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2006 IEEE PES Transmission and Distribution Conference and Exposition Latin America, Venezuela

Power Factor Testing in Transformer Condition Assessment – Is There a Better Way?

Alex Rojas, Member, IEEE

assembly, at the factory or in the field, includes one fundamental test: insulation Power Factor
assembly, at the factory or in the field, includes one fundamental
test: insulation Power Factor (also known as Dissipation Factor
or Tan Delta). Although this test can be performed with decades-
old technology, users have voiced their need for safer, faster, and
more portable test devices. This need calls for a review of what
makes older test equipment operate at higher voltages and
currents. The geometric and material properties examined when
performing such tests is discussed. Why the need for higher test
voltages when measuring insulation power factor: is it
interference mitigation or true material condition assessment?
Modern high-power electronics and microprocessor controllers
offer alternative methods for packaging test instruments while

Index Terms -- AC Test, Capacitance, Dielectric, Dissipation Factor, Field Test, IGBT, Insulation, Power Factor, Noise, Transformer.


D emand for methods and instrumentation to determine the condition of insulating components, assembled into

power apparatus, came with the vast expansion of electrical power systems during the first half of the twentieth century. Insulation failures prompted the industry to develop and implement maintenance programs. The electrical industry was on a steep learning curve and system voltage such as 110 kV were considered very high at that time [1]. As it is today, early testing methods and instruments were meant to assess the condition of the insulation system at the time of testing. Further efforts were made to predict the service life of equipment based on collected data. However, electricity was a

relatively new field at that time and long term deterioration of insulation was less well understood.

Chronologically, DC insulation test instruments were employed first. Then and now, test sets measured insulation resistance in MEGOHMS and were/are typically conducted at higher voltage levels on equipment that was designed to operate at higher potentials. One marked difference versus subsequent AC test methods is that voltage stress is distributed distinctively. When applying a DC voltage across the terminals of the equipment under evaluation gradients developing within its assembly are distributed according to the


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localized insulation resistance. Conversely, when utilizing AC, gradients are distributed according to another material/geometric property - namely capacitance.

The second method, an AC test, was typically referred to as the measurement of “Capacitance and Power Factor” (C&PF) in North America and as “Capacitance and Dissipation Factor” (C&DF) in Europe. To this date, specialists argue about the value of each test, DC vs. AC, which provides more information, and which is more useful in forecasting the life of electrical insulation.

At the factory, fully assembled transformers are tested for compliance to previously determined performance levels. Most end-users refer to domestic or internationally accepted standards/guides (i.e. ANSI, IEC, NMX, etc.) to communicate their specific factory test requirements and performance levels. In defining tests for medium/large power transformers, many users make exceptions to standard test levels and procedures in order to fit their custom design requirements.

Once in the field, acceptance tests are performed prior to putting the power transformer into service. These are principally done to determine if damage in shipping has occurred and to confirm proper reassembly of some components taken out for shipping. Another very valuable product of initial field testing is that base line results will provide the best yardstick for determining the transformer’s future condition. Further, this initial assessment is being conducted under field conditions and using similar test equipment that will be utilized in subsequent testing.

Numerous field test protocols are observed in determining the condition of the material and geometry in the transformer dielectric and conductive (electrode) components. Test programs include all or part of the following: winding and bushing power factor, leakage reactance, winding turns ratio, winding resistance, core excitation current, core loss and excitation power factor, core ground, Sweep Frequency Response Analysis, and more.

The remainder of this document focuses on arguably the most widely performed transformer condition assessment field test: Capacitance and Power Factor (C&PF).



C&PF testing of electrical insulation has been embraced by many in the insulation field as it provides information on the dielectric constant of the insulating materials as well as the dielectric losses. The dielectric constant is an intrinsic material property that influences the capacitance between two electrodes at different potential. In turn, the capacitance influences the voltage gradient distribution within assembly components. Uneven concentration of high voltage gradients in the insulation, typically measured in kV/mm, contributes to increased dielectric power loss where the gradient is higher. In turn, higher power loss heats the insulation. Localized hot spots may develop which start deteriorating the insulation that would eventually lead to dielectric failure.

For example, one of the byproducts of insulation decomposition is water. As water content in the insulation increases, so does its power loss (Watts). The detection and removal of moisture from equipment is very important, as the presence of moisture causes the insulation to deteriorate faster. As a transformer with a 2.5% moisture content ages ten times faster than the transformer at 0.25% moisture, it is imperative to detect and rectify such a situation [1].

configurations for conducting this test were made up of a set of the following components: wattmeter, voltmeter and ammeter. The power factor definition in equation (1) applies equally in power delivery to electric loads, as it does to insulation systems. However, optimum operating points are at opposite positions. When designing/operating power delivery systems, we strive for maintaining the PF closest to unity. Whereas, when designing/operating insulation systems we target a number closest to zero.

