Reversible pump-turbines are versatile in the electricity market since they can be switched between pump and turbine operation within a few minutes. The emphasis on the design of the more sensitive pump flow however often leads to stability problems in no load or turbine brake operation. Unstable characteristics can be responsible for hydraulic system oscillations in these operating points. The cause of the unstable characteristics can be found in the blocking effect of either stationary vortex formation or rotating stall. The so-called unstable characteristic in turbine brake operation is defined by the change of sign of the slope of the head curve. This change of sign or “S-shape” can be traced back to flow recirculation and vortex formation within the runner and the vaneless space between runner and guide vanes. When approaching part load from sound turbine flow the vortices initially develop and collapse again. This unsteady vortex formation induces periodical pressure fluctuations. In the turbine brake operation at small guide vane openings the vortices increase in intensity, stabilize and circumferentially block the flow passages. This stationary vortex formation is associated with a total pressure rise over the machine and leads to the slope change of the characteristic. Rotating stall is a flow instability which extends from the runner, the vaneless space to the guide and the stay vane channels at large guide vane openings. A certain number of channels is blocked (rotating stall cell) while the other channels comprise sound flow. Due to a momentum exchange between rotor and stator at the front and the rear cell boundary, the cell is rotating with subsynchronous frequency of about 60 percent of the rotational speed for the investigated pump-turbine (nq = 45). The enforced rotating pressure distributions in the vaneless space lead to large dynamic radial forces on the runner. The mechanisms leading to stationary vortex formation and rotating stall were analyzed with a pump-turbine model by the means of numerical simulations and test rig measurements. It was found that stationary vortex formation and rotating stall have initially the same physical cause, but it depends on the mean convective acceleration within the guide vane channels, whether the vortex formations will rotate or not. Both phenomena lead to an unstable characteristic.

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