First, what do we mean by the term "Power Factor"?
It boils down to a simple equation:
If the electric current is undistorted and exactly synchronized with the voltage, AC power is transmitted with the least amount of loss. While light bulbs and resistance heaters draw current exactly synchronized and proportional to voltage, most other loads tend to draw current with a time lag (i.e. a phase shift) or to distort it (i.e. to introduce harmonics). It takes more current to deliver a fixed amount of power when the current is phase shifted or distorted.
The ratio of the actual power transmitted ("real power") to the apparent power that could have been transmitted if the same current were in phase and undistorted is known as the power factor. It is always less than or equal to 1.
Integrated Green Solutions's Power Optimization products and services are built to improve the overall efficiency of your facility or business, which will reduce your carbon footprint and save you money in reduced utility costs.
A low power factor reduces an electrical system's distribution capacity by increasing current flow and causing voltage drops. Operating under a low power factor is inefficient and expensive. Improving your Power Factor will raise your electrical systems' efficiency levels and result in reduced utility bills.
The benefits of an improved Power Factor:
Looking for a more in-depth explanation of power factor and energy efficiency?
This might not be for everybody, but, we'd like to present the information on this page for those looking for a more technical analysis of how power factor works and how you can improve yours in order to reduce electric bills and enhance your electrical system's capacity.
Before the growth in electronic loads, often driven by computers and adjustable speed motor drives, distortion was only a minor problem. Instruments and analysis techniques for evaluating power factor were devised only to consider the phase shift component of power factor. Phase shift is measured in degrees, but it is equivalent to time (where 360 degrees equals the time required for one full AC cycle). Today this component of power factor is called the displacement power factor (DPF) to distinguish it from the true power factor (TPF) that accounts for distortion as well as phase shift.
Utilities that impose low power factor penalties tend to meter and bill only on DPF. Ignoring the effects of harmonic distortion leads to some fairly simple mathematical relationships illustrated by the power triangle in Figure 1.
If you measure current with an ammeter and voltage with a voltmeter, you can multiply them to get apparent power. The real power equals the apparent power multiplied by the cosine of the phase angle difference between voltage and current. DPF is exactly equal to the cosine of the phase angle difference. A third power term is reactive power. The physical meaning of reactive power can be better understood by considering the example plot of voltage and current for a motor using 200 kW and 0.7 power factor (see Figure 2). The power cycles at twice line frequency, averaging +200 kW over a full cycle. At each instant the voltage multiplied by the current equals instantaneous power. Even when both current and voltage are negative, the power is positive because a minus times a minus is a plus.
However, phase lag causes voltage to sometimes be positive when current is negative and vice versa. In these instants, power is negative and the motor is actually a generator feeding power back into the system. One can think of apparent power as the total power exchange between the motor and power line, the real power as the net power flow to the motor, and the reactive power as the component of apparent power that is exchanged back and forth between the line and the motor.
Cause of Low Power Factor
Low power factor is caused mainly by induction motors, but also by inductive loads (such as transformers and magnetic lighting ballasts). Unlike resistive loads that create work entirely by consuming watts or kilowatts, inductive loads require some current to create a magnetic field, and the magnetic field facilitates the desired work. The total or apparent power required by an inductive device is a composite of the following:
Reactive power required by inductive loads increases the amount of apparent power (measured in kilovolt amps, kVA) in your distribution system. The increase in reactive and apparent power is reflected by the increase of the angle between the two, causing the power factor to decrease.
Correcting Your Power Factor
Some strategies for correcting your power factor are:
As shown in Figure 3, reactive power (measured in kVARs) caused by inductance always acts at a 180-degree angle to reactive power from capacitors.
In Figure 4 the power triangle shows an initial 0.70 power factor for a 100 kW (real power) inductive load. The reactive power required by the load is 102 kVAR. By installing a 69-kVAR capacitor, the apparent power necessary is reduced from 143 to 105 kVA, resulting in a 27 percent reduction in current. Power factor is improved to 0.95.
Capacitor suppliers and engineering firms can provide the assistance you may need to determine the optimum power factor correction and to correctly locate and install capacitors in your electrical distribution system.
Be mindful that if harmonic distortion is significant in your power system, DPF analysis techniques will understate your true reactive power and overstate your true power factor. DPF analysis may accurately reflect the power factor metered and billed by your utility, but it will understate your in-plant distribution system losses. Moreover harmonic distortion can cause a variety of other system problems including harmful resonance currents in capacitors you have installed to control DPF. If you suspect significant harmonic distortion, you must address harmonic problems in conjunction with displacement power factor.
The information presented in this section was originally written and produced by Washington State University Cooperative Extension Energy Program and the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance.