This paper presents a new configuration for a threephase multilevel voltage source inverter. The main bridge is built from a classical threephase twolevel inverter and three bidirectional switches. A variable DClink employing two unequal DC voltage supplies and four switches is connected to the main circuit in such a way that the proposed inverter produces four levels in the output voltage waveform. In order to obtain the desired switching gate signals, the fundamental frequency staircase modulation technique is successfully implemented. Furthermore, the proposed structure is extended and compared with other types of multilevel inverter topologies. The comparison shows that the proposed inverter requires a smaller number of power components. For a given number of voltage steps
N
, the proposed inverter requires
N
/2 DC voltage supplies and
N
+12 switches connected with
N
+7 gate driver circuits, while diode clamped or flying capacitor inverters require
N
1 DC voltage supplies and 6(
N
1) switches connected with 6(
N
1) gate driver circuits. A prototype of the introduced configuration has been manufactured and the obtained simulation and experimental results ensure the feasibility of the proposed topology and the validity of the implemented modulation technique.
I. INTRODUCTION
Due to their significant role in improving power quality, various multilevel inverter topologies and a wide variety of modulation and control strategies have been suggested in the recent literature
[1]

[3]
. Lower voltage distortion, lower common mode voltages and reduced dv/dt are the main advantages of multilevel inverters. Multilevel technology started with the threelevel converter followed by numerous multilevel converter topologies. Diodeclamped or neutralpoint clamped (NPC), flying capacitor (FC) and cascaded Hbridge (CHB) converters were introduced to take the place of classical twolevel inverters
[4]

[6]
. In addition to these three basic topologies, other multilevel inverter configurations have been reported in
[7]

[9]
. Symmetrical and asymmetrical cascaded multilevel inverters and hybrid multistage topologies have become some of the most popular research areas. When compared with symmetrical topologies, the asymmetrical cascaded topologies which use unequal DC voltage supplies offer a good opportunity to increase the number of levels with reduced THD%, switching losses, cost and size. Hybrid multistage converters consist of different multilevel configurations with unequal DC voltage supplies
[10]

[17]
. Furthermore, for some applications such as photovoltaic power systems and adjustable speed drives where the current is flowing in both directions, bidirectional switches are preferred. Different ways of constructing these types of switches are presented and employed in singlephase and threephase converters
[18]

[22]
. Bidirectional switches play an integral role in multilevel converters since they help in reducing the number of switches and capacitors and achieving the maximum output voltage steps with a minimum standing voltage on the switches. The high numbers of required switches, clamping diodes, clamping capacitors and gate driver circuits as well as the deviating voltage at the neutralpoint remain distracting features in NPC and FC multilevel inverters. As a result of increasing the number of voltage steps
N
, the number of utilized DC voltage supplies increases to
N
1 and the required number of switches increases to 6(
N
1) connected with a similar number of gate driver circuits in these inverters. In this paper, a new type of multilevel inverter based on a combination of the conventional twolevel bridge and three bidirectional switches is suggested. A variable DClink using two unequal DC voltage supplies and four switches is arranged to feed the main inverter bridge. When compared with
N
PC and FC inverters, the proposed inverter can considerably reduce the required number of DC voltage supplies to
N
/2 and the required number of switches to
N
+12 connected with
N
+7 gate driver circuits. This paper is organized as follows: the proposed inverter power circuit with its operation principle is presented in section II. In section III, different methods for determining the magnitudes of the utilized DC voltage supplies in the extended structure are suggested. The experimental results are verified and comprehensively discussed in section IV. Finally, some conclusion are given in section V.
II. PROPOSED TOPOLOGY AND OPERATION PRINCIPLE
Fig. 1
shows the configuration of the proposed threephase fourlevel multilevel inverter. The proposed topology is made of two circuits. The main circuit is a combination of a conventional threephase twolevel bridge (Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4, Q5, Q6) and three bidirectional switches (S1, S2, Da1, Da2), (S3, S4, Db1, Db2), (S5, S6, Dc1, Dc2). Each bidirectional switch consists of two IGBT switching devices and two diodes. The function of these switches is to block high voltage levelsand to conduct the load current in both directions. A multilevel DClink makes use of two unequal DC voltage supplies (
Vmain
=
3Vdc
,
Vaux
=
Vdc
) and four switches (T1, T2, T3, T4) are connected to the +,  and midpoint (o) bridge terminals. The voltage rating of the conventional bridge switches is
3Vdc
, while the voltage rating of the bidirectional switches is
2Vdc
. T1 and T2 have a voltage rating of
2Vdc
, while T3 and T4 have a voltage rating of
Vdc
.