Figure 2 helps visualize the current vector which develops from applying the above described test voltage V. The current taken by an ideal capacitor (no losses, Ir = 0) is purely capacitive, thus leading the voltage by 90° ( = 90°). In practice, no insulation is perfect but has a certain amount of loss, and the total current I leads the voltage by a phase angle ( < 90°). Some find it more convenient to use the dielectric- loss angle , where = (90° - ). For low power factor insulation Ic and I are approximately the same magnitude since the loss component Ir is very small.

Basic trigonometry yields the following relationships:

Power Factor = cos =



In practical terms, a C&PF test instrument sees a two winding transformer as if it were a three terminal capacitor illustrated in figure 1. The “H” electrode represents all HV conducting components (three windings tied together in three- phase equipment). Likewise, the “L” electrode represents all LV conducting components. The transformer tank, typically grounded, is represented by the electrode “G”.


and the dissipation factor is defined as:

Dissipation Factor = tan =




Figure 2. Test Current Components
Figure 2. Test Current Components

Power factor is particularly recommended for detecting moisture and other loss-producing contaminants in transformer windings and bushings. Some argue that the power-factor test is more revealing than the DC insulation- resistance test when there is a high-loss dielectric in series (as in a transformer winding surrounded by oil), and is less influenced by surface leakage components. Other users have reported cases where high-power-factor readings indicated moisture in the windings, while the oil dielectric tests were up to standard [2]. Oil-paper insulation systems exhibit flat capacitance and

Figure 1. Transformer Without Tertiary Windings

In the simplest terms, power factor expresses the ratio of values obtained from applying AC voltage across any capacitor equivalent component illustrated above:

Power Factor =

Watts absorbed in insulation


Applied Voltage x Charging Current










loss curve with respect to test voltage. Thus, measurements at voltages lower than rated could be readily used to represent the insulation characteristics at rated voltage. Dry-type insulation, however, exhibits an increase in power factor values within 2.5 kV and 10 kV. Motors, generators or smaller transformers with dry assemblies, have been typically tested at several voltages in order to determine the tip-up for the insulation. Such tip-up may be at 100%, 50% and 25% of the phase-to-phase voltage, or 100%, 50% and 25% of rated phase voltage.


Realizing the benefits of C&PF testing, field test instrumentation and techniques operating at lower voltages were devised. Early on, a test voltage of 2.5 kV was used. The selection of such test voltage was justified by two criteria:

It was sufficiently high to provide an acceptable signal- to-noise ratio in (then) typical field applications. The typical insulation to be tested was an oil-paper assembly.

Traced back to 1915, the classical instrument circuit configuration for performing C&PF testing is the Schering Bridge with a null detector. Today, it continues to be manufactured by various companies, but due to operating limitations; it is primarily used in standards and test laboratories. A notable variation from the basic configuration is the “Inverted Schering Bridge” which was cleverly packaged for commercialization using the capacitance between the grounded case and the bridge assembly as the reference capacitor.

The next worthy happening was the invention of the “transformer ratio arm bridge” (TRAB). This circuit measures capacitance (C) and dissipation factor (DF). The bridge is useful only at one frequency and its readout is equivalent to the series connected RC circuit. The loss (W) needs to be calculated from F, C & DF.

The latter end of the twentieth century brought with it important developments in analog as well as digital measurement technologies. These technologies made it possible for a variety of test set configurations to be realized. One such a configuration is the combination of a bridge circuit with readout of the residual value. Another configuration is that of a voltmeter-ammeter-wattmeter (VAW) using digital and DSP technology. Such technology has been very effective especially when combined with test frequencies other than the power frequency.


As the electric power transmission and distribution industry evolved it increased system operating voltages to transmit

more power. Operators managed to keep line losses as low as possible by keeping line currents at acceptable levels, while transmitting larger amounts of power at higher voltages. This new field test environment brought on a new challenge to test instrumentation manufacturers: immunity to electrostatic interference. Consequently, the 2.5 kV test level was increased to 10 kV in order to provide an acceptable signal-to- noise ratio. Some went even further to device test sequences where 10kV is applied at frequencies other than the fundamental 60 or 50 Hz. One of these methods initially applies test voltage at lower than power frequency; to overcome the frequency bias, a second test is performed at higher than power frequency. The test result is the average of both. Still another approach uses a modulated test voltage, avoiding the power frequency by producing test voltage with two frequency components - one above and another below the power frequency.

