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Design and Application of Optical Voltage and Current Sensors for Relaying

Farnoosh Rahmatian, Member, IEEE-PES

Abstract— Optical voltage and current sensors offer several benefits for use in high-voltage substations. Interface to relays and other secondary devices is one of the key issues when using optical sensors. Low energy analog interfaces provide an effective way for connecting optical sensors to relays. In this paper, several examples and applications of optical sensors connected to relays and recorders using low and high energy analog interfaces are discussed. In all cases, the performance of the entire system has been satisfactory. Lessons learned in these applications are also discussed.

Index Terms-- current measurement, voltage measurement, high-voltage techniques, optics, optical current sensor, optical voltage sensor, transducers, optical fiber devices, power measurement, low-energy analog interface.


U SE of optical voltage and current sensors is growing steadily for high-voltage (HV) and/or high-current (HC)

measurement applications. These sensors offer attractive features such as safety, exceptional accuracy and linearity, wide bandwidth, light weight and compact size, flexible sensitivity, as well as environmental benefits such as elimination of oil or SF 6 insulation from instrument transformers. Fiber-optic current sensors can also offer features such as a flexible window-CT design, and the ability to measure very high currents easily. Leading substation engineers and designers are taking advantage of these features by incorporating and integrating these sensors into substation metering, monitoring, protection, and control schemes [1]- [11]. One of the key elements of this integration is the interface between the optical sensors and the secondary devices used for these applications. There are several options available for this interface, including digital schemes, low energy analog (LEA) interface, and high energy analog interface (HEA). In this paper, we focus on the key role of the LEA interface in adoption of optical technology for measurement of voltage and current in electric power systems.


One the most critical factors regulating the adoption of

F. Rahmatian is with NxtPhase T&D Corp., Vancouver, BC V6M 1Z4 Canada (e-mail:

non-conventional voltage and current measurement technology in HV substations is the interface. Most secondary devices in HV substations, including relays and meters, are designed to accept high-energy analog (HEA) signals provided by magnetic current and voltage transformers (CTs and VTs). For a CT, the output is usually in the form of 1A or 5A rated secondary outputs, with significant energy (burden) capability. For the VT, the HEA secondary output is typically rated at a value between 100/ 3 V and 120 V, again with significant burden capability. Most modern meters and relays used in substations are microprocessor based digital instruments with interfaces designed to convert these HEA signals into LEA voltage signals and then into a digital signal to be used by the microprocessor. These relays and meters, unlike their electro-mechanical predecessors require very little energy (very low burdens) from the instrument transformers. Most modern optical instrument transformers are digital instruments capable of providing digital output. Ideally, a digital interface between the optical instrument transformer and the microprocessor-based relay and meter provides the most efficient, economical, and accurate interface, optimizing use of energy and eliminating unnecessary circuitry. However, in order to facilitate the interoperability of various devices, this digital interface needs to follow one or a limited number of universally acceptable standards. IEC 60044-8 [12], IEC 61850-9-1 [13], and IEC 61850-9-2 [14] provide first commonly used digital interface standards for non- conventional instrument transformers. These standards are relatively new and many manufacturers are in the process of providing relay and meter prototypes that work with these standards, while several users are planning on pilot projects for gaining experience and comfort with these standards. IEC 61850-9-2, together with a UCA guide [15] on a simplified implementation of it, is quickly becoming the preferred standard for digital communication between instrument transformers and secondary devices. Meanwhile, as the digital interface has been going through definition and standardization over the past few years, the low-energy analog (LEA) voltage interface has provided a very practical and efficient vehicle for early use of optical and other non-conventional instrument transformers. It is generally simple for electronic instrument transformers to convert digital data into low-voltage analog data using commercially available electronic components; the added cost and power requirements are usually minimal, and the accuracy