Circuit diagram of the proposed threephase fourlevel inverter.
The inverter line to ground voltage
Vag
and the conducting devices for all of the possible current directions are listed in
Tables I
and
II
, respectively. It is well known that the inverter line to ground voltages
Vag
,
Vbg
and
Vcg
are given by:
SWITCHING STATESAAND INVERTER LINE TO GROUND VOLTAGEVAG
SWITCHING STATE SA AND INVERTER LINE TO GROUND VOLTAGE VAG
CURRENT DIRECTIONS AND CONDUCTING DEVICES (LEG A)
CURRENT DIRECTIONS AND CONDUCTING DEVICES (LEG A)
And the inverter line to neutral (phase) voltages are related to line to the ground voltages by:
Where:
N
= 4 is the number of voltage levels and
Sa
,
Sb
and
Sc
are the switching states of phases a, b and c, respectively.
With the inverter switching states defined and the inverter line to neutral voltages determined, the next step is to arrange the switching sequence. The switching sequence and the corresponding inverter line to neutral voltages based on a threephase balanced system are illustrated in
Table III
. It is worth noticing that, the proposed inverter operates in eighteen different modes within a full cycle of
VaN
,
VbN
and
VcN
. Among these eighteen modes, the three bidirectional switches only operate in twelve. Each of these bidirectional switches operates in four modes but their operating modes are totally different from each other. When the multilevel DClink switches T1 and T2 are turned on, the other switches T3 and T4 operate in a complementary manner. As a result, they are turned off. Therefore, two different voltage levels
Vdc
and 2
Vdc
are obtained at the midpoint with respect to the ground. Moreover, since some IGBT switching devices (for instance: S1 and S2 in leg a) always receive the same switching gate signals, the suggested configuration significantly contributes to a reduction in both the number of gate driver circuits and the system complexity. The inverter line to line voltages based on the line to neutral voltages are calculated as:
SWITCHING STATES SEQUENCE AND TRUTH TABLE OF THE PROPOSED INVERTER WITHIN ONE CYCLE
SWITCHING STATES SEQUENCE AND TRUTH TABLE OF THE PROPOSED INVERTER WITHIN ONE CYCLE
Typical inverter staircase waveforms of seven consecutive line to line voltage levels (
+3Vdc, +2Vdc, +Vdc, 0, Vdc, 2Vdc, 3Vdc
) and their corresponding switching gate signals are shown in
Fig. 2
(a).
Fig. 2
(b) depicts a set of simulated waveforms for the proposed inverter where:
VxN
is the inverter line to neutral voltage,
Vxo
is the voltage at phase
x
with respect to the midpoint (o),
Vog
is the voltage at the midpoint with respect to the ground and
Vxg
is the inverter line to ground voltage.
x
represents the corresponding phase (a, b or c). The fundamental frequency staircase modulation technique can be easily implemented for the proposed inverter. In order to generate the appropriate switching gate signals, a simple method based on determining the switching states
Sa
,
Sb
and
Sc
is used. According to Equation (1), there is a direct relationship between the inverter line to ground voltages and
Sa
,
Sb
and
Sc
. Therefore, the basic idea of the proposed method is to determine the switching state for each phase, which is based on the instantaneous inverter line to ground voltages. It is well known that, the reference line to ground voltages may be expressed as:
(a) Switching gate signals and the inverter line to line voltages Vab, Vbc and Vca, (b) VxN, Vxo, Vog and Vxg.
Where:
Ma
is the modulation index and (
wt
) is the electrical angle. Or:
According to Equation (5), it can be seen that the third harmonic component is added to the reference line to ground voltages. This addition may maximize the output voltage. The switching state for each phase is then determined by:
The inverter switching states and the switching sequence based on the proposed method are shown in
Fig. 3
. It is clearly shown that, the switching sequence is arranged with eighteen different modes leading the proposed inverter to achieve the required output voltage waveforms as designed in
Table III
.
Sa, Sb and Sc determination.
The operation of the proposed inverter can be represented using a space vector diagram, where the magnitude and the location of each voltage vector are determined based on the magnitude of the
d
and
q
voltage components. For given switching states,
Vd
and
Vq
are basically given as:
The space vector trajectory of the proposed inverter is shown in
Fig. 4
.
Switching state vectors of the proposed inverter in dq reference frame.
