There’s a phrase used to explain why you might take more food on your plate than you can realistically eat: “Your eyes were bigger than your stomach.” The consequence? Well, some of the food will likely go to waste once you’ve eaten your fill.
On a somewhat similar note, it turns out induction motors and other electrical loads in industrial settings actually demand more power than they consume. And, as Consulting-Specifying Engineer notes, although that excessive energy does no useful work, “it circulates between the generator and the load and places a heavier drain on the power source as well as the transmission and distribution system.”
Just like you wouldn’t want to throw out extra food you paid for at every meal, companies want to avoid wasting extra power with each load and putting undue strain on their equipment.
The solution? Correcting the power factor.
Here’s more on what this process entails and the benefits it can bring.
What Is Power Factor Correction?
Power factor measures active power — or working power — to apparent power, or the total energy consumed or delivered. In other words, a power factor of .97 means a load will convert 97 percent of the available power into doing work. The ideal power factor is a perfect 1.0, which means all the power is going toward performing work.
The farther a power factor is off from 1.0, the less efficient the system is — and the more strain equipment may experience from high currents. This is where power factor correction comes into play. One example of how industrial and commercial operations can correct the power factor is by adding capacitor banks. These capacitor banks can counteract the causes of low power factor, canceling out the wasted energy and its harmful effects.
Primary Benefits of Correcting Power Factor
So far, power factor correction probably sounds pretty good. But you may be wondering how it translates into tangible business outcomes.
Well, as one engineer writes for Plant Engineering, lower power factor over time means lower operating efficiency — which equates to “higher capital investment, higher expenses, and diminished distribution system performance.”
Here’s a rundown of three primary benefits of effectively correcting the power factor.
Lowers Utility Bills
Utility companies often penalize industrial customers for having a low power factor, so improving this figure can help companies save on utility bills if they were previously getting penalized. The exact savings depend on the power factor before correction, the effectiveness with which a facility moves to correct the imbalance, and the penalty rate imposed on utilities.
Reduces Apparent Power and Loading on the Distribution Network
A consistently low power factor has to draw more current, and these higher loads can lead to the damage of valuable equipment over time. Limiting the strain on important pieces of equipment within circuits can help extend their longevity and minimize the chances of a costly malfunction due to wear and tear.
Minimizes Carbon Emissions
Many industrial and commercial businesses are now focused more than ever before on “greenifying” their operations. Improving the power factor can lessen CO2 emissions by reducing the amount of energy that ends up wasted over time in the form of heat dissipation.
Perhaps the most important aspect of power factor correction is ensuring the capacitors you use to counteract the level of reactive energy produced within a system proportionally. The closer the power factor is to 1.0, the more efficient it will be — anything over or under ends up being wasteful in the ways we just outlined. Luckily, a wide range of capacitors exist today for small, medium, and large networks alike.