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and performance is only minimally degraded compared to digital data. Also, on the other side, there is usually an LEA stage inside electronic relays and meters, allowing simple modification of those devices (essentially removing input transformers and adding some surge protection circuitry) to accept LEA input directly from the voltage or current sensor. The LEA interface provides several advantages over both HEA and digital interfaces. Compared to the digital interface, LEA is simpler to define and test. IEEE C37.92 [16], IEC 60044-7 [17], and 60044-8 [12] provide requirements of the LEA interface. The requirements given by IEEE and IEC standards are mostly consistent and defined in a simple way. The LEA output of an electronic CT or VT is a signal less than 10 V, with load (burden) being a few kilo ohms or larger. Compared to a high-energy interface for an electronic instrument transformer, the LEA option provides several advantages. First, the HEA output is usually driven from an LEA output, using additional circuitry to amplify the signal. Accordingly, the LEA output is a necessary part of an HEA output. Next, the addition of these amplifiers increases the cost and reduces the performance of the system (albeit still satisfactory). Both bandwidth and accuracy performance of the system is better if the power amplifiers (HEA) are eliminated. Finally, reliability and power requirements of the electronics associated with instrument transformers are also better if the amplifiers are eliminated. Most applications of optical instrument transformers for protection applications to date use the LEA interface between the sensor and the relay. Several examples are provided in this paper. The HEA interface effectively presents the most expensive and least efficient option for connecting an optical instrument transformer to a relay or meter; nevertheless, because of the infrastructure in place and availability of secondary devices with standard HEA input, it provides another practical option, particularly for metering applications. Since HEA output is driven from LEA, via an amplifier, every use of an HEA interface for optical sensors is also a use of the LEA interface. The cost, performance, space, and energy requirements of these amplifiers is such that they are still a practical solution for metering applications, but a lot more difficult for protection applications. As such most energy metering installations for optical CTs and VTs use the HEA interface. In this paper, we briefly reference a few examples of these systems, which all use the standard LEA output to drive the HEA signal. For practical and economic reasons, the HEA outputs used for optical sensors usually correspond to relatively low burden levels as compared to those of magnetic instrument transformers. The signal levels are the same typical values (1/5 A and 69/120 V), but the burden capability is chosen to work with modern electronic meters and relays which represent very little burden on the instrument transformer. Accordingly, the draft version of IEEE P1601 [18], being prepared as an IEEE standard for optical instrument transformers, and new Canadian standards C60044-7 [19] and

C60044-8 [20] for instrument transformers have introduced lower burden classes to be used for HEA interface of optical (and other non-conventional) instrument transformers. IEEE P1601 covers many aspects of optical instrument transformers, including HV and dielectric requirements, keeping consistent with system requirements given in IEEE C57.13 for magnetic instrument transformers [21]. It also includes terminology and convention for specifying accuracy over wider dynamic ranges, beyond what has been covered under IEEE C57.13. P1601 is intended to use significant reference to IEEE C57.13, IEC 60044-7, IEC 60044-8, and IEEE C37.92 in order to keep consistency and avoid redundant requirements. It, however, captures and emphasizes requirements specific to optical instrument transformers, introduces new requirements relevant to optical sensors, and eliminates traditional requirements that are not relevant to optical instrument transformers. A draft of P1601 is expected to be available for survey in late 2006, targeted for balloting in 2007.


The optical CT (OCT) uses an in-line fiber optic interferometric design described in detail in [1] and [2]. The sensing head is an optical fiber encircling the current carrying conductor in one or several complete turns. It accurately integrates the magnetic field around the conductor(s) that it encircles, determining the current through its opening. The sensing fiber can be packaged in fixed size windows or in a flexible cable. The optical VT (OVT) uses a shielded distributed electric-field sensor design described in detail in [3] and [4] for accurate determination of voltage between its two terminals. Details of the OCT column’s structure, its physical characteristics, and its applications flexibility are provided in [5]. In summary, the OCT column consists of a dry type composite insulator (no gas or oil insulation used), with a fiber-optic window CT at the top. The OVT and the combined optical VT/CT (OVCT) are described in details in [11]. The OVT and OVCT columns consist of hollow composite insulators, slightly pressurized (200 kPa) with dry nitrogen, containing a number of electric field sensors. Optical fibers connect the columns with the associated electronics located remotely in the control room. The OVCT is identical in structure to OVT, except a fiber optic CT head is added on the top and its associated fiber(s) is routed through the OVT column. The optical sensors use various outputs, including digital, LEA, and HEA interfaces to transfer voltage and current data from the electronics chassis of the sensors in the control room to various secondary devices such as revenue meters, protection relays, and disturbance recorders. References [5] and [11] provide a comprehensive review of the application of these optical sensors in the past 5 years. A brief summary with more emphasis on interface is included


