Portable metering: A new, simpler method for detecting power quality problems

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Power quality problems are to the electrical world what carbon monoxide is to our normal everyday physical world. In the case of carbon monoxide, it’s a gas that humans can’t see or smell, but it can be lethal if it is not detected and removed from the premises. Power quality problems present the same sort of dilemma. They are often invisible to the naked eye and are difficult to detect. They only show themselves when undesirable outcomes occur, such as random trips of circuit breakers or the premature replacement of burned-out electric motors and variable speed drives (VSDs). Unless facility staffs are in possession of metering devices with the proper power quality measurement software, they have no means of understanding the breadth and depth of the issue and have no visibility for knowing how to correct the problem. Fortunately, innovations, such as portable metering allow for these issues to be easily identified and diagnosed.

portable metering

We at AZZO, a Schneider Electric Master-level Critical Power EcoXpert, witness many of these power-related cost generation issues in the field.  Oftentimes, organizations are misled into believing they have a solution in place only to discover that their on-site power meters only measure their energy consumption.  Power quality meters are different. Although they also measure basic energy consumption, they are equipped to detect problems such as voltage fluctuation and harmonic distortion (the term “harmonics” implies changes in frequencies and/or deviations from the typical sinusoidal variations in voltages or currents).

How portable metering identifies poor power quality issues

Most typical buildings experience power quality problems that are self-induced. These problems are caused by the confluence of assorted electronic technologies that congregate in a facility. The more electrified and digitized devices that are introduced over time, the higher the quantity of switching power supplies (devices that convert AC power to DC and back) that the facility’s electrical system must be able to manage.  Laptop and desktop computers, LED lights, inverter-duty motors, and variable speed drives (VSD) are all sources of harmonic distortion that leads to unpredictable power system issues (like severe overheating, and unanticipated circuit breaker tripping).

One of our AZZO clients in Australia, a leading investment bank, was plagued by these very same problems. At their 130,000 square meter headquarters location, they were supporting an electrical load that included 42 chillers, 150 air conditioning units, and over 180 variable speed drives (VSDs). These loads contributed to high levels of harmonic distortion, placing a strain on the onsite cogeneration units. This burdened the bank with costly repairs, unanticipated power outages, and even regulatory penalties.

The bank decided to reevaluate the building’s electrical systems. AZZO was asked to step in to perform a comprehensive power quality audit.  To properly conduct the audit, we needed a way to obtain high-quality power system data. At the time, the client had no power quality metering or any monitoring of their active harmonic filters. We deployed ten of our portable metering kits to support the audit, connected through cellular communications to AZZO’s ENERGYX  cloud-hosted and customized version of Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure™ Power Monitoring Expert (PME) software. It was found that high levels of harmonic distortion, and poor design of an outdated power quality management system were contributing significantly to the site’s power problems.

We replaced the outdated, poorly monitored, inefficient existing system, with a carefully designed system based on Schneider Electric EcoStruxure architecture. The new system provided new, updated harmonic filters, permanent power quality monitoring software, and a suite of digital support services. Deployment was smooth, with no site or critical infrastructure experiencing any downtime. The bank no longer had to be concerned about the possibility of fires breaking out in overheated electrical rooms, or power outages caused by varied loads. The bank’s headquarters is now a modern, cost-efficient, and safe building.

Expertise is key to resolving complex harmonics challenges

The portable metering solution introduces three important elements that help to properly address facility power quality issues:

  • High-quality meters – The Schneider Electric ION 7400 utility meters we use to provide highly granular power quality information, perform waveform capture, and track high-speed power system data flows.
  • A cellular cloud connection – The kit connects to the cloud where Schneider Electric Power Monitoring Expert (PME) software enables our experts to visualize the data being captured by the meters and to perform analysis on that data.
  • An advanced degree of technical expertise – We assign PhD-level power quality engineers who perform power quality analyses on an ongoing basis. Power quality is a complex science that requires highly skilled, trained personnel to evaluate and make the proper corrective recommendations.

Once the meters identify harmonics issues, proper filtering can quickly address the situation. A solution like Schneider Electric’s AccuSine Active Harmonic Filtration System System, for example, when placed on phase conductors, and sometimes on neutral conductors, can eliminate distorted sine wave problems. The filter acts as noise-canceling headphones that people wear when they want to block out any surrounding outside sound. The active harmonic filtration equipment recognizes the existing distortion sine wave and compensates by injecting the opposite harmonics into the system. This, in effect, produces a cleaner, more normalized sine wave.

For more information

When power quality problems such as harmonics and voltage spikes and sags get in the way of building operational efficiency, expenses quickly rise. Portable metering can quickly help to diagnose the source of the issue. To learn how power quality audits and portable metering can help your business avoid unnecessary power-quality related costs and risks, access the Schneider Electric web pages.

Global100 Schneider Electric has been recognized as the world’s most sustainable corporation in 2021 by Corporate Knights Global 100 Index.

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