Utility Reduced Lightning Outages with Line Arrester Investment Program

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The urban area of Shenzhen is China’s first and perhaps still most visible economic success story after the country opened itself to the outside world during the early 1980s. Once little more than a sleepy fishing village across the strait from bustling Hong Kong, Shenzhen has been transformed in less than three decades into a financial megalopolis of graceful skyscrapers, luxury condominiums, shopping malls, broad tree-lined avenues and world famous golf courses. Its location in the south of Guangdong Province facing the South China Sea puts Shenzhen squarely in a sub-tropical region with an average of some 70 thunderstorm days each year. Lightning activity – particularly focused between the months of April and October – can be especially severe, lasting for prolonged periods and with high ground flash density as well as high peak currents. Several years ago, INMR travelled to Shenzhen to report on a program begun by local power authorities in 2000 to mitigate lightning outages on 110 kV and 220 kV lines by selectively installing externally gapped line arresters (EGLAs).


Electricity supply in Shenzhen is the responsibility of the Shenzhen Power Bureau (SPB), a part of the Southern Power Grid – one of China’s two main grid operators. SPB operates a fast-growing transmission system comprising numerous 110 kV and 220 kV lines that traverse the spines of the region’s steep terrain. High local isokeraunic levels combined with poor ground resistance of the coarse, rocky soil on which towers are sited means that many of these lines are particularly vulnerable to the impact of periodic lightning strike. Indeed, the impact of lightning on SPB transmission lines has traditionally been high and in the past accounted for as high as 60 percent of all outages recorded on the HV network. For example, according to published reports, between 2004 and 2007 the transmission line outage rate in Shenzhen varied from 2.77 to 3.88 per 100 km – a level generally regarded as unacceptably high.

line arrester Utility Reduced Lightning Outages with Line Arrester Investment Program Screen Shot 2018 07 06 at 17
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line arrester Utility Reduced Lightning Outages with Line Arrester Investment Program Screen Shot 2018 07 06 at 17
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It was with a view to reducing the extent of this problem that engineers at SPB embarked on a program to equip some of the most problematic line sections as well as most exposed towers with line arresters having an external gap design (EGLA). Arresters became the preferred choice since, in most cases, alternative solutions for lightning mitigation were not considered practical given the difficulty and expense of lowering the high grounding resistance in mountainous areas.

line arrester Utility Reduced Lightning Outages with Line Arrester Investment Program Screen Shot 2018 07 06 at 17
Remains of punctured porcelain disc insulators litter ground below mountaintop 220 kV tower. Local regulations require regular inspection of porcelain strings and, whenever punctured insulators are found and replaced, they are shattered to recover metal fittings.
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line arrester Utility Reduced Lightning Outages with Line Arrester Investment Program Screen Shot 2018 07 06 at 17
Typical EGLA arrangements on transmission tower. Note presence of counter allowing SPB to track extent of arrester activity.
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In order to make the program most cost-effective, the installation process began with identifying which specific lines were most at risk, based on past lightning strike data and related outage statistics. Moreover, other factors were also considered, such as the extent to which towers were prone to shielding failure or whether there was any possibility to avoid problems by increasing insulation levels while still respecting tower clearances. For example, in order to optimize the arrester investment, the policy was that in those cases where grounding resistance was low, EGLAs would be installed on the upper phase or on both side phases. However, when the grounding resistance was high and difficult to lower (e.g. as in the case of towers whose foundations sit on rock) or where lightning activity was severe with high risk of shielding failure, EGLAs would be installed on all 3 phases of the conductor.

line arrester Utility Reduced Lightning Outages with Line Arrester Investment Program Screen Shot 2018 07 06 at 17
Examples of one type of EGLA where external gap (either by arcing horns or corona rings) is on composite insulator in series.
Connection between arrester and insulator allows for broad range of installation options and configurations.
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line arrester Utility Reduced Lightning Outages with Line Arrester Investment Program Screen Shot 2018 07 06 at 17
EGLA installed on 220 kV tower of line from Daya Bay nuclear power plant in Shenzhen.
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By all accounts, the installation of arresters on the most vulnerable line sections and towers of Shenzhen’s transmission network has already resulted in significant improvements in service performance. For example, local engineers point to one 220 kV line where there were at least 2 lightning related outages each year before the arrester program began. Recently, however, no lightning outages were recorded even though special counters installed on the arresters indicated ongoing lightning activity on the towers. Similarly, one formerly troublesome 110 kV line that had several outages attributed to lightning in 2004 and 2005 also saw improved performance even as counters indicated numerous cases of arrester activity.

Indeed, a decade after the program first began, there have been only a handful of lightning outages reported on those towers equipped with the EGLAs and together these represented less than 3 percent of all transmission line outages. In one such case, for example, the SPB’s lightning position system showed that the lightning peak current was 150 kA while the grounding resistance of the affected and neighbouring towers exceeded 25 ohms. The resulting outage was then found to have been due to too large an air gap because of improper installation of the series insulator arcing devices. Other defects affecting line arresters were found to include dropped leads on arrester counters or unexpected re-positioning of the discharge ring.

line arrester Utility Reduced Lightning Outages with Line Arrester Investment Program Screen Shot 2018 07 06 at 17
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Shenzhen’s power network is still expanding rapidly with some 100 km of new transmission lines being added each year. With this type of growth, it is not seen as practical or financially feasible to equip all of these with arresters. Instead, the plan is to continue to selectively install EGLAs based on a review of yearly lightning outage statistics.

Looking back over the past 10 years, the program to equip more than 80 multi-circuit 110 kV and 220 kV lines in Shenzhen with line arresters has succeeded in reducing lightning outages and increasing overall network reliability.