below. Figure 1 shows the result of a 108 kA fault measurement in a laboratory environment. The OCT had two fiber turns and had a 2000A:200mV ratio (scale factor) for its LEA output. The reference was provided using a laboratory grade shunt resistor current measurement system. The results show a near-perfect match between the output of the OCT and the reference when measuring the fault including its near DC (decaying DC) component.

120000 S017 8/25/01 17:17 80000 40000 0 -40000 CT Ref -80000 0 1000 2000 3000
S017 8/25/01 17:17
Current (A)

Time (arb.)

Figure 1. Verification of OCT fault current measurement using LEA interface and a reference shunt at 108 kA peak. The reference shunt and the OCT waveforms match very well.

In an field trial application, an OVCT system was used for monitoring switching waveforms on a 230 kV shunt capacitor bank using LEA interface [8]. Relays and data recorders were used to record and analyze the performance. Several lessons were learned from this early trial. In summary, the performance was very satisfactory and consistent with expectation. The bandwidth of the sensor, specifically the ability to reproduce low-frequency and near DC signals, was shown using the recorder. One of the side lessons learned was that if the lower frequency signals are reproduced by the sensors (to show the true nature of the primary waveform), the inputs of the relays had to be modified to avoid saturation of their input transformers. This is a direct result of the fact that traditional magnetic instrument transformers used in the industry do not reproduce the near-DC signals and, accordingly, most relays have not been designed to tolerate and capture those frequency elements. The alternative is to use a high-pass filter in the output of the optical instrument transformers to block the near-DC components, but that may limit other information that a user may be interested in, including dynamic performance of the grid. A third alternative is to provide several independent LEA outputs from the same sensor, each filtered specific to the application and the secondary device it is being connected to. Additional information on this project can be found in [8]. Another early 230 kV class OVCT system was used in

Arizona for both metering application and protection application [8]. Two sets of output were provided from the same sensors. One set of LEA outputs for protection application and another set of LEA outputs to drive the amplifiers (HEA outputs) used for revenue metering application. The performance for both applications was quite satisfactory. The LEA output was connected to a line protection relay, shadowing a conventional protection system (using a similar relay with magnetic instrument transformers). During a fault, the relay connected to the optical system performed the same as the relay connected to the main protection system, verifying the functionality of the optical/LEA scheme. Several other optical sensors have been used for protection application using LEA interface between the OCT and the relay. Figure 2 shows a picture of an OCT used on a 420 kV class circuit breaker in Italy. A key advantage of such installation is significant installation and real state savings by hanging the CT from the circuit breaker as opposed requiring separate civil work for the CT erection. Similar installations are made in an air insulated substation (AIS) in England [11], and in gas insulated substations (GIS) in Austria, see figure 3. The interface between the OCT and the relay or recorder is LEA in all these cases. The performance of the optical sensors is being compared with that of the traditional magnetic instrument transformers, and the results to date are very satisfactory.

and the results to date are very satisfactory. Figure 2. OCT mounted on a 420 kV

Figure 2. OCT mounted on a 420 kV class live tank circuit breaker.

Reference [5] also provides performance information for an OCT system used for a shunt capacitor bank current unbalance protection application in Alberta, Canada. In this application, the OCT is used as a low ratio 230 kV class window CT to detect small current differences down to 0.1 A between two conductors. Use of the OCT allowed elimination of safety concerns associated with low-ratio HV conventional wire-wound CTs. This OCT provided measurement over a very wide dynamic range, from 0.1 A to 1000 A, using two outputs from the same OCT (see [5] for details). The first output is an HEA output, with a CT ratio of 1A:1A, for connection to an unbalance detection relay. The second output is an LEA output with a CT ratio of 25A:200 mV, with


the capability to measure instantaneous currents as high as 1000 A. Optical systems are inherently linear and can provide excellent accuracy over wide dynamic range; accordingly, they are ideal solutions for high-voltage energy metering applications. Reference [5]-[7], and [11] provide information on optical sensors used for accurate revenue metering (mostly using HEA outputs).

