Eltec International

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Correcting Poor Power Factor


Low power factor is generally solved by adding power factor correction capacitors to a facility's electrical distribution system. Power factor correction capacitors supply the necessary reactive portion of power (kVAr) for inductive devices. By supplying its own source of reactive power, a facility frees the utility from having to supply it. This generally results in a reduction in total customer demand and energy charges.

Power factor correction requirements determine the total amount of capacitors required at low voltage buses. These capacitors can be configured as harmonic filters if necessary. The power factor characteristics of plant loads typically are determined from billing information, however, in the case of a new installation; typical load power factors will determine the required compensation.


Impact of Power Factor Correction Capacitors on Power Quality

A properly designed capacitor Bank should not have an adverse effect on end user equipment or power quality. However, despite the significant benefits that can be realized using power factor correction capacitors, there are a number of power quality-related concerns that should be considered before capacitors are installed. Potential problems include increased harmonic distortion and transient over voltages.

Harmonic Distortion: Harmonic distortion on power systems can most simply be described as noise that distorts the sinusoidal wave shape. Harmonics are caused by nonlinear loads (e.g., adjustable-speed drives, compact fluorescent lighting, UPS, Computes, induction furnaces, etc.) connected to a facility's power system. These loads draw non sinusoidal currents (e.g., on a 50 Hz system, the 5th harmonic is equal to 250 Hz), which in turn react with the system impedance to produce voltage distortion. Generally, the harmonic impedances are low enough that excessive distortion levels do not occur. However, power factor correction capacitors can significantly alter this impedance and create what is known as a "resonance" condition. High voltage distortion can occur if the resonant frequency is near one of the harmonic currents produced by the nonlinear loads. Indications that a harmonic resonance exists include device overheating, frequent circuit breaker tripping, unexplained fuse operation, capacitor failures, and electronic equipment malfunction. Ways to avoid excessive distortion levels include altering (or moving) the capacitor size to avoid a harmful resonance point (e.g., 5th, 7th), altering the size (or moving) of the nonlinear load(s), or adding reactors to the power factor correction capacitors to configure them as Detuned or as Passive Harmonic filters.

Transient Over voltages: Transient over voltages can be caused by a number of power system switching events; however, utility capacitor switching often receives special attention due to the impact on customer equipment. Each time a utility switches a capacitor bank a transient overvoltage occurs. An example of this type of transient is illustrated in the figure below. Generally, these over voltages are low enough that they do not affect the system. However, high over voltages can occur when customers have power factor correction capacitors. This phenomenon is often referred to as "voltage magnification". Magnification occurs when the transient oscillation initiated by the utility capacitor switching excites a resonance (refer to previous definition for resonance) formed by a step-down transformer and low voltage power factor correction capacitors. Magnified over voltages can be quite severe and the energy associated with these events can be damaging to power electronic equipment and surge protective devices (e.g., transient voltage surge suppressors). Adjustable-speed drives have been found to be especially susceptible to these transients and nuisance tripping can result even when overvoltage levels are not severe.


Power Factor Study

Power factor correction requirements determine the total amount of capacitors required at the low voltage buses. These capacitors can be configured as harmonic filters if necessary. The power factor characteristics of the plant loads typically are determined from billing information, however, in the case of a new installation; typical load power factors will determine the required compensation.

Power factor correction requirements are identified and this data provides input for the harmonic study and the filter design. Harmonic filters are designed as needed based on the minimum reactive power and maximum harmonic current requirements.

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