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Understanding the impact of harmonics on PFC

Understanding Harmonics in Power Factor Correction

What is Power Factor?

Power factor is a measure of how effectively electrical power is converted into useful work output in a circuit. It is expressed as a ratio between real power (kW) (useful power) and apparent power (kVA) (total power supplied to the circuit). The power factor ranges from 0 to 1, with 1 representing perfect efficiency or unity.  In reality it ranges from as low as 0.6 to 0.999.

What is Power Factor Correction?

Power factor correction involves adding capacitors to an electrical system to improve efficiency. These capacitors generate reactive power, which helps manage the flow of power in the system. This process is crucial for reducing inefficiencies caused by devices like electric motors and transformers, which introduce reactive power into the system. Unlike active power, reactive power doesn't directly contribute to useful work but instead circulates within the system, increasing apparent power (kVA) (total power supplied to the circuit) and lowering the power factor. By strategically managing reactive power, power factor correction enhances the overall efficiency and reliability of electrical systems in commercial and industrial settings.

What are Harmonics? 

Technical explanation

Electrical harmonics are voltage or current waveforms that occur at frequencies that are integer multiples of the fundamental frequency (typically 50 Hz or 60 Hz, depending on the region). 

These harmonics result from the operation of nonlinear loads, such as variable frequency drives, switching power supplies, and other electronic equipment. Common harmonics include the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 7th, and higher multiples.

Harmonics are an increasingly common issue that can have significant implications for Power Factor Correction (PFC) as well as other sensitive electronic equipment on site. Understanding the impact of harmonics and how to effectively mitigate them is crucial to ensuring the efficiency and reliability of electrical systems.

What in the name of PFC are Harmonics? 

Simplified explanation  

Imagine your electrical system as a band playing music. The main tune, let's call it the "fundamental frequency," is like the band's main melody (usually at 50 Hz or 60 Hz). Now, harmonics are like additional, not-so-pleasant notes that tag along, playing at multiples of the main melody. It's as if someone in the band is hitting a drum or playing a guitar slightly offbeat.

These extra "harmonic" notes show up because of certain electrical equipment, like those new fancy lights or computer-driven machines. They create these extra notes (harmonics) that can mess with the smooth flow of the main melody in the electrical system.

Why does this matter? Well, just like a band sounds better without random drum beats, electrical systems work better without these extra harmonics. They can cause issues, not only for Power Factor Correction but also for other electronic equipment. 

So, it's important to be aware of these harmonic intruders and figure out how to deal with them. This helps keep the electrical "music" running smoothly, making sure everything works efficiently and stays reliable.

A holistic approach that considers both power factor correction and harmonic mitigation is key to achieving a well-balanced and high-quality electrical system.

5 Ways Harmonics Affect Power Factor:

  1. Distortion Power Factor

Harmonics create distortion in the electrical signal, leading to a lower power factor. This distortion power factor is a combination of the regular power factor and the total harmonic distortion (THD). More harmonics mean more distortion and a lower power factor.

  1. Increased Losses

Harmonics cause more resistance in electrical systems, leading to higher energy consumption and less efficiency. This means higher energy bills.

  1. Overheating and Equipment Stress

Harmonics can overheat electrical equipment like transformers, motors, and cables, causing them to wear out faster and sometimes fail. This results in more maintenance and potential downtime.

  1. Resonance Issues

Harmonics can cause resonance, which can amplify harmonic levels and cause voltage distortions. This can lead to equipment malfunctions or failures, especially in industrial settings.

  1. Reduced System Capacity

Harmonics increase the current in the system, making it less able to carry useful power. This means you might need bigger, more expensive equipment to handle the same amount of power.

How to Fix Harmonic Issues - Plug into QOS logging, alerts and protection

  1. Harmonic Filters

Passive Filters: Block specific harmonic frequencies.

Active Filters: Use electronics to cancel out harmonics.

  1. Power Factor Correction Capacitors

Properly designed capacitors can improve power factor and help with harmonic issues, but they must be used carefully to avoid resonance.

  1. Equipment Upgrades

Use transformers and motors that can handle higher harmonic levels to reduce losses and overheating.

  1. Regular Monitoring

Continuously monitor power quality and harmonics to catch and fix issues early.

Conclusion

While power factor correction is essential for optimising the efficiency of an electrical system, addressing harmonics is equally important to ensure the overall quality and reliability of power. 

Implementing harmonic filters, especially in the presence of non-linear loads, helps maintain a clean power supply, reduces losses, and protects equipment from the adverse effects of harmonic distortion. 

For expert advice tailored to your needs, contact Augos. 

Augos delivers comprehensive Power Factor Correction solutions that enhance energy efficiency and reduce costs. By leveraging advanced technology and data-driven insights, they provide precise system sizing, continuous monitoring, and proactive maintenance. This approach ensures long-term savings and operational benefits, making power factor optimisation a cost-effective investment for your business.