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2 Minutes for Poor Power Factor: How to Stop Paying Penalties, Improve Energy Efficiency and Save Money


Why should you care about Power Factor?

You care because it costs you money, but you probably don’t know it. Unity or a perfect score of 100% is what you’re trying to achieve; however, it is highly unlikely you’ll get a perfect power factor score on your monthly electricity bill, because the equipment you use will bring you down. Induction machines such as motors, electric furnaces, or generators are the most delinquent. Even your switch based electronics can affect power factor. The good news is that you don’t need a perfect score to avoid additional costs. Maintain a power factor above 90% and there’s no harm and no foul; fall below, though, and you’ll find yourself sitting in the penalty box. And the worst part is that no one even told you that you’re in the penalty box, how you got there and what your penalty will cost you. You will not find a big, bold line item in bright red letters on your bill that tells you how much your penalty is. In fact, you won’t find anything at all. The charges are simply added into your monthly distribution fees and you’ve likely paid them without even knowing.

Maintain a power factor above 90% and there’s no harm and no foul; fall below, though, and you’ll find yourself sitting in the penalty box.

What is my Power Factor?

Power Factor is a measure of power quality and the best description that I’ve seen out there is to consider a horse pulling a boat down a canal. The horse would increase its energy efficiency if it was directly in front of the boat, but that’s not possible, so it pulls from the side. Although the horse is pulling with the same amount of force, the boat doesn’t move as fast down the canal, thus the quality of his output is reduced. The same applies for your energy consuming equipment. If your equipment is demanding more power from the grid but using less than it demands, the waste increases and quality decreases. As a result, you are asking more of your electricity grid and that is why the utilities make you pay for it.

You can also think of it like this. When you order a beer from your local watering hole, you’re served a glass that’s 90% full of delicious, golden liquid and 10% full of foam. Basically, the foam represents the power factor on your utility bill, which is used to ensure that you are using all of the electrici ty that you draw from the grid, also known as the ratio of true power to apparent power. And the reactive power is the unusable portion, or the foam. In order to ensure you get a full pint of liquid beer, the glass would actually have to be 10% larger than the beverage itself. It’s the same for your utility, if you only use 90% of the electricity you ask for but they need to provide an additional 10%. Falling below a 90% power factor is like asking the barkeep to serve you in a bigger glass, which is fine but you’ll have to pay for it.

How do I know if I have a problem and what can I do about it?

There are ways to reduce your energy consumption and improve your power factor, including:

  • Identify faulty equipment and repair
  • Identify inefficient equipment and add capacitor
  • Add