amperes (49 000 available), 277 volts at point Q on the

curve; proceed upward reading 30 000-ampere

example.

From Fig. 5 start on the 450 line designated

0.2 PF

arcing current.

This may appear to be a surprisingly high value of

arcing current. Actually, in this example, if a

main circuit breaker has instantaneous trips set at 6 X

3000 = 18 000 amperes, it would trip instantly for

in the switchboard with the result that instead of a costly

3000-ampere

arcing

burndown, only minor arcing damage would be expected.

EXPLANATION OF Low VALUES OF BURNDOWN CURRENTS

It should be recognized that there are factors other

than arc resistance that can reduce the current,

thereby

accounting for much lower currents with the resulting

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FISHER: RESISTANCE OF LOW-VOLTAGE AC ARCS

disastrous burndowns. First, instead of short low-im- pedance connections from the transformer to the main protective device, as in a unit substation, it is more

typical, especially in network systems, to have much longer and higher impedance and sometimes current- limiting high-impedance connections. Then with a given

R + jX bolted fault three-phase impedance at the trans-

former terminals, it would be necessary to add the rather high value of impedance for the service-entrance con- nections. Then the single-phase line-to-housing bolted fault impedance at the switchboard would be R + jX plus the total impedance of the service entrance going

out one phase conductor with return to the transformer neutral by the typically widely spaced grounding and other conductors. For example, it is typical practice in many network systems and spot-network systems to locate the neutral bus bar on the ceiling possibly 10 or 15 feet from the phase bus bars near the floor for the con- venience of the power company employees or vice versa [3, fig. 2] with the phase bars on the ceiling, a rather long total