OCT OCT Magnetic Magnetic CT CT

Figure 3. OCT integrated into 420 kV class GIS switchgear.

The wide bandwidth and DC capability of the OCT makes it ideal for DC current measurement applications. For measuring DC signals, the LEA interface is most commonly used. Same HV OCT sensors used in AC applications can be used, perhaps with different signal filtering, for HV DC applications. A novel configuration of the OCT with a flexible wrap-around sensor head is used for measuring very high-currents (up to several 100 kA) in large conductors. Figure 4 shows use of a wrap-around flexible head OCT in a chemical plant in Magog, Quebec, on a 40 kA system [5]. This sensor is used for metering, protection, and process control at 40 kA DC, using LEA output at 4V. The LEA output was calibrated in factory and verified for accuracy on site for less than 0.1% error. Similar flexible head wide-bandwidth DC current sensors have been used for laboratory applications in characterizing power electronics and FACTS systems. Ref. [5] also provide frequency response of an OCT used for measuring harmonic- and DC-rich signals up to 100 kA with better than 0.2% accuracy. The LEA output was used for this application. The additional flexibility to change the ratio via software made this sensor even more attractive for use in laboratory environment. The 3-dB bandwidth of this sensor was in excess of 20 kHz. The OVT has also been used as a portable reference VT for calibration of other VTs. Figure 5 shows a portable 550 kV OVT calibration system. The OVT is built into a mobile trailer and is designed for live connection to HV lines. This

OVT has been prepared for calibrating 550 kV capacitive VTs (CVTs) throughout a utility’s EHV network, in order to improve the performance and convergence of the state estimator, see [9]. It has both HEA and LEA outputs, with selectable ratios for use at 550 kV, 230 kV, and 138 kV voltage classes. The same device has also been used for measuring power quality and harmonics on a 550 kV line next to a static VAR compensator. Ref. [9] contains results of harmonics measurement using the LEA output of this OVT on a similar HV system. Figure 6 shows result of monitoring voltage and total harmonic distortion on a 550 kV system for a period of 4 minutes.

distortion on a 550 kV system for a period of 4 minutes. Figure 4. A wrap-around

Figure 4. A wrap-around optical current sensor used in a high-current DC application. This sensor is used for metering, protection, and process control at 40 kA DC, using LEA output at 4V. The sensing head cable is routed through an insulating conduit.

sensing head cable is routed through an insulating conduit. Figure 5. A 550 kV class OVT

Figure 5. A 550 kV class OVT as a portable calibration reference.


Current and Energy

MOV Voltage (kV)

Wide bandwidth and wide dynamic range make the NXVT and the NXCT very useful tools as measurement equipment for recording fault conditions. For example, [10] shows details and waveforms measured using these optical sensors during a staged fault test of a 500 kV series capacitor bank system. The bandwidth and dynamic range of the sensors with an LEA interface allowed accurate measurement of MOV (metal oxide varistor) voltage and current, fault currents, and various other parameters. The OCT’s wide dynamic range allowed for accurate recording of both primary fault current (11 kA) and secondary arc currents (harmonic- rich currents < 50 A). Figure 7 shows some waveforms measured (energy calculated from measurements) during one of these staged faults. More detailed information and waveforms are given in [10]. The data acquisition system used for recording this data had 16 floating input channels suitable for connecting to LEA signals less than 20 V, and collected data at 100,000 samples per second.

Several applications of OVTs and OCTs using low energy analog interface are reviewed. The LEA interface provides a flexible and easy to use option for optical voltage and current transformers. This interface also exerts minimal cost and performance limitation on exploitation of these sensors. Several examples of use of these sensors with LEA outputs for metering, monitoring, and protection application are provided. These applications include regular over-current protection, shunt and series capacitor bank monitoring and protection, revenue metering, various DC measurements, and portable measurement and monitoring applications. In all cases, it was found that the performance of the optical sensors using LEA interface were satisfactory as compared with specifications and/or with conventional magnetic sensors (when relevant). Furthermore, it was observed that to take maximum advantage of the performance of the optical sensors, the interface and input of the secondary devices connected to these sensors need to have high performance capability comparable to the sensors.

