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Unbalanced Voltage On Polyphase Induction Motors

Three phase induction motors are designed and manufactured such that all three phases of the winding are carefully balanced with respect to the number of turns, placement of the winding, and winding resistance. When line voltages applied to a polyphase induction motor are not exactly the same, unbalanced currents will flow in the stator winding, the magnitude depending upon the amount of unbalance. A small amount of voltage unbalance may increase the current an excessive amount. The effect on the motor can be severe and the motor may overheat to the point of burnout.

The voltages should be evenly balanced as closely as can be read on the usually available commercial voltmeter.

Effect on performance - General
The effect of unbalanced voltages on polyphase induction motors is equivalent to the introduction of a "negative sequence voltage" having a rotation opposite to that occurring with balanced voltages. This negative sequence voltage produces in the air gap a flux rotating against the rotation of the rotor, tending to produce high currents. A small negative sequence voltage may produce in the windings currents considerably in excess of those present under balanced voltage conditions.

Unbalance Defined
The voltage unbalance (or negative sequence voltage) in percent may be defined as follows:

Percent   Maximum Voltage Deviation
Voltage = 100 * From Average Voltage

Average Voltage


With voltages of 220, 215 and 210, the average is 215, the maximum deviation from the average is 5, and the percent unbalance = 100 X 5/215 = 2.3 percent.

Temperature rise and load carrying capacity
A relatively small unbalance in voltage will cause a considerable increase in temperature rise. In the phase with the highest current, the percentage increase in temperature rise will be approximately two times the square of the percentage voltage unbalance. The increase in losses and consequently, the increase in average heating of the whole winding will be slightly lower than the winding with the highest current.

To illustrate the severity of this condition, an approximate 3.5 percent voltage unbalance will cause an approximate 25 percent increase in temperature rise.

The locked-rotor torque and breakdown torque are decreased when the voltage is unbalanced. If the voltage unbalance should be extremely severe, the torque might not be adequate for the application.

Full-load speed
The full-load speed is reduced slightly when the motor operates at unbalanced voltages.

The locked-rotor current will be unbalanced to the same degree that the voltages are unbalanced but the locked-rotor KVA will increase only slightly.

The currents at normal operating speed with unbalanced voltages will be greatly unbalanced in the order of approximately 6 to 10 times the voltage unbalance. This introduces a complex problem in selecting the proper overload protective devices, particularly since devices selected for one set of unbalanced conditions may be inadequate for a different set of unbalanced voltages. Increasing the size of the overload protective device is not the solution in as much as protection against heating from overload and from single phase operation is lost.

This information is based on NEMA standard MG1-14.35.

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