Dirty power undermines the success of your decarbonization efforts

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Financial, energy, and sustainability managers are often tasked with helping their organizations meet their sustainability commitments. These decarbonization goals often prioritize a reduction in the company’s energy-related emissions. While there are many effective ways to achieve this, identifying and addressing power quality problems from the start can significantly improve your projects’ environmental and financial success.

Our company, Hexeis, is a Schneider Electric EcoXpert Master Partner in Power Management. We regularly help customers in Queensland, Australia, address the hidden risks of “dirty power” – otherwise known as poor power quality.  

Let’s examine how poor power quality can impact your operations and some solutions that save you money and carbon.

pylons with sunset
Poor power quality, or “dirty power” can seriously impact your operations and diminish returns on your decarbonization goals. Power quality monitoring can provide the data you need to identify potential issues.

Do you have a power quality problem?

When we ask our customers this question, the most common answer is “no.” That’s because the most challenging aspect of power quality is that problems are often hidden and go unnoticed, sometimes for many months or years.

If you own a vehicle but don’t have a service technician regularly analyze and maintain it, hidden problems can arise and may cause it to run inefficiently. This wastes fuel. It may also become unreliable, and its lifespan may be significantly shortened. So, from a sustainability perspective, an unchecked vehicle could be wasting fuel and carbon. And if you have to replace the vehicle early in its life, you’re wasting the materials that went into manufacturing it.

You should consider your facility in the same way. While power quality is often associated with equipment reliability, it’s also a big part of maintaining sustainability, energy efficiency, and asset life.

Most organizations lack the in-house resources or expertise needed to study and identify power quality issues. We recommend you seek an expert advisor to help you audit your power quality, identify and address your current issues, and prepare for future projects’ success.

Infographic explaining the impacts of poor power quality

Heat equals wasted energy, money, and carbon

While walking by the electrical switchgear at a customer site, we noticed a lot of heat radiating from that equipment. So much so that it warmed the whole electrical room. Hot equipment is wasted heat, which means the equipment and the HVAC system are wasting energy, carbon, and money trying to keep the room cool.

Excessive heat also puts equipment under extreme stress, which can cause premature failure and extended downtime. Running insulated switchgear above its rated temperature reduces the lifespan by as much as half, which is terrible for equipment sustainability. The increased heat caused by dirty power can also degrade the performance of motors, cables, breakers, and transformers. After further investigation at this site, our team revealed power quality problems.

We recommended a power factor and harmonic filtering solution that addressed overheating and resulted in a 20% reduction in their electricity bill. Let us assume that a new main switchboard would have cost approximately $80,000 (not including additional installation and downtime costs) and that switchboard is designed for 30 years. Therefore, with a reduction in actual life of 20% to 50% due to accelerated heat, this would have resulted in $16k to $40k in wasted capital investment.

This is why we recommend our clients use a permanent power quality monitoring solution that provides the data to identify potential issues today and in the future.

Avoiding diminished returns from decarbonization projects

Poor power quality also reduces the return from energy efficiency projects. That’s because dirty power will waste part of the green energy and simultaneously reduce the equipment’s lifespan. For example, variable speed drives (VSDs) are very energy efficient but generate power quality problems for other equipment. Ironically, VSDs are also more sensitive to power quality issues. Choosing the right VSD can avoid these problems.

Improving power quality enhances performance of renewable generation assets

Sometimes, renewable energy systems can even cause a power quality issue.

One of our university clients has a remote research station on one of the Great Barrier Reef islands. The client hired a contractor to install a solar power system to replace electricity supplied by diesel generators, but they began experiencing motor problems.

Fortunately, the client had already engaged us to set up automated power quality reporting at the site. This system helped identify that the solar power inverters generated a DC power offset that was causing energy loss and overheating of motors. A solution to the problem is being further investigated; however, this highlights the importance of performing PQ analysis during the installation and operation of such projects.

Poor power factor may be costing you money, emissions, and capacity

If you are operating a large industrial site, running large numbers of motors can cause low “power factor,” making power factor penalties a significant part of your utility bill.

This type of power quality issue also wastes energy and, in turn, causes additional emissions. By using power factor correction technology, you can optimize your power usage and reduce power losses. This translates into energy savings and reduced CO2 emissions. For example, for a facility with an average total load of 3800 kW, the PowerLogic PFC solution from Schneider Electric can reduce your carbon impact by 3.6 MtCO2 – that’s 150 kg/kVAR – over the lifespan of the equipment.

Low power factor also wastes a portion of the power distribution system capacity. We have a customer who makes timber roof trusses. They needed another manufacturing machine to take advantage of a building boom. However, the local utility told them this would require an expensive power network upgrade to provide enough capacity.

We helped them identify the need for power factor correction equipment. This installation freed up enough power capacity to accommodate the new machine, allowing double their output without waiting or paying for the utility upgrade. They now also save money on their utility bills by avoiding power factor penalties.

Partner with an expert advisor

As an EcoXpert partner, Hexeis takes advantage of Schneider Electric’s global strength. We incorporate their deep expertise in energy and automation and look to their digital solutions for efficiency, sustainability, and resilience. This includes complete solutions for power quality mitigation.

A trusted partner like Hexeis can help you see the bigger picture and understand all the impacts dirty power has on your facilities, operations, and decarbonization goals. We can advise you on greenfield or brownfield projects and help consultants write design guides. Our team can also help you justify power quality and sustainability investments to your executives and get the most from your sustainability efforts.

Learn more about how to optimize your facility decarbonization by addressing power quality issues, visit  https://www.se.com/ww/en/work/solutions/power-management/power-quality/.

To find out more about how Hexeis is providing industry-leading energy analysis, monitoring, and management solutions, visit www.hexeis.com.

EcoXperts are the enablers of net-zero buildings

The EcoXpert Partner Program is unique in its industry and made up of a best-in-class, global ecosystem of expertise. Trained and certified by Schneider Electric, EcoXpert partners digitize and electrify our world for a more sustainable future.

The path to net zero is about delivering solutions for sustainable, resilient, efficient, and people-centric buildings. For our EcoXpert partners, this unveils immense growth opportunities through the transition to end-to-end portfolio sales that will resolve our customers’ most critical needs. For our shared customers, this means that together with our EcoXpert partners, we will drive the building industry transformation and help our customers survive and thrive today – and tomorrow.

Visit the EcoXpert webpage to learn more.

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