Total Harmonic Distortion (%)



THD, Phase A THD, Phase B Voltage, Phase A Voltage, Phase C THD, Phase C

THD, Phase A THD, Phase B

THD, Phase A THD, Phase B Voltage, Phase A Voltage, Phase C THD, Phase C Voltage,
THD, Phase A THD, Phase B Voltage, Phase A Voltage, Phase C THD, Phase C Voltage,
THD, Phase A THD, Phase B Voltage, Phase A Voltage, Phase C THD, Phase C Voltage,
Voltage, Phase A Voltage, Phase C THD, Phase C Voltage, Phase B

Voltage, Phase A

Voltage, Phase A Voltage, Phase C

Voltage, Phase C

THD, Phase C Voltage, Phase B
THD, Phase C
Voltage, Phase B
Voltage, Phase A Voltage, Phase C THD, Phase C Voltage, Phase B
Voltage, Phase A Voltage, Phase C THD, Phase C Voltage, Phase B
Voltage, Phase A Voltage, Phase C THD, Phase C Voltage, Phase B
Voltage, Phase A Voltage, Phase C THD, Phase C Voltage, Phase B
Voltage, Phase A Voltage, Phase C THD, Phase C Voltage, Phase B
Voltage, Phase A Voltage, Phase C THD, Phase C Voltage, Phase B





Line-to-Ground Voltage (V)




















G. A. Sanders, J. N. Blake, A. H. Rose, F. Rahmatian, and C. Herdman,


“Commercialization of Fiber-Optic Current and Voltage Sensors at NxtPhase,” 15 th Optical Fiber Sensors Conference, Portland, OR, May 2002, pp. 31-34. J. Blake, P. Tantaswadi, R. T. de Carvalho, “In-line Sagnac

interferometer current sensor,” IEEE Transactions on Power Delivery, vol. 11, pp. 116-121, Jan. 1996.

[3] P. P. Chavez, F. Rahmatian, and N. A. F. Jaeger, “Accurate voltage

measurement by the quadrature method,” IEEE Transactions on Power Delivery, vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 14-19, Jan. 2003.

[4] P. P. Chavez, F. Rahmatian, and N. A. F. Jaeger, “Accurate voltage

measurement with electric field sampling using permittivity shielding,”

. IEEE Transactions on Power Delivery, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 362-368, Apr.

Figure 6. Field measurement of voltage and total harmonic distortion (THD) using a 550 kV portable OVT over a period of 4 minutes. Values up to the 25 th harmonic were measured. The fundamental frequency of the system was 60 Hz. The LEA output of the OVT was used for the measurement. The OVT was a 0.2% class device.


[5] F. Rahmatian and J. N. Blake, “Applications of High-Voltage Fiber Optic Current Sensors,” Proceedings of the IEEE-PES General Meeting, Montreal, Quebec, Jul. 2006, paper 1129.


J. N. Blake and A. H. Rose, “Fiber-Optic Current Transducer Optimized for Power Metering Applications,” Proceedings of the IEEE T&D












OVCT MOV Energy (MJ) OCT MOV Current (kA) OCT Fault Current (kA) OVT MOV Voltage
OVCT MOV Energy (MJ) OCT MOV Current (kA) OCT Fault Current (kA) OVT MOV Voltage
OVCT MOV Energy (MJ) OCT MOV Current (kA) OCT Fault Current (kA) OVT MOV Voltage
OVCT MOV Energy (MJ) OCT MOV Current (kA) OCT Fault Current (kA) OVT MOV Voltage


Energy (MJ)


Current (kA)

OCT Fault

Current (kA)


Voltage (kV)






















Time (s)

Figure 7. Measurements using OCTs and OVTs with LEA output during a staged fault test on a 500 kV series capacitor bank. The OVT was a 145 kV class OVT. [10]


meeting, Dallas, TX, Sept. 2003, pp. 1-4.

