Dirty power: What it is and why you need to clean it up

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What is dirty power and why is it an issue?

Let’s take a little quiz. See how many of the following you’ve experienced in your building or facility:

  • Flickering and blinking lights
  • Transformer issues, such as noise, excessive heat, or premature failure
  • Equipment vibrations and noise
  • Panels, neutral wiring and other distribution equipment running hot
  • Printed circuit board failures in drives, PLCs, industrial PCs and the like
  • Nuisance breaker tripping
  • Premature motor failure and unexpected equipment shutdown
  • Contactors dropping out
  • Poor network communications
  • Poor power factor – resulting in utility penalties
  • Lower than expected system capacity
  • High CO2 emissions, poor energy efficiency

All of the above are symptoms of “dirty power,” a term for an assortment of power problems caused by an equally diverse range of power issues. To varying degrees, all of the issues have one thing in common: they can be disruptive, and sometimes expensive, to your everyday operations.

How costly? About $15 billion annually, which easily tells the story. Much of that comes from downtime, the cost of which can vary from a few thousand to more than $6 million per hour, depending on the type of facility in question.

How costly is dirty power? Understand the cost of dirty power issues with this infographic.

Fully half of all mission-critical power outages are attributable to power quality issues. And 80% of those issues originate on the customer’s side of the electric meter, meaning in customer facilities – not with the utility.

What types of problems can be caused by dirty power?

The sorts of dirty power issues which may result in downtime or disruptions include:

  • Variations in RMS voltage that causes power sags, swells and interruptions
  • Voltage transients and surges
  • Harmonics or waveform distortions
  • Imbalance or fluctuations in voltage
  • Power frequency variations

Left unchecked, such dirty power issues can cause all of the symptoms mentioned above. Some, like flickering lights, may just be annoying while others, such as equipment and wiring running hot, breakers tripping and lower system capacity – can create real, costly problems.

Hospitals, for example, have lots of sensitive equipment that don’t tolerate poor quality power very well. This also applies to industrial production lines, where a machine stoppage likely results in a financial hit and hours of unplanned downtime. Or consider amusement parks and ski lifts – applications where downtime will at best cause customer service issues and at worst create potentially dangerous situations.

How can dirty power issues be fixed?

The good news is the vast majority of dirty power issues – 80% – occur on the customer side of the electric meter. That means customers can take steps to correct the issues. In doing so, they’ll not only avoid costly disruptions, but will also improve energy efficiency and reduce costs facility-wide.

Various power quality solutions are available to correct whatever dirty power problem may exist, including power factor correction, voltage stabilization, harmonic filtering, power conditioning and reactive power compensation. Click here to learn more about offerings from Schneider Electric – and clean up those dirty power issues before they cause real problems.

Learn more about power quality and clean up dirty power issues before they cause serious problems.

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