Using Corona Cameras to Inspect Composite Insulators

May 6, 2017 • ARTICLE ARCHIVE, Camera, cameras, Corona, HV/HP Testing
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The development of UV cameras that permit corona detection even during daytime is quite a positive development for electric utilities. This is because these cameras offer yet another practical tool for routine inspection of lines and equipment. At the same time, however, it is often not possible to reach any definitive conclusions concerning the condition of insulators based only on visual data – especially if they are of the composite type. This INMR article from 2004, by Prof. Ravi S. Gorur, discussesd research of the day regarding means to assess the severity of corona observed on composite insulators – whether with silicone or EPDM housings. Such information has special importance when it comes to identifying which specific types of discharge patterns are most likely to pose problems to the integrity of these insulators.

Corona discharge can be an especially significant threat to the integrity of composite, non-ceramic insulators (NCIs) due to the organic nature of their housing materials. For transmission class insulators (69 kV and above), corona can occur not only in contaminated but also even in clean environments. This is important to emphasize since, based on service experience worldwide, it seems that the majority of NCI applications are actually under relatively clean or only light-contamination conditions.

On NCIs, corona can be present locally for long periods of time due to such factors as inadequate hardware design, damaged hardware or deficient interfaces due to improper design and/or manufacturing. In practice, it is difficult to avoid corona on transmission networks, especially under wet and contaminated conditions. Hence, a knowledge of the corona discharge magnitude as well as the damage threshold of the housing material is essential. Fig. 1 shows the damage caused by corona during service, with this particular insulator obviously in an advanced stage of degradation. Damage of this type leading to cracks in the housing can expose the fiberglass core to moisture and premature failure can occur by tracking, erosion or brittle fracture. Hence, there is a necessity to periodically inspect NCIs and replace degraded insulators in a timely manner.

corona camera Using Corona Cameras to Inspect Composite Insulators Corona cutting on a 230 kV NCI in service

Fig. 1: Corona cutting on a 230 kV NCI in service.

Generally-speaking, the methods currently used by utilities to inspect NCIs in-service include:

• Acoustic emission
• Radio interference voltage (RIV) measurement
• Infra-red (IR) thermography
• Electric-field measurement
• Visual observation

Acoustic emission and radio interference voltage measurements both have a sensitivity to background noise. These methods therefore cannot be used to reliably determine the precise location of discharge on an insulator. This presents a significant drawback since discharges on insulator hardware cannot always be avoided and may not even be a problem; however such discharges on the housing can be a harbinger of serious problems to come.

IR thermographic evaluation during daytime can be complicated by ambient conditions. corona camera Using Corona Cameras to Inspect Composite Insulators IR thermographic evaluation

IR thermographic evaluation during daytime can be complicated by ambient conditions.

Determination of surface temperature by IR thermography has yielded some success. However, this method cannot be used to detect small defects which are incapable of causing any significant rise in surface temperature. The reliability of IR thermography is also reduced when performed under hot or sunny conditions. Electric field measurement along an insulator has been employed more successfully for ceramic than for non-ceramic insulators due to inherent differences in the construction of these insulators. At the same time, it has been shown that this method can generate erroneous results in the presence of moisture. This method also requires deployment from the tower or a bucket truck and hence is not always convenient. For all these reasons, visual observation by knowledgeable personnel either from the ground or from helicopters has remained up to now perhaps the single most effective method for inspecting NCIs.

Principle of Operation of Corona Camera

Visual observation of corona with the unaided eye is difficult because corona emits weak radiation mostly in the ultra-violet (UV) spectral range and is therefore invisible. Solar radiation in this region is much stronger, thus masking the corona signals. In the so-called “solar-blind” region (240-280 nm), corona emission is much weaker. However, the solar background is now virtually negligible. It is these signals generated by corona in the solar-blind region which are used by specialized cameras to detect corona.

Image Analysis & Processing

The image captured by a corona camera is generally stored in a computer as a matrix of pixels in a JPG file. This image then requires a number of processing and noise removal steps to facilitate subsequent mathematical operations and quantitative analysis. Basically, the JPG file represents the light intensity levels at different locations of the image matrix.

By using a MATLAB Program, the pixel intensities (represented by the elements of the image matrix) are summed up to obtain the cumulative intensity. The maximum pixel intensity level (Im) of the background image is determined. In the output corona image, pixels which have intensities higher than Im are considered illuminated (pixels which have intensities higher than Iare considered ‘1’ or high – otherwise ‘0’ or low). The number of illuminated pixels is a measure of the illuminated pixel area. The cumulative intensity and the illuminated pixel area are referred to as transformed image parameters in the subsequent sections of this article.