The pressure fluctuations and runner loads on a pump-turbine runner during runaway process are very violent and the corresponding flow evolution is complicated. To study these phenomena and their correlations in depth, the runaway processes of a model pump-turbine at four guide vane openings (GVOs) were simulated by three-dimensional computational fluid dynamics (3D-CFD). The results show that the flow structures around runner inlet have regular development and transition patterns—the reverse flow occurs when the trajectory moves to the turbine-brake region and the main reverse velocity shifts locations among the hub side, the shroud side and the midspan as the trajectory comes forward and backward in the S-shape region. The locally distributed reverse flow vortex structures (RFVS) enhance the local rotor–stator interaction (RSI) and make the pressure fluctuations in vaneless space at the corresponding section stronger than at the rest sections along the spanwise direction. The transitions of RFVS, turning from the hub side to midspan, facilitate the inception and development of rotating stall, which propagates at approximately 45–72% of the runner rotation frequency. The evolving rotating stall induces asymmetrical pressure distribution on the runner blade, resulting in intensive fluctuations of runner torque and radial force. During the runaway process, the changing characteristics of the reactive axial force are dominated by the change rate of flow discharge, and the amplitude of low frequency component of axial force is in proportion to the amplitude of discharge change rate.

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