Energy Waste You Didn't Even Know About

Written by Frank Healy

More than 10 years ago, the IEEE power quality standards body began an assessment to more accurately segment and quantify energy consumption in three phase electrical systems. There were gaps in the mathematical model underlying classical three phase power measurement calculations. In particular, the effects of reactive power, harmonics, and load unbalance were not considered in the classical methods used in most power quality and consumption monitoring.

Fluke 435 Energy Analyzer

Harmonic distortion and load unbalance were viewed as imperfections in the purity of power that caused equipment performance issues, and in the case of power factor, diminished the usability of the distributed power. Quantifying the amount of power made unusable had never been considered. Harmonics and unbalance were troubleshooting concerns, not an energy consumption issue. That is, until energy became a premium with oil topping $100 per barrel.

Why care how much power is affected by harmonics and load unbalance?

Because we've generated and paid for it, but we can't use it. If 100 kilowatts come into a facility and a portion of those kilowatts is made unusable by poor power quality, the facility is still paying for the wasted portion. If one could quantify the waste, and multiply it by the utility rate schedule, then it would be pretty clear whether the amount of waste was expensive enough to merit fixing the power quality issues.

The outcome of the IEEE efforts was a new standard, IEEE 1459-2000. It enabled the calculation of waste due to power quality, but in a very academic framework. Still missing was a clear definition of the physical quantity of power waste. Shortly after the new standard was issued, two professors at the University of Valencia in Spain set out to develop the math necessary to quantify power waste due to harmonics and unbalance issues.

Professors Vincente Leon and Joaquín Montañana developed mathematical methods based on the recommendations of the IEEE1459-2000 standard that defined the sources of specific wastes. Then, they developed a measurement instrument with a computing system that calculated what they described as Unified Power.

Their breakthrough Unified Power measurement method took the best aspects of the IEEE1459 recommendations and calculated the energy wasting effects of reactive power, harmonics and unbalance in the electrical system.

Fluke learned about the breakthrough and approached the professors about a partnership. Together, Fluke engineers and the professors transitioned the science from an academic instrument into a Unified Power measurement feature and an Energy Loss Calculator, now available in a portable, handheld power quality analyzer, the Fluke 435 Series II.

What is Unified Power?

The Unified Power measurement system uses a combination of IEEE 1458-2010 and the University of Valencia's mathematical calculations to express power and energy measurements that directly quantify the waste energy in electrical systems. Unified Power measures harmonics and unbalance waste in terms of kilowatts, and by factoring in the cost of each kilowatt hour, it's possible to calculate the cost of waste energy over a week, month or year.

How much waste is there? Leon and Montañana carried out multiple field studies to confirm their hypotheses about the link between power quality issues and the effect on energy waste. When Fluke joined the partnership, the team made the new capability usable by people who weren't the highest-end electrical engineering professionals.

Fluke 434 Energy Analyzer

Two studies of note occurred at an industrial park and automotive manufacturing plant.

Industrial park substation

  • Measurements at the substation transformer feeding the industrial park identified energy losses of 353.6 kWh/day (average value) due to reactive power.
  • Solution: Install time-control relays to disconnect capacitor bank at night.
  • $14,000 in annual energy savings from power quality adjustments

Automobile plant

  • Surveys of six key areas including the engine plant and the car assembly plant showed significant energy waste due to power quality.
  • Solutions: Install capacitors and regulation controls and upgrade transformers.
  • $50,000 in annual energy savings

What do you do about it? Addressing harmonics and unbalance typically requires the support of an electrical engineer and staff or contract electricians. Resolving harmonics involves some kind of mitigation equipment or changing the type of electronic equipment in operation. Resolving unbalance requires re-distributing loads, installing unbalance compensation equipment, or, sometimes, increasing overall electrical distribution system capacity.

With the new Unified Power capability, costing out the labor and equipment necessary to abate the harmonics and unbalance, compared to the amount of energy wasted, is now a relatively straightforward ROI equation.

Keep in mind that installing a harmonic filter will also improve overall power quality, increasing overall equipment reliability, efficiency and life-span and decreasing downtime.


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