Today, a classic application for lower test voltage power factor test instruments is in the drying-out process at manufacturing operations. The transformer is heated under partial vacuum conditions to vaporize and remove moisture from the insulating material (see figure 3). Outputting a test voltage of approximately 28 Volts the instrument is connected to the transformer during this process. The power factor of core and coil assembly drops as the paper dries out (typically from 30% to 0.5%). The power factor reading from the instrument is used to determine when to terminate the process. Proper insulation condition monitoring is accomplished without complicating the process to make provisions for high voltage testing.

the process to make provisions for high voltage testing. Figure 3. Core & Coil Assembly at

Figure 3. Core & Coil Assembly at Dry-Out Chamber


Since the driver for utilizing higher test voltages is to attenuate the effect of conducted and emitted noise; future work should focus on identifying contemporary noise canceling techniques. The industry would benefit from novel approaches to filter-out interference encountered in the field (i.e. high voltage substations, manufacturing sites, etc.).


Traditional tools of harmonic analysis and cancellation techniques are generally based on Fast Fourier Transforms (FFT) which assume that only harmonics are present and the periodicity intervals are fixed. However, periodicity intervals in the presence of interharmonics are variable and very long [5]. New signal analysis methods are being proposed to take this characteristic into account.

Those instrument users wanting to test at higher voltages may benefit from power electronics that would readily and reliably control the magnitudes of their test voltage, current, and frequency. Along with the rapid evolution of digital signal processors (DSP) the power industry has seen an evolution in high power switching devices that these DSP devices would control. High-power semiconductors have evolved from early thyristors, to gate turn off thyristors (GTOs), gate commutated turn off thyristors (GCTs), and more recently high/low voltage insulated gate bipolar transistors (IGBTs) [3]. For example, High-voltage IGBT semiconductor technology has matured and been embraced by most in the electric power network industry and many in the traction business [4]. Single-unit commercially available voltage classes include 3.3 kV, 4.5 kV and 6.5 kV components. Such offering provides test instrument power electronics designers with new alternatives to package high- voltage power supplies. Potential savings in assembly weight, size and cost are very real. Future work would involve identifying the best technology for packaging into portable test instruments.


Capacitance and power factor testing of transformers has been an integral part of condition assessment at the factory and in the field for many decades. As electric grid voltages increased, conducted and radiated noise in measurement environments has posed a challenge for obtaining stable readings. Capacitance and power factor measurements in paper-oil insulation systems are independent of applied voltage in the 28V and 10kV range. The implementation of alternative noise-reduction techniques and modern high-power electronics offer promising packaging improvements. The continued implementation of these technologies, along with evolving test methods, will lead to the improved safety, speed and convenience of test instruments.


[1] Oleh Iwanusiw, “Capacitance and Power Factor testing of Electrical Insulation”, Application Note, August 2005. [2] US Bureau of Reclamation, “Testing Solid Insulation of Electrical Equipment”, Volume 3-1, 2000


Katsumi Satoh and Masanori Yamamoto, “The Present State of the Art


in High-Power Semiconductor Devices”, Proceedings of the IEEE, Vol. 89, No. 6, June 2001. Sibylle Dieckerhoff, Steffen Bernet, ”Power Loss-Oriented Evaluation of High Voltage IGBTs and Multilevel Converters in Transformerless Traction Applications”, IEEE Transactions on Power Electronics,pp. 1328-1336, Vol. 20, No. 6, November 2005

[5] Z. Leonowicz, T. Lobos, and Jacek Rezmer, “Advanced Spectrum Estimation Methods for Signal Analysis in Power Electronics,” IEEE

Transaction on Industrial Electronics, pp. 514–519, Vol. 50, No. 3, June


[6] Oleh Iwanusiw, “Measuring Transformer Winding Resistance”, Application Note, May 2001.


Resistance”, Application Note, May 2001. VIII. B IOGRAPHY Alex Rojas is a Senior Applications Engineer at

Alex Rojas is a Senior Applications Engineer at Megger. He supports internal and external customers in the use of test instrumentation for condition assessment of substation and distribution equipment. He joined Megger in 2004 from Beacon Power Corporation where he was Applications Engineering Group Leader (manager) contributing in the development and application of power quality solutions for the utility and distributed generation markets. From 1996 until 2001 he was an R&D consulting engineer at ABB's US technology center in Raleigh, North Carolina. At ABB he led projects ranging from applied research through design and manufacturing implementation of new power distribution equipment. His projects included long-term R&D assignments in Europe and product launches throughout South/Central America. Prior to this role, he served five years as design engineer at an ABB transformer design and manufacturing facility which later became Waukesha Electric Systems. In Waukesha he was responsible for the electrical, electromechanical, and thermal design; as well as test program definition of oil-filled power transformers. Mr. Rojas has an MSEE with highest honors from Michigan Technological University (thesis topic: Dielectric Breakdown in Board/Oil Interfaces), and a BSEE from The Ohio State University. Mr. Rojas is a member of NETA and IEEE.