Corona Discharge: How to Reduce The Corona Effect

Corona Discharge (also known as the Corona Effect) is an electrical discharge caused by the ionization of a fluid such as air surrounding a conductor that is electrically charged. The corona effect will occur in high voltage systems unless sufficient care is taken to limit the strength of the surrounding electric field.

Corona discharge can cause an audible hissing or cracking noise as it ionizes the air around the conductors. This is common in high voltage electric power transmission lines. The corona effect can also produce a violet glow, production of ozone gas around the conductor, radio interference, and electrical power loss.

Corona Discharge on an Overhead Power line
Corona discharge on a 500 kV overhead power line

What is the Corona Effect?

The corona effect occurs naturally due to the fact that air is not a perfect insulator – containing many free electrons and ions under normal conditions. When an electric field is established in the air between two conductors, the free ions and electrons in the air will experience a force. Due to this effect, the ions and free electrons get accelerated and moved in the opposite direction.

The charged particles during their motion collide with one another and also with slow-moving uncharged molecules. Thus the number of charged particles increases rapidly. If the electric field is strong enough, a dielectric breakdown of air will occur and an arc will form between the conductors.

Electric power transmission deals with the bulk transfer of electrical energy, from generating stations situated many kilometers away from the main consumption centers or the cities. For this reason, the long-distance transmission conductors are of utmost necessity for effective power transfer – which in-evidently results in huge losses across the system.

Minimizing these energy losses has been a major challenge for power engineers. Corona discharge can significantly reduce the efficiency of EHV (Extra High Voltage) lines in power systems.

Two factors are important for corona discharge to occur:

  1. Alternating electrical potential difference must be supplied across the line.
  2. The spacing of the conductors, must be large enough compared to the line diameter.
corona effect

When an alternating current is made to flow across two conductors of a transmission line whose spacing is large compared to their diameters, the air surrounding the conductors (composed of ions) is subjected to dielectric stress.

At low values of the supply voltage, nothing occurs as the stress is too small to ionize the air outside. But when the potential difference increases beyond some threshold value (known as the critical disruptive voltage), the field strength becomes strong enough for the air surrounding the conductors to dissociated into ions – making it conductive. This critical disruptive voltage occurs at approximately 30 kV.

The ionized air results in electric discharge around the conductors (due to the flow of these ions). This gives rise to a faint luminescent glow, along with the hissing sound accompanied by the liberation of ozone.

This phenomenon of electric discharge occurring in high voltage transmission lines is known as the corona effect. If the voltage across the lines continues to increase, the glow and hissing noise becomes more and more intense – inducing a high power loss into the system.

Factors Affecting Corona Loss

The line voltage of the conductor is the main determining factor for corona discharge in transmission lines. At low values of voltage (lesser than the critical disruptive voltage) the stress on the air is not high enough to cause dielectric breakdown – and hence no electrical discharge occurs.

With increasing voltage, the corona effect in a transmission line occurs due to the ionization of atmospheric air surrounding the conductors – it is mainly affected by the conditions of the cable as well as the physical state of the atmosphere. The main factors affecting corona discharge are:

  • Atmospheric Conditions
  • Condition of Conductors
  • Spacing Between Conductors

Let us look into these factors in greater detail:

Atmospheric Conditions

We have proved that the voltage gradient for dielectric breakdown of air is directly proportional to the density of air. Hence in a stormy day, due to continuous air flow, the number of ions present surrounding the conductor is far more than normal, and hence it’s more likely to have electrical discharge in transmission lines on such a day, compared to a day with the fairly clear weather. The system has to be designed considering those extreme situations.

Condition of Conductors

This particular phenomenon depends highly on the conductors and its physical condition. It has an inverse proportionality relationship with the diameter of the conductors. i.e., with the increase in diameter, the effect of corona on power system reduces considerably. Also, the presence of dirt or roughness of the conductor reduces the critical breakdown voltage, making the conductors more prone to corona losses. Hence in most cities and industrial areas having high pollution, this factor is of reasonable importance to counter the ill effects it has on the system.

Spacing Between Conductors

As already mentioned, for corona to occur in the spacing between the lines effectively should be much higher compared to its diameter, but if the length gets increased beyond a certain limit, the dielectric stress on the air reduces, and consequently, the effect of corona reduces as well. If the spacing is made too large, then corona for that region of the transmission line might not occur at all.

Reducing Corona Discharge

Corona discharge always results in power loss. Energy is lost in the form of light, sound, heat, and chemical reactions. Although these losses are individually small, over time they can add up to significant power loss in high voltage networks.

Corona discharge can be reduced by:

  • Increasing the conductor size: A larger conductor diameter results in a decrease in the corona effect.
  • Increasing the distance between conductors: Increasing conductor spacing decreases the corona effect.
  • Using bundled conductors: Bundled conductors increase the effective diameter of the conductor – hence reducing the corona effect.
  • Using corona rings: The electric field is stronger where there is a sharp conductor curvature. Because of this corona discharge occurs first at the sharp points, edges, and corners. Corona rings reduce the corona effect by ‘rounding out’ conductors (i.e. making them less sharp). They are used at the terminals of very high voltage equipment (such as at the bushings of high voltage transformers). A corona ring is electrically connected to the high voltage conductor, encircling the points where the corona effect is most likely to occur. This encircling significantly reduces the sharpness of the surface of the conductor – distributing the charge across a wider area. This in turn reduces corona discharge.
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