III. EXTENDED STRUCTURE
The extended structure of the proposed inverter is shown in
Fig. 5
. It consists of two circuits: the main bridge and multilevel DClink. The main bridge is built similar to the one discussed and shown in
Fig. 1
, while the multilevel DClink circuit is extended by adding (
n
) auxiliary DC voltage supplies and (
2n
+
2
) switches. This arrangement leads the proposed inverter to operate at higher power rates and more output voltage levels. Based on the desired number of voltage levels, three different methods can be followed to determine the magnitudes of the utilized DC voltage supplies.
Circuit diagram of the proposed threephase Nlevel multilevel inverter (first method).
 1) First method:
The magnitudes of the auxiliary DC voltage supplies used in the multilevel DClink circuit are determined as follows:
The magnitude of the main DC voltage supply is then adjusted at:
With the staircase modulation technique, the number of operating modes that leads the proposed inverter to achieve the desired output voltages is given by:
 2) Second method:
 3) Third method:
It can be seen that the maximum number of voltage levels
N
is equal to the total number of switches used in the multilevel DClink circuit as:
Table IV
compares the DC voltage supplies requirements among the proposed methods at the same number of output voltage levels.
DC VOLTAGE SUPPLIES REQUIREMENT AMONG THE PROPOSED METHODS
DC VOLTAGE SUPPLIES REQUIREMENT AMONG THE PROPOSED METHODS
Based on
Table IV
above, it is can be seen that:

1) For all of the methods, the required number of DC voltage supplies is the same, resulting in the same number of voltage levels.

2) For all of the methods, the magnitudes ofVmainare same.

3) Among these possible methods, the method with lowest DC voltage magnitudes (the first method) is preferred. For the purpose of verifying the validity of the proposed structure, a prototype for (n= 2, 3 and 4) is simulated. MATLAB software has been used for the simulation. The system parameters in the simulation are listed inTable V. The simulation results of sixlevel, eightlevel and tenlevel inverter line to line voltage waveforms based on the proposed structure and their corresponding switching gate signals are shown inFigs. 6(a), (b) and (c), respectively. Moreover, the voltage waveforms ofVxN,Vxo,VogandVxg(x: a, b or c) for (n= 2, 3 and 4) are also shown inFigs. 6(d), (e) and (f), respectively.
SIMULATION STUDY PARAMETERS
SIMULATION STUDY PARAMETERS
Switching gate signals and inverter line to line voltage waveforms for (a) (n = 2, N = 6), (b) (n = 3, N = 8) and (c) (n = 4, N = 10). Simulated waveforms of VxN, Vxo, Vog and Vxg for (d) (n = 2, N = 6), (e) (n = 3, N = 8) and (f) (n = 4, N = 10).
It is clear that the proposed threephase
N
level inverter significantly reduces the required number of power components. For the same number of output voltage levels
N
∈[4,6,8,...(2
n
+2)] ,
Table VI
and
Fig. 7
summarize the required number of DC voltage supplies, switches, gate driver circuits, diodes, clamping diodes, and balancing capacitors for the proposed
N
level inverter when compared with three existing inverter topologies NPC, FC and CHB. From
Fig. 7
, it can be seen that nearly half of the power components can be eliminated as
N
increases. For instance: for
N
= 8, seven voltage DC supplies, forty two switches and forty two gate driver circuits are required for the existing inverters. However, only four voltage DC supplies, twenty switches and fifteen gate driver circuits are required for the proposed inverter structure. In the threephase topology recently introduced in
[5]
, three multilevel DClinks were utilized to come up with eleven voltage levels. In order to reach this level count in threephases, fifteen equal DC voltage supplies along with forty two switches are required. As
N
increases the required numbers of DC voltage supplies and switches increase to 3(
N
1)/2 and 3(
N
+3), respectively. A new multilevel inverter topologies based on
[5]
were introduced in
[10]
. Different methods to determine the magnitudes of the DC voltage supplies were also suggested. More voltage levels with a smaller number of power components were obtained. For threephase applications the mentioned power circuits need to be duplicated thrice. As a result, (6Log2 [2(
N
+1)] or 3(
N
+9)/2) switches with the same number of gate driver circuits and (3[Log2 (
N
+1) 1] or 3(
N
+1)/4) DC voltage supplies are required for such inverter topologies. When compared to the topologies introduced in
[5]
and
[10]
, a substantial increment in the proposed inverter output voltage levels with a reduction in power electronics components is clearly shown in
Figs. 8
(a) and (b).