[7] F. Rahmatian, G. Polovick, B. Hughes, and V. Aresteanu, “FIELD



General Session 40, Aug. 29 - Sep. 3, 2004, paper A3-111.

[8] A. Klimek and C. Henville, “Early Experiences with Protection

Applications of Optical Current & Voltage Transducers,” in Proc. 2003

Western Protective Relay Conference. F. Rahmatian, J. H. Gurney, and J. A. Vandermaar, “PORTABLE 500


kV OPTICAL VOLTAGE TRANSDUCER FOR ON-SITE CALIBRATION OF HV VOLTAGE TRANSFORMERS WITHOUT DE-ENERGIZATION,” in Proc. CIGRE General Session 41, Aug. 29 - Sep. 3, 2006, paper A3-103, to be published. [10] F. Rahmatian, D. Peelo, G. Polovick, B. Sunga, and J. Lehtimaki “OPTICAL CURRENT AND VOLTAGE SENSORS IN EHV SERIES CAPACITOR BANKS APPLICATION,” in Proc. CIGRE SC A3 & B3 Joint Colloquium, Tokyo, Japan, Sep. 26-27, 2005, pp. 164-169. [11] F. Rahmatian and A. Ortega, “Applications of Optical Current and Voltage Sensors in High-Voltage Systems,” Proceedings of the IEEE- PES T&D Latin America, Caracas, Venezuela, Aug. 2006, paper 471. [12] Instrument Transformers – Part 8: Electronic Current Transformers, International Standard IEC 60044-8:2002, first-edition, 2002-07. [13] Communication networks and systems in substations - Part 9-1: Specific Communication Service Mapping (SCSM) - Sampled values over serial


unidirectional multidrop point to point link, International Standard IEC 61850-9-1:2003, first-edition, 2003-05. [14] Communication networks and systems in substations - Part 9-2: Specific Communication Service Mapping (SCSM) - Sampled values over ISO/IEC 8802-3, International Standard IEC 61850-9-2:2004, first- edition, 2004-04. [15] Implementation Guideline for Digital Interface to Instrument Transformers using IEC 61850-9-2, UCA International User Group, R3- 0, 2005-08-25. [16] Standard for Analog Inputs to Protective Relays from Electronic Voltage and Current Transducers, IEEE Standard C37.92-2005, 2005. [17] Instrument Transformers – Part 7: Electronic Voltage Transformers, International Standard IEC 60044-7:1999, first Edition, 1999-12. [18] Draft: Standard Requirements for Optical Voltage and Current Sensor Systems, IEEE P1601/D06, Working group draft D06, Sponsored by IEEE PES Power Systems Instrumentation and Measurement, 2006-06. [19] Instrument Transformers – Part 7: Electronic Voltage Transformers, CSA standard CAN/CSA-C60044-7, 2006, ballot draft. [20] Instrument Transformers – Part 8: Electronic Current Transformers, CSA standard CAN/CSA-C60044-8, 2006, ballot draft. [21] IEEE Standard Requirements for Instrument Transformers, IEEE Standard C57.13-1993, 1993.


Farnoosh Rahmatian (S’89, M’91) was born in 1969. He received B.A.Sc. (Hon.), M.A.Sc., and Ph.D. degrees from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada, in 1991, 1993, and 1997, respectively, all in electrical engineering. From 1997 to 2004, he was a Director of Research & Development at NxtPhase Corporation, also in Vancouver, working on precision high-voltage optical instrument transformers for use in high-voltage electric power transmission systems. Since 2004, he has been the Director of Optical Systems at NxtPhase T&D Corporation, focusing on application and commercial use of optical voltage and current sensors.

Dr. Rahmatian has also been an adjunct professor at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of British Columbia, and a member of: IEC TC38 working groups on instrument transformers, Standards Council of Canada, Canadian Standards Association, CIGRE, IEEE Power Engineering Society, and IEEE Lasers and Electro-Optics Society. He is the acting co-chair of IEEE/PES working group on optical instrument transformer systems. Dr. Rahmatian has received an R&D 100 award for the development of the optical fiber current and voltage sensor in 2002, and has authored or co-authored over 50 scientific and technical publications.