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Power quality: new challenges, new solutions

Kurt Schipman, global product marketing manager, GPG Grid Components, at Hitachi Energy. (Image source: Hitachi Energy)

Kurt Schipman, global product marketing manager, GPG Grid Components, at Hitachi Energy, writes about how active filtering technology ensures the reliability and efficiency of modern-day power networks. Read on: 

While we expect access to uninterrupted and stable electricity wherever we are, reality often falls short. The efficient distribution of electricity to consumers relies on the power quality of the network, a crucial factor in guaranteeing reliable and seamless power supply. The rising prevalence of electronic devices, from LED lamps and computers to sophisticated medical equipment, industrial machinery, and EV chargers, has heightened susceptibility to power disruptions.

Low-voltage harmonic filters address power quality issues by mitigating harmonic distortions, compensating for reactive power, and stabilising voltage levels. They are essential in improving reliability, efficiency, and productivity while reducing downtime and costs in industrial, commercial, or residential applications.

Power quality issues frequently arise due to compatibility problems between the electrical grid and the constantly changing array of electronic devices and equipment.

Poor power quality can have many consequences, impacting businesses and individuals. This includes damage to electrical installations, unexpected production downtimes, inefficient production processes, and high energy consumption due to system losses. Moreover, organisations may face penalties imposed by grid operators due to reactive power in their installations. The financial implications are significant, hindering peak performance and preventing assets from achieving their full potential.

Calculating the economic effects of poor power quality can be challenging, but the consequences are tangible. For instance, a power quality issue during production in the food and beverage industry could result in thousands of spoiled products. In healthcare settings, malfunctioning electrical or electronic equipment due to power quality problems can pose a significant risk to a patient’s health, potentially leading to misdiagnosis with consequences on people’s well-being. Recognizing these consequences is critical to understanding the need for specific action plans to improve power quality.

Poor power quality not only has an economic impact but may also contribute to a higher carbon footprint. This is due to reduced energy efficiency and increased demand for electric power. Historically, the excess demand has been met by fossil fuel-based generation or standalone diesel generators, resulting in increased CO2 emissions. In addition to its environmental implications, this situation can adversely affect the finances of any organisation, especially if a 'carbon tax' is implemented.

Introducing active harmonic filtering technology

To address power quality issues, passive filtering technology has been used for decades. Passive filters operate on the principle of resonance, using components such as capacitors and inductors to suppress or block the predominant harmonics. While cost-effective in cases where only a few harmonics need to be filtered, passive filtering still exhibits resonance at lower orders and its performance depends strongly on installation parameters that may change over time. It is also challenging to correctly apply passive filters to low-voltage installations which are dynamic in nature. Multiple harmonics often need to be filtered, requiring the addition of more capacitor banks and inductors, thereby increasing the overall dimensions and cost of the solution. Furthermore, an excess filtering capacity can lead to the problem of overcompensation.

These limitations have prompted leading manufacturers, such as Hitachi Energy, to invest substantially in R&D,allowing them to harness the latest developments in computer science, automation, and electronics. This commitment has led to the introduction of cutting-edge active filter solutions like the advanced PQactiF, specifically designed to tackle the changing operating conditions commonly found in modern power networks.

Active filtering technology stands in contrast to passive filtering as it is designed to address multiple power quality issues, including a wide range of harmonics, in real-time. By utilising sophisticated algorithms and power electronics, active filters enable real-time measurement and compensation in low voltage networks, resulting in cleaner, more stable, and safer power supply.

Active filters also bring the advantage of compactness as compared to passive filters, thanks to their implementation of power electronics. This smaller form factor becomes particularly crucial in space-constrained locations such as switchrooms in data centres, health and educational campuses, or business parks. Additionally, the sophisticated control capabilities and hardware topology of active filters allow for easy expansion of the installed capacity by simply adding modules.

Ensuring a sustainable and efficient energy network

As the world becomes more technologically advanced, with automated factories, smart appliances, and digital infrastructure, the demand for reliable power becomes more and more prominent. Advanced systems and devices require stable, good quality electrical power to operate at peak efficiency. Any fluctuations in power quality can lead to malfunctions, downtime, data loss, revenue loss, or damage to the equipment. Therefore, ensuring that power quality keeps pace with technological advancements is essential to support its seamless integration.

State-of-the-art active filtering technology such as Hitachi Energy’s PQactiF becomes a promising option for ensuring sustainable and efficient power in dynamic networks, enabling advancements in various industries and applications. The power electronics-based active filters ensure much-needed flexibility in power quality management, thereby paving the way for groundbreaking technologies that are transforming our lives. By prioritising excellent power quality, we can unlock the potential for enhanced efficiency and productivity and safe energy for a better future. Power quality is not a luxury; it is a necessity.