Lightning or surge arresters consist basically of an air gap in series with another element which has the special characteristic of providing a relatively low resistance or impedance to the current produced by a high voltage surge, and a high resistance or impedance to the flow of power current at the relatively low operating voltage of the distribution line to which it is connected. In some later units, the air gap may be omitted.

Pellet Type
In the pellet type of arrester, the second element is made up of a tube full of lead pellets. The lead pellets are actually lead peroxide coated with lead oxide. The pellets normally act as insulation preventing current from flowing to ground.

When a high-voltage surge is impressed on them, a current will flow that heats them and turns the lead oxide (a poor conductor) into lead peroxide (a good conductor). After the surge is discharged to ground, the surface of the pellets is changed by the discharge current back to lead oxide and restores the arrester to its original condition. Although rapidly becoming obsolete, a great many of this type of arrester exist and will for a long time.

Valve Type
In the valve type of arrester, the second element may be made of some particular substance such as ceramic material containing conducting particles, such as metal oxides (Thyrite and Cranulon are commercial names), or other substances having characteristics under surge-voltage conditions similar to those described above. Many of these are built in modular units, several connected in series to accommodate the line voltage impressed on them.

Expulsion Type
The expulsion type of arrester mayor may not employ a second air gap enclosed in a tube made of fiber in series with a fixed air gap. As with fuse holders made of fiber, when a high voltage occurs creating an arc across the gap, the heat acting on the fiber gives off a nonconducting gas under pressure that blows out the arc, interrupting the flow of surge current and restoring the arrester to its original condition.

Standard arresters are rated not only on the nominal voltage class of the line to which they are to be connected, but also as to the crest voltage (the basic impulse insulation level) they can withstand. Table 11-1 lists some standard ratings for surge arresters associated with distribution circuits of various voltage classes.\

Table 11-1. Standard ratings of surge arresters for distribution voltages.

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