# Understanding Power Factor Correction

#### By R.W. Hurst, Editor Power factor correction is a technique used to improve the power factor of electrical systems, leading to more efficient use of electrical energy. A poor power factor can lead to higher energy costs, reduced capacity of electrical systems, and increased energy losses. Depending on the application and load, power factor correction can be achieved using passive or active techniques. Energy and cost savings can be achieved by improving the power factor, making power factor correction an essential aspect of modern electrical systems.

When discussing power in electrical systems, we usually mean the product of voltage and current. However, in the presence of inductive or capacitive loads, the current and voltage waveforms can be out of phase, leading to a lower power factor. A low power factor can lead to inefficiencies in power transmission, increased energy costs, and reduced capacity of electrical systems. Power factor correction (PFC) is a technique used to improve the power factor, leading to more efficient use of electrical energy. In this article, we will explore the concept of power factor, the need for power factor correction, and various techniques used to achieve it.

Understanding Power Factor

Before diving into power factor correction, we need to understand what power factor is. Power factor is the ratio of the real power (measured in watts) to the apparent power (measured in volt-amperes or VA) in an electrical system. Real power is consumed by a load, while apparent power is the product of the voltage and current. In an ideal system with purely resistive loads, the current and voltage waveforms are in phase, and the power factor is 1 (or 100%). However, in the presence of inductive or capacitive loads, the current and voltage waveforms can be out of phase, leading to a lower power factor.

Inductive loads, such as electric motors, transformers, and ballasts, store energy in a magnetic field, which causes the current waveform to lag behind the voltage waveform. Capacitive loads, such as capacitors, store energy in an electric field, which causes the current waveform to lead to the voltage waveform. The phase shift between the current and voltage waveforms is measured in degrees and is denoted by the Greek letter phi (φ). In an inductive load, the current waveform lags the voltage waveform by φ degrees, while in a capacitive load, the current waveform leads the voltage waveform by φ degrees.

The power factor is calculated using the power triangle, which shows the relationship between real power (P), apparent power (S), and reactive power (Q). Reactive power is consumed by the circuit's inductive or capacitive elements and is measured in reactive volt-amperes (VAR). The power triangle is shown below:

|<-----S----->|
|              |
|         __φ__|____ P (Watts)
|        |     |
|        |     |
|        |     |
|        |     |
|        |_____|
|            Q (VAR)
|<--PF--->|

The power factor (PF) is the cosine of the phase angle (φ) between the voltage and current waveforms, or:

PF = cos(φ)

A power factor of 1 (or 100%) means that the real power equals the apparent power, and the circuit has no reactive power. Conversely, a power factor of less than 1 means that some of the apparent power is consumed by reactive power, leading to inefficiencies in power transmission and reduced capacity of electrical systems.

The Need for Power Factor Correction

A poor power factor can lead to a range of problems, including:

Higher energy costs: Utilities often penalize commercial and industrial customers for a poor power factor. This penalty is based on the reactive power consumed by the customer and is in addition to the normal energy charges. By improving the power factor, customers can reduce their energy bills.

Reduced capacity of electrical systems: A poor power factor can lead to increased current in the system, leading to voltage drop and reduced capacity of electrical systems. This can lead to equipment failure and downtime.

Increased energy losses: A poor power factor can also lead to increased energy losses in the system. This is because the reactive power is not useful for the load. Instead, it flows back and forth between the load and the power source, leading to energy losses in the system.
To address these issues, power factor correction techniques are used to improve the power factor and reduce the reactive power consumed by the load.

Passive Power Factor Correction

Passive power factor correction (PFC) is a technique used to improve the power factor of electrical systems without using active electronic components. In passive PFC, a passive component, such as a capacitor, is added to the circuit to compensate for the reactive power consumed by the load.

Capacitors are used in passive PFC because they store electrical energy in an electric field and can be used to offset the inductive loads in the circuit. In addition, adding a capacitor to the circuit reduces the phase shift between the voltage and current waveforms, leading to an improved power factor.

Passive PFC is often used in low-power applications, such as lighting and small appliances. However, it is unsuitable for high-power applications because the capacitor must be sized according to the load and can be very large and expensive.

Active Power Factor Correction

Active PFC is a technique used to improve the power factor of electrical systems using active electronic components. In active PFC, a boost converter shapes the input current waveform to match the input voltage waveform, leading to an improved power factor.

The boost converter regulates the input current to follow the input voltage waveform. As a result, the boost converter can correct the phase shift between the voltage and current waveforms, leading to an improved power factor. The boost converter is controlled by a feedback loop that monitors the input current and adjusts the duty cycle of the switch to maintain a constant output voltage.

Active PFC is often used in high-power applications, such as motor drives, power supplies, and lighting systems. It is more expensive than passive PFC but is more efficient and can achieve a higher power factor.

Calculating Power Factor Correction

The power factor must first be measured to calculate the required power factor correction for an electrical system. This can be done using a power meter or a power analyzer. The power factor can then be calculated using the earlier power triangle equation.

The required power factor correction can then be calculated using the following equation:

PFC = (1 / cos(φ)) - 1

Where PFC is the required power factor correction, and φ is the phase angle between the voltage and current waveforms.

Does Power Factor Correction Save Energy?

Power factor correction can save energy by reducing the reactive power consumed by the load and improving the efficiency of electrical systems. By reducing the reactive power, the apparent power is reduced, leading to a lower current in the system. This can lead to reduced energy losses, increased capacity of electrical systems, and reduced energy bills.

For example, a load with a power factor of 0.7 and an apparent power of 1000 VA consumes 1000 VA of apparent power and 707 W of real power. By adding power factor correction to improve the power factor to 0.9, the same load would consume only 900 VA of apparent power and 900 W of real power. This represents a 20% reduction in apparent power and a 27% reduction in energy consumption.

Solving Power Factor Problems

• To solve power factor problems, the following steps can be taken:
• Measure the system's power factor using a power meter or a power analyzer.
• Identify the source of the power factor problem, such as inductive or capacitive loads.
• Determine the required power factor correction using the abovementioned power factor correction equation.
• Choose the appropriate power factor correction technique based on the application and load.
• Install the power factor correction equipment, such as capacitors or active PFC circuits.
• Monitor the power factor and energy consumption to ensure that the power factor correction is working correctly.

What Happens If You Overcorrect Power Factor?

Overcorrecting the power factor can lead to overvoltage and increased energy consumption in the system. This is because the capacitors used for power factor correction can only offset the inductive loads in the circuit. Therefore, if the power factor is overcorrected, the capacitors will begin to offset the capacitive loads, leading to an overvoltage condition and increased energy consumption.

The capacitors should be sized according to the load and the required power factor correction to avoid overcorrecting the power factor. The power factor should also be monitored regularly to ensure it is within the desired range.

How Much Can Power Factor Correction Save?

The amount of energy savings from power factor correction depends on the power factor before correction, and the amount of power factor correction applied. In general, power factor correction can save between 5% and 25% of the energy consumed by electrical systems.

For example, a commercial building with a power factor of 0.7 and an energy consumption of 100,000 kWh per year could save up to 14,000 kWh per year by adding power factor correction. This represents significant energy and cost savings for the building.

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