Power factor is the ratio between the kW and how are power factor correction units sized? kVA drawn by an electrical load where the kW is the actual load power and the kVA is the apparent load power. Simply, it is a measure of how efficiently the load current is being converted into useful work output and more particularly is a good indicator of the effect of the load current on the efficiency of the supply system. When you buy fuel for a vehicle, the manufacturer makes in it in litres, the pump dispenses it in litres and you pay for it in litres. When you buy potatoes, the supplier bags them in kilos the shop sells them in kilos and you pay for them in kilos.
Maybe we all should have kVA meters to make life simple. Simply, 1000 watts of electricity being used for 1 hour. 5 means the use of the power is very inefficient or wasteful. So what causes Power Factor to change? The resulting lag is called Power Factor. Line Volts x Amps x 1. This is converted to kilowatts kW by the formula: Line Volts x Amps x 1.
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5, the generator has to supply more kVA for each kW you are using. For example, a large electric motor will typically have a Power Factor of about 0. 118kVA to provide the 100kW to run the motor. 50kW or being used on a cyclic duty then the power factor may go as low as 0. VA to match the 50kW duty point.
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How this power is wasted can be shown graphically since in 3 phase power supplies “power” can be represented and measured as a triangle. REACTIVE power is the vertical or that part of the supply which causes the inductive load. Meaning all the horse power is being used to pull the load. However the relative position of the horse influences the power.
What does it do to my electricity bill? As stated above in a 3 phase power supply, kW consumed is 3 phase VOLTS x AMPS x 1. The Electricity Company supply you VOLTS x AMPS and they have to supply extra to make up for the loss caused by poor Power Factor. How does Power Factor Correction work? By installing suitably sized switched capacitors into the power distribution circuit, the Power Factor is improved and the value becomes nearer to 1 thus minimising wasted energy, improving the efficiency of a plant, liberating more kW from the available supply and saving you money! The purchase cost of the installation is usually repaid in less than 1 years electricity savings. At most, each unit is worth a few cents as an investment.
The KVAR Power Factor Optimizer from Save Energy LLC is a typical example of this scam. When the power factor is less than 1, the current and voltage are out of phase. The meter below is measuring the power factor of a small aquarium pump, and is showing a power factor of 0. The first is the kilowatt, abbreviated kW, and it represents real power.
Power company utility meters on the side of your house measure this quantity and charge you for it. The second term is reactive power, and it is measured in KVAR which is short for kilo volt amp reactive. Unlike kW, it cannot perform work. Residential customers do not pay for KVAR, and utility meters on houses do not record it. The third term is apparent power, referred to as KVA. If you hook up two multimeters to measure current and voltage and then multiply the readings together, you get apparent power in volt amps, or VA.
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To distinguish it from real power, VA is used instead of W. Real power equals apparent power, and reactive power equals zero. These three quantities are related by the Power Triangle. If they are equal, then your power factor is one.
Reactive power is not a problem for a motor and is required for its operation. It is a problem for the electric utility company when they charge for KW only. If two customers both use the same amount of real energy but one has a power factor of 0. 5, then that customer also draws double the current. This increased current requires the power company to use larger transformers, wiring and related equipment. What happens when you install it?
The diagram below shows the result of correcting the power factor. If you were to mount it at the air conditioner and switch it on with the air conditioner plus you sized the capacitor perfectly, then there would be no reactive power on the line going back to the fuse panel. A further complication is that if you install the “KVAR” unit at the fuse panel, it does nothing for the heat losses except for the two feet of huge wire between the fuse panel and the utility meter. Many KVAR units are marketed as boxes that you install at a single location. If your power factor box is too large, then it will be providing reactive power for something else, perhaps your neighbor.
The KVAR unit should be mounted near the motor and switched with the motor. This means you need switches and multiple units. It makes far more sense for modern appliances to be designed so that the power factor is close to one, and in fact, this is where the industry is headed. The KVAR needs to be sized perfectly to balance the inductive loads.
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Adding a capacitor can increase the line voltage to dangerous levels because it interacts with the incoming power transmission lines. If you are an Industrial customer, this is not a problem. You can hire an engineer to do a power study, look at issues like harmonic distortion, voltage sags, equipment location, capacity of existing wiring, potential locations for the correction equipment, determine how many units are required and the values of the capacitors, and then develop a potential solution. For a more comprehensive review of the subject, go to Wikipedia – Power Factor Correction. This statement is no longer to be found now that they have reorganized their website, however, there is an archived copy here. Can they earn the ENERGY STAR label? ENERGY STAR does not qualify any Power Factor Correction Devices.
We have not seen any data that proves these types of products for residential use accomplish what they claim. There are several reasons why their energy efficiency claims could be exaggerated. First, residential customers are not charged for KVA-hour usage, but by kilowatt-hour usage. This means that any savings in energy demand will not directly result in lowering a residential user’s utility bill. For commercial facilities, power factor correction will rarely be cost-effective based on energy savings alone. The bulk of cost savings power factor correction can offer is in the form of avoided utility charges for low power factor.
Energy savings alone do not make an installation cost effective. One of the more surprising comments I have received lately was that this kind of analysis is “Rubbish” or that it doesn’t address the “fact” that some acquaintance of theirs is saving money using a power factor correction device. I don’t dispute that you may have seen a reduced power bill, just the “fact” that this reduction is due to the “device” and not other factors that were overlooked. Electrical theory is not some “theory” that might or might not be true. This is an area that has been well understood for more than a century and concepts like resistance, impedance and reactive current are accepted as reality — something which you ignore at your peril.
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Even if future understandings of particle physics were to give us new insights to old laws — these old laws are for all practical purposes, perfect for predicting an outcome in household situations. Despite this, people install devices like this and become convinced that any reduction in their power bill is due to the device. Remember that if you want to test something like this with the intention of proving that it defies our current engineering knowledge, you are going to have to use calibrated test equipment and carry out carefully controlled experiments. If your experiments lead you to conclude that you actually save significant percentages of power using one of these devices, you need to re-evaluate your controls. Since these results would be violating the laws of physics, nobody will believe them unless they can repeat them. I will post any feedback received below.
Every one of these appliances needs its own capacitor. First let me say that your article on power factor is the best I have found. Second, I am an electrical engineer – electronics not power – but I do remember power factor calculations from Freshman circuit theory. I agree and am convinced that as an energy consumer getting one of these KVAR units is a waste of money but I was wondering if they might be useful as an energy producer. There are a few situations where it might help you.
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Power companies have to use larger diameter wiring and bigger transformers to carry the reactive power, so they encourage factories with low power factors to improve it by demanding penalties. You PV system has similar issues. The same goes for a computer uninterruptable power supply. A Tripplite brand 1200W UPS is rated as 1500VA.
The 1500VA is the real limit. If you were plugging in a toaster instead, it could support 1500W. The latter is analogous to what the power company sees — increase the power factor close to 1. Even if the existing PV inverter is paid for, a power factor of 1. 0 should allow it to run cooler and be less likely to overload when you have too many appliances on.
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You would probably want to get a PF meter and verify the real power factor. There are some cheap units for 100V that you can plug in the wall, but the best thing would be to borrow something like this: Extech Power Analyzer. It might be difficult to prove if you would save money in premature inverter failures, but it would certainly be an interesting question to answer. If you decide to experiment with this, please let me know how it works out.
Think of a bag of potato chips. You open the bag and it just doesn’t seem full enough. Then you look at the label and it says it’s packaged by weight, not by volume. Yes you only eat the chips. The extra air in the bag is not a scam.
It’s just an unavoidable and normal part of packaging and delivery. The ratio of weight to volume would be like “power factor” of packaging and delivery. Utility power is like that bag of potato chips. The “imaginary” or “reactive” power is just “air” in the wires, an unavoidable part of what it takes to deliver the watts. Plugging something into a receptacle to reduce power factor is like “vacuum packing” the bag. The most common device for “vacuum packing” power is a capacitor.