Most of us think of power in terms of whether it’s on or off. But what many of us may not have given much thought to s the quality of that power. We need more than the naked eye to determine whether the power flowing to equipment is of good or poor quality.
Electric power quality issues can be very costly — in many different ways — for commercial and industrial facilities. Here’s more about what causes these problems and what can happen if businesses fail to correct them before consequences occur.
Four Types of Power Quality Problems
Facilities may experience four general types of power quality problems:
- Harmonics: High-frequency current and voltage can stress the electrical distribution network, cause nuisance tripping and transformer overload. The eventual result can be premature equipment failure. Possible causes include; saturation at the magnetic core of electric motors or transformers, compact fluorescent lamps, LED lighting and older Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS).
- Power factor: This ratio measures real power over apparent power to gauge how well a facility is using its power. Ideally companies should aim for a power factor higher than 90 percent. Utility bills tend to rise when it falls below this threshold. Transformers and certain kinds of high-intensity lighting can cause power factor imbalances.
- Flicker: Flicker is a series of voltage fluctuations of varying magnitude and frequency. It’s caused by an event like a welder hitting an arc or the beginning of an induction load requiring a lot of power. Voltage can sag repeatedly over the course of seconds or even milliseconds.
- Over/Undervoltage: Voltage supply can be high or low depending on a few factors. A customer at the end of a distribution line might experience chronic undervoltage, especially if someone else on the line kicks off a large inductive load. Overvoltage can occur when a large load switches off within the facility. Electric motors starting up in a factor is one common cause of voltage sags.
As you can see, not all power ends up operating at ideal — or even safe — levels. Commercial and industrial facilities require specific corrective measures to offset these problems, like installing devices capable of industrial-level harmonic filtering.
Consequences of Power Quality Problems
Perhaps the costliest consequence of power quality problems is premature equipment failure. After investing so much money into machinery and electrical devices, the last thing organizations want to see is the untimely malfunction of the very systems they need to function. Equipment failure can occur suddenly — like a blown fuse — or slowly — like gradual overheating leading to a shorter lifespan. It’s safe to say ongoing power quality issues can cost commercial and industrial concerns billions of dollars per year.
Of course, malfunctioning machinery can even go so far as to halt production and make “business as usual” impossible until it’s fixed. Another consequence is higher-than-necessary operating costs, especially when inefficient power factors are in the mix.
How to Identify Power Quality Problems
Given the potentially destructive nature of power quality problems over time, it stands to reason facility managers are trying to mitigate this problem as early as possible. Power quality meters are one way to get readings on what disturbances are happening, how frequently and to what degree. This empowers managers and engineers to isolate problems and rectify them as soon as possible.
The causes of power quality problems are myriad and the consequences are costly, which is why it’s important for organizations to take this threat seriously and find ways to mitigate them before too much damage occurs.