COMPARISON OF THE PROPOSED NLEVEL INVERTER WITH THE EXISTING INVERTERS
COMPARISON OF THE PROPOSED NLEVEL INVERTER WITH THE EXISTING INVERTERS
Comparison of required number of power component (switches, diodes, gate drivers and DC supplies) among existing inverters and the proposed topology.
Comparison of required number of (a) switches and (b) DC voltage supplies among the introduced inverters in [5] and [10] and the proposed topology.
Since the cost and realization of an
N
level multilevel inverter depend on the rated power, the voltage and current ratings of the power components are taken into consideration. In the suggested multilevel inverter topology, all of the power components have an equal current rating which is the rated current of the load
IL
. However, different voltage ratings based on the inverter structure, the utilized DC voltage supplies and the voltage stress are required as listed in
Table VII
.
THE PROPOSED TOPOLOGY RATING REQUIREMENTS PER LEVELN
THE PROPOSED TOPOLOGY RATING REQUIREMENTS PER LEVEL N
The power components’ ratings for
N
level NPC, FC, CHB inverters and the one proposed in
[5]
are listed in
Table VIII
. It can be seen that the introduced structure employs switching devices with high voltage ratings. This increases the cost of the components. Since the structure is introduced with a reduced number of switches, gate driver circuits and diodes, and no clamping capacitors or diodes are involved, the power components expenses are considerably recovered.
NPC, FC, CHB AND[5]RATING REQUIREMENTS PER LEVELN
NPC, FC, CHB AND [5] RATING REQUIREMENTS PER LEVEL N
IV. EXPERIMENTAL RESULTS
In order to verify the feasibility of the proposed topology, a prototype was manufactured. A Digital Signal Processor DSP was used to generate the appropriate switching gate signals. The multilevel DClink was made of two DC voltage supplies
Vdc
= 30
V
and
Vmain
= 3
Vdc
= 90
V
. A threephase series resistiveinductive load (20 Ohm – 3 mH/Phase) in a star connection was used. The fundamental frequency
f
= 50Hz staircase modulation technique was employed. The prototype of the proposed inverter, shown in
Fig. 9
, includes the following: two isolated DC voltage supplies with four switches, a main bridge, gate driver circuits, a threephase resistiveinductive load, a TMS320F28335 DSP controller and a personal computer.
Fig. 10
shows a control block diagram of the inverter power circuit where Matlab/Simulink software is used to develop the inverter control algorithm using simulation and code generation. The output of the DSP controller is the IGBTs switching gate signals.
Prototype of the proposed threephase fourlevel multilevel inverter.
The control block diagram of the proposed inverter.
The experimental results of the fourlevel inverter based on the proposed configuration are shown in
Fig. 11
, where the inverter line to ground voltage waveforms at
Ma
= 1.15 are shown in
Fig. 11
(a). It is clearly shown that the controller manages to generate appropriate switching gate signals that lead the inverter to output the desired voltage with four voltage levels.
Figs. 11
(b) and (c) depict the output voltage waveforms of the seven steps line to line and the output voltage waveforms of the ten steps line to neutral, respectively. The voltages at terminals a, b and c with respect to the midpoint are also obtained as shown in
Fig. 11
(d). Based on the shapes of
Vag
and
Vog
,
Vog
takes two different voltage values and repeats itself three times within a full cycle of
Vag
as shown in
Fig. 11
(e).
Fig. 11
(f) shows the experimental waveforms of the load current and line to neutral voltage of phase a. Furthermore, the total harmonic distortion THD% and frequency spectrum of the unfiltered line to line voltage are shown in
Fig. 12
. The graph contains the fundamental component and fourteen harmonic components. Due to the symmetry attained in the inverter output line to line voltage, all of the even harmonic components are nearly eliminated. Moreover, the triplen harmonic such as the 3rd, 9th and 15th are also eliminated. Lower harmonic components lead to a lower THD%. The measured THD% is found to be around 9.4%. The measured (rms) value of the fundamental frequency component of the proposed inverter line to line voltage waveform
Vab
is 65.9
V
. It is nearly 1.15*(0.612*3
Vdc
), where (0.612*3
Vdc
) = 55.08
V
is the maximum (rms) value of the fundamental frequency component at
Ma
= 1. It can be seen that the (rms) value of the fundamental voltage shown in
Fig. 12
is increased by 15% at a low THD%. The normalized value of the 5th harmonic component is 2.28/65.9 = 0.034. The existing harmonic components such as the 5th, 7th, 11th and 13th can be eliminated by applying staircase modulation with selective harmonics. It is worth pointing out that the estimation of the optimal switching angles is not the goal of this study.
