Poor power quality can cause major problems for any business, not least those within the industrial sector.

The threats are heightened by the fact that many firms lack the in-house knowledge to identify and resolve any issues they have. So how can you combat this?

We sat down with Marc Charlton, Energy Manager at Great Annual Savings Group, to discuss common issues businesses have with their power quality and potential remedies. 

Hi Marc, what exactly is the power factor of a power supply?

Power factor, in simple terms, indicates how efficiently the electrical energy supplied to your site is converted into useful energy. It is largely determined by the characteristics of the electrical equipment installed and used in your premises. There are a number of disadvantages to a low power factor, but it can be improved without having to replace or update your machinery and equipment.

What impact can a low power factor have on a business?

We commonly find industrial sites with a poor power factor, and this is usually accompanied by the following:

  • Increased costs due to reactive power charges appearing on customers’ electricity bills. These are effectively penalties imposed by the distribution operators to compensate them for reinforcing the network to offset the combined effect of low power factors.
  • Additional excess capacity charges appearing on bills, where a low power factor is often a significant cause.
  • Sites exceeding, or very close to exceeding, their agreed electrical supply capacity (kVA). This may mean that they’re considering an increase in their supply capacity, potentially at great expense. Taking steps to improve power factor can reduce the kVA capacity requirement, potentially avoiding the need for an expensive supply upgrade in many cases.

What are harmonics?

Harmonics are high frequency distortions of the normal voltage and current waveforms. Harmonics are often created by the operation of certain types of equipment commonly found in most industrial and commercial premises. Examples include types of power supplies usually used in computers, variable speed motor drives, battery chargers, more recent types of lighting and various types of office equipment.

What effects can harmonics and surges have?

Harmonics and electrical surges can cause overheating of electrical systems and equipment, often leading to premature failure. Power quality of the electrical supply is very important, but problems can be difficult to diagnose; they often manifest themselves in disruptive and expensive electrical failures which may occur frequently and without an obvious cause. The causes can be internal or external to your business.

What advice would you give to people with power quality problems?

If any of the above apply, our suggestion would be not to rush into fitting a ‘magic box’ at significant cost in the hope the problem is then resolved. Our recommendation would be to take an evidence-based approach and conduct a power quality analysis study. This analysis would then inform the selection of the equipment to be installed.

Installation of power factor correction, harmonic filters and surge protection equipment is reasonably straightforward and minimally disruptive. It is important to appoint the right specialists who will install appropriate equipment at the right cost and offer the best ongoing support. Great Annual Savings can help you to appoint the best and most cost-effective expertise at each stage from a network of approved suppliers.

What next?

If you still have lingering concerns about your power quality, feel free to give Marc a call on 0800 130 3514 or leave us a message and we’ll get back to you.

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