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Arc-fault Protection gets Ultra-fast with UFES Print E-mail
Tuesday, 13 March 2012 12:23

abbufesGerhard Salge, Technology Manager for ABB’s Medium Voltage Power Products Business Unit, explains the advantages of the new UFES technology for active arc-fault protection

There are rare cases where failure inside a medium-voltage switchgear cabinet, due to a defect, exceptional service condition or incorrect operation can cause an internal arc – a short circuit current flowing through the air -  which presents a significant hazard. This is due to the instantaneous increase in temperatures at the fault location to around 20,000°C, well above the melting point of steel, copper and insulation materials. Internal components are vaporized and the sudden release of heat and plasma (ionized gas) creates an explosive blast.

Absolute protection of all personnel during an arc-fault is of course the number one priority. However, it is even better to take active measures to prevent such an event from happening in the first place. This not only eliminates risk to people, it also offers protection against damage and even destruction of system components. There is now a solution in the form of the ultra-fast earthing switch (UFES) internal arc protection system that combines ABB’s fast acting vacuum interrupter and the world’s fastest limiting and switching device, the Is-limiter.

The UFES operates on the principle that the uncontrolled release of energy from an internal arc fault is prevented by rapid metallic 3-phase earthing. Characterized by a significantly low impedance, this type of connection causes the short-circuit current of an arc fault to commutate immediately to the fast-acting earthing switch and this extinguishes the arc.

Primary switching units combined with an electronic quick release
Primary switching elementsThe UFES contains three complete U1 primary switching elements and a QRU electronic quick release unit. Each primary switching element is similar in dimensions (height 210 mm, diameter 137 mm), shape and fastening points to a 24 kV pin-type insulator, and consists of a two-part vacuum chamber embedded in epoxy resin to protect it from the environment.

From a dielectric point of view, the chamber actually constitutes two vacuum gaps separated by a membrane. One gap contains a contact pin at earth potential while the other accommodates a fixed contact at high-voltage potential. Each element also features an integrated ultra-fast micro gas generator (SMGG), which is comparable in type and functionality to the gas generators used in automotive airbags. The SMGG drives a piston and is designed as a single-shot piston actuator. The electronic unit, based on durable and fast analog technology, is phase independent in structure, and ensures current and light detection and reliable tripping within the shortest possible time.

When an internal arc fault occurs, the electronic unit detects the fault current (supplied by a current transformer) and the arc light in the compartment (measured by optical sensors). At almost the same time, the gas generator is activated. More specifically, the gas pressure drives the movable piston. This piston slides into the first part of the vacuum chamber and eventually causes the contact pin to penetrate the membrane and engage with the fixed contact permanently and without bouncing to create a solid metal short-circuit to earth. The arc fault is therefore short-circuited and extinguished in less than 4 ms after it is first detected. The entire sequence, illustrated in Fig 1 below, leads to the safe connection of the piston to earth potential via a moving contact system.


Information processing
The electronic unit has three input channels that enable continuous monitoring of the instantaneous current. The response level, the criterion for detection of a fault current, can be adjusted to suit a wide variety of protection conditions by means of simple controls. With a low input burden of less than 1 VA, the current measurement system can simply be looped into the secondary wiring of the existing current protection transformers.

In addition to current monitoring, nine optical inputs are available for arc-fault detection. The status of the arc-fault protection system is indicated by LEDs and a 7-segment display on the front panel of the unit.

Various floating contacts are provided as interfaces to other units. These can be used:
− To transmit the status of the electronics to a remote control room
− To send commands to a circuit breaker feeding into the arc fault
− As an interlock to block the reclosing of a circuit breaker directly after tripping.

Together with the electronic watchdog function, the functional capability of the SMGG-igniter is also continuously monitored. The electronic unit can be switched to test mode in which all the response criteria for the switchgear can be simulated and checked by the user, and the corresponding trips displayed but not transmitted to the SMGGs.

In combination with ABB’s TVOC light detection system, up to 54 compartments in a switchgear system (three compartments per panel) can be monitored using one electronic unit. The TVOC extension modules, each of which contains nine optical inputs, can be directly connected to the five interfaces provided. Because detection of an arc fault by these modules is also monitored by the electronic unit, at least 18 panels in a switchgear system are provided with active protection. As each compartment is individually monitored, the location of the fault can be easily determined.

Rated for voltages up to 40.5 kV
The UFES system, suitable for rated voltages up to 40.5 kV and rated short-time withstand currents up to 63 kA, is an active internal arc fault protection solution for new internal arc classified medium-voltage switchgear as well as for existing older generation switchgear. It helps to avoid serious damage to the switchgear, the equipment and the direct environment. Therefore, it greatly increases both system availability and personnel safety in the event of internal arc fault. Furthermore it enables the minimization of pressure relief arrangements in switchgear installation rooms with limited access.

The UFES primary switching elements can be installed in the switchgear cable connection compartments or simply in each separate busbar section to ensure the entire system is covered. The UFES is available as a complete unit in a type-tested ABB service box for simple installation in existing switchgear systems and later as a “loose device” (ie, the electronic unit and three primary switching elements).


Table 1 - Arc fault duration in electrical systems and the associated consequences

Using a conventional protection device
–    Arc fault duration: 200–300 ms
–    Detection by standard relay
–    Clearing of arc fault current by the upstream circuit breaker

Possible dramatic consequences include
–    Fire/explosion
–    Serious injuries to personnel (depending on the switchgear design)

Fast-acting protection relay with supplementary equipment (eg, Is -limiter)
−    Arc fault duration: 50–100 ms
−    Fast detection by special protection relay
−    Clearing of arc fault current by the upstream circuit breaker

Limited damage to equipment and personnel (depending on the switchgear design)

Ultra-fast earthing switch (UFES)
−    Arc fault duration: ≤4ms after detection
−    Ultra-fast detection by UFES electronic unit
−    Ultra-fast extinction of the internal arc by switching of the UFES primary-element
−    Final clearing of fault current by the upstream circuit-breaker

No damage expected


ABB, Arc-fault Protection, UFES, panel building,


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