Fourlevel inverter (a) line to ground voltages, (b) line to line voltages, (c) line to neutral voltages, (d) line to midpoint voltages, (e) line to ground Vag and midpoint to ground Vog voltages and (f) load current Ia and line to neutral voltage VaN.
Frequency spectrum of line to line voltage.
Experiments to investigate the feasibility of a sixlevel inverter based on the proposed structure, shown in
Fig. 5
, are carried out. Three DC voltage supplies
Vdc
= 30
V
, 2
Vdc
= 60
V
and
Vmain
= 5
Vdc
= 150
V
are connected with six switches to form a new multilevel DClink. Under conditions similar to those of the circuit shown in
Fig. 9
, for the load and inverter control algorithm,
Fig. 13
shows a set of experimental waveforms where the inverter line to line, line to neutral, line to midpoint, line to ground and midpoint to ground voltage waveforms are shown in
Figs. 13
(a), (b), (c) and (d), respectively. It is clearly shown that the inverter line to line output voltage reached its maximum value of 150
V
with eleven steps as designed. Based on a comparison of the simulation and experimental results, it can be seen that both are in close agreement. Therefore, the proposed inverter is a promising configuration that may serve in many applications.
Sixlevel inverter (a) line to line voltages, (b) line to neutral voltages, (c) line to midpoint voltages and (e) line to ground Vag and midpoint to ground Vog voltages.
V. CONCLUSIONS
In this paper a novel topology of a threephase fourlevel multilevel inverter was presented. The proposed configuration came with a minimum number of DC voltage supplies and power electronic components. Therefore, the suggestedtopology results in reductions in terms of installation area and cost. The fundamental frequency staircase modulation technique was comfortably implemented and it showed high flexibility and simplicity in control. Moreover, the proposedconfiguration was extended to
N
levels with different methods used for determining the magnitudes of the DC voltage supplies. Furthermore, for the purpose of verifying the performance of the new multilevel inverter, the proposed topology was simulated and a prototype was manufactured. The obtained simulation and experimental results met the desired output. Subsequent may include an extension to higher levels with other suggested methods.
Acknowledgements
This work was supported by the University of Malaya’s provision of the High Impact Research under Grant D00002216001 funding the Hybrid Solar Energy Research Suitable for Rural Electrification and UMRG project RP015A13AET.
BIO
Ammar Masaoud was born in Damascus, Syria. He received his B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Damascus, Damascus, Syria, in 1999, and his M.S. degree from the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 2006. He is currently pursuing his Ph.D. degree in Electrical Engineering in the Department of Electrical Engineering, University of Malaya. His current research interests include power electronics and electrical machines.
Hew Wooi Ping was born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 1957. He received the B.Eng. (electrical) degree and the M.Eng. degree in electrical engineering from the University of Technology, Kuala Lumpur, in 1981 and the Ph.D. degree from the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, in 2000. He is a Professor and the Deputy Director of the University of Malaya Power Energy Dedicated Advanced Center (UMPEDAC). Dr. Hew is a Member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology and a Chartered Engineer. His current research interests include electrical drives, electrical machine design, and the application of fuzzy logic/neural networks to electricalmachinerelated applications.
Saad Mekhilef received his B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Setif, Setif, Algeria, in 1995, and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical Engineering from the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 1998 and 2003, respectively. He is currently a Professor and Deputy Dean with the faculty of Electrical Engineering, University of Malaya. He is the author or coauthor of more than 200 publications in international journals and proceedings. He is actively involved in industrial consultancy for major corporations in the power electronics field. His current research interests include power conversion techniques, control of power converters, renewable energy, and energy efficiency.
Ayoub Taallah received his B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Zian Achor, Djelfa, Algeria, in 2007. He is currently pursuing his M.S. degree in Electrical Engineering at the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Since 2011, he has been a Research Assistant with the Power Electronics and Renewable Energy Research Laboratory (PEARL), University of Malaya. His current research interests include power electronics and control.
Hamza Belkamel was born in Mila, Algeria. He received his B.S. degree (Hons) in Mechatronics from the University of Selangor (UNISEL), Selangor, Malaysia, in 2010. He is currently working toward his M.S. degree in Engineering Science in the Department of Electrical Engineering, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Since 2011, he has been a Research Assistant with the Power Electronics and Renewable Energy Research Laboratory (PEARL), University of Malaya, where he is focusing on the design and control of new multilevel inverters. His current research interests include the design of advanced power converter topologies, PWM techniques and the control of power electronic systems.
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