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Corona discharge is flow of current from the electrode to the outer air. Corona discharge happens (among other) in high-voltage power lines.

One way to reduce corona discharge in this case is using so-called corona rings - that's just a ring made of thick metal rod that is positioned orthogonal to the wire so that the wire passes through the ring. The ring is mounted to the power line post and earthed.

How does this help? I'd expect that instead of "wire-to-air" current flow a "wire-to-ring" current flow would start and it would be just the same. Why does using the corona ring suppress corona discharge?

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Russell's answer is good. To clarify the way corona works:

When the electric field at a point in air is strong enough, some electrons are stripped from the atoms and the air becomes a conductive plasma instead of an insulator. When an object is at a high voltage, and has a small curvature (wire, sharp points), the field in the region around it can have a high enough field strength for this to happen, forming a conductive layer of air, which is then surrounded by normal insulating air. If the strength around this conductive layer is also high enough (if the conductive region is pointy), the conductive layer can increase and increase in size (usually in one direction) until it forms a complete conductive path to another object, and then a huge current flows in the form of an arc.

Even if the shape of the field is such that it can't form an arc, it can still form a corona discharge. This is when a conductive layer of plasma stops expanding and just sits there around the wire, and ions in the plasma layer are repelled into neutral air, where they drift slowly until they discharge on another object. This is still a flow of current, just much smaller than an arc.

The corona ring changes the shape of the electric field, spreading it out in a sense, so that it is no longer strong enough at any point to ionize the air.

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Summary:

  • The role of the corona ring is to distribute the electric field gradient and lower its maximum values below the corona threshold, preventing the corona discharge.*

  • Refer to the "superb reference" below for an extremely good explanation of theoretical and practical aspects.


A corona ring is a conducting ring mounted on the end of or radially outside the end of an insulator in an extra high voltage system, (typically 200 kV+)

The role of the corona ring is to eliminate or reduce ionisation of the air with associated corona discharge. Corona discharge damages insulators and may produce breakdown products which can cause catastrophic insulation failure.

A corona ring works by modifying the shape of the electric field intensity so that the worst case rate of change of field on the insulator is reduced, thereby reducing the peak potential across surrounding air to below the breakdown voltage of about 10 kV per inch (dry air, mains frequencies).

A useful secondary role is to reshape the electric field distribution across a stack of insulators so that the potential drop per insulator is more even, thereby reducing the breakdown stresses on the insulator with highest voltage drop. A stack of symmetrical insulators used for EHV insulation will have far more voltage drop across the insulators at the "hot" end of the stack. Differences of more than 10:1 may occur in long insulator strings, with in some cases more than half the total EHV drop occurring across the first 3 or 4 insulators. The reshaping of the field by a corona ring can usefully reduce this imbalance - but a disproportionately large portion of the total voltage is still liable to be carried by the first few insulators.


Corona rings can be seen at either end of the insulators in the photo below.

enter image description here

The above image is taken from this superb discussion of real world corona effects and treatment * Thir summary of the use of corona rings is so succinct that I used it for my summary at the start of this answer. (I only found this article after I write the longer version above ;-). ) They note - The role of the corona ring is to distribute the electric field gradient and lower its maximum values below the corona threshold, preventing the corona discharge.


Wikipedia notes thatIn power systems at say 220 kV corona rings are liable to be fitted as of right to one end of insulators and to both ends at 500 kV+.


Superb reference - Here is an extremely good paper on corona reduction and corona ring functionality - EFFECTS OF CORONA RING DESIGN ON ELECTRIC FIELD INTENSITY AND POTENTIAL DISTRIBUTION ALONG AN INSULATOR STRING

This 2010 article notes the occurrence of corona damage and insulator failure at lower voltages than has been traditionally observed, apparently due to the use of new polymer insulators. Failures and or damage have been reported on as low as 115 kV lines in some configurations, compared to expectations of not needing corona ring protection below say 161 kV in the past. Corona Rings: Are They Needed? - Modeling predicts corona levels based on configuration, hardware and line voltage.

Brief but useful group discussion here

The EPRI (Electric Power research institute) publishes papers on a range of power relatd matters. Here are some of their references re use of corona rings


Illustration of electric field distributions with and without corona ring on multi insulator string. See the "superb reference" paper above for discussion.

enter image description here


Extreme examples:

enter image description here

From

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  • \$\begingroup\$ With all those pictures I still don't get one thing - why wouldn't a discharge start between the wire and the ring? \$\endgroup\$ – sharptooth Aug 8 '11 at 15:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @sharptooth: Because the electric field is no longer strong enough to allow an arc or corona discharge. A corona discharge is caused when the electric field is so strong that the air around the conductor becomes conductive, but the conductive region isn't touching anything that can complete the circuit and arc. Instead, a slower flow of ions travels through the neutral air. By modifying the electric field, you prevent the air from becoming conductive. \$\endgroup\$ – endolith Aug 8 '11 at 16:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @endolith: Could you please add this as a separate answer? That's what I was looking for. \$\endgroup\$ – sharptooth Aug 9 '11 at 6:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's an OK answer, but I'm surprised (if not actually amazed) that you don't / didn't see paragraphs 2 &3 of my answer as "what you wanted". It matters not for the "points" but it dos matter for the understanding. \$\endgroup\$ – Russell McMahon Aug 9 '11 at 6:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @sharptooth: Well it's kind of just a clarification of what Russell said, but ok \$\endgroup\$ – endolith Aug 9 '11 at 14:45
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It's about charge density - the ring increases the surface area and radius of curvature, reducing charge density below that which would cause significant corona from things like sharp edges at joints etc.

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The ring is mounted to the power line post and earthed ?

Most corona rings are not earthed.

Some insulator stacks have just one corona ring -- it's always at the line end.

The corona ring at the line end of the insulators is connected to the power line. That corona ring is at the same high voltage as the power line. (That corona ring is not earthed).

Occasionally there is a second corona ring at the earth end of the stack. The corona ring at the earth end of the stack is the only corona ring that is earthed.

How does this help? I'd expect that instead of "wire-to-air" current flow a "wire-to-ring" current flow would start and it would be just the same. Why does using the corona ring suppress corona discharge?

You are right -- If, hypothetically, all the rings were earthed, then the wire-to-ring current flow would be just as bad and probably worse than the wire-to-air current flow (corona) without the rings.

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The electric field will circulate on the ring instead of surface of the insulator so the corona discharge is reduced.

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  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Electric field is zero on a conductor surface or inside a conductor. It can hardly circulate there. \$\endgroup\$ – sharptooth Aug 22 '13 at 11:51

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