Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Electrical and Computer Engineering (Holcomb Dept. of)

Committee Member

Dr. Daniel L. Noneaker, Chair

Committee Member

Dr. Elham B. Makram, Advisor

Committee Member

Dr. Richard E. Groff

Committee Member

Dr. Carl W. Baum

Committee Member

Dr. John R. Wagner


In recent years, aging infrastructure has become a major concern for the power industry. Since its inception in early 20th century, the electrical system has been the cornerstone of an industrial society. Stable and uninterrupted delivery of electrical power is now a base necessity for the modern world. As the times march-on, however, the electrical infrastructure ages and there is the inevitable need to renew and replace the existing system. Unfortunately, due to time and financial constraints, many electrical systems today are forced to operate beyond their original design and power utilities must find ways to prolong the lifespan of older equipment. Thus, the concept of preventative maintenance arises. Preventative maintenance allows old equipment to operate longer and at better efficiency, but in order to implement preventative maintenance, the operators must know minute details of the electrical system, especially some of the harder to assess issues such water-tree. Water-tree induced insulation degradation is a problem typically associated with older cable systems. It is a very high impedance phenomenon and it is difficult to detect using traditional methods such as Tan-Delta or Partial Discharge. The proposed dissertation studies water-tree development in underground cables, potential methods to detect water-tree location and water-tree severity estimation. The dissertation begins by developing mathematical models of water-tree using finite element analysis. The method focuses on surface-originated vented tree, the most prominent type of water-tree fault in the field. Using the standard operation parameters of North American electrical systems, the water-tree boundary conditions are defined. By applying finite element analysis technique, the complex water-tree structure is broken down to homogeneous components. The result is a generalized representation of water-tree capacitance at different stages of development. The result from the finite element analysis is used to model water-tree in large system. Both empirical measurements and the mathematical model show that the impedance of early-stage water-tree is extremely large. As the result, traditional detection methods such Tan-Delta or Partial Discharge are not effective due to the excessively high accuracy requirement. A high-frequency pulse detection method is developed instead. The water-tree impedance is capacitive in nature and it can be reduced to manageable level by high-frequency inputs. The method is able to determine the location of early-stage water-tree in long-distance cables using economically feasible equipment. A pattern recognition method is developed to estimate the severity of water-tree using its pulse response from the high-frequency test method. The early-warning system for water-tree appearance is a tool developed to assist the practical implementation of the high-frequency pulse detection method. Although the equipment used by the detection method is economically feasible, it is still a specialized test and not designed for constant monitoring of the system. The test also place heavy stress on the cable and it is most effective when the cable is taken offline. As the result, utilities need a method to estimate the likelihood of water-tree presence before subjecting the cable to the specialized test. The early-warning system takes advantage of naturally occurring high-frequency events in the system and uses a deviation-comparison method to estimate the probability of water-tree presence on the cable. If the likelihood is high, then the utility can use the high-frequency pulse detection method to obtain accurate results. Specific pulse response patterns can be used to calculate the capacitance of water-tree. The calculated result, however, is subjected to margins of error due to limitations from the real system. There are both long-term and short-term methods to improve the accuracy. Computation algorithm improvement allows immediate improvement on accuracy of the capacitance estimation. The probability distribution of the calculation solution showed that improvements in waveform time-step measurement allow fundamental improves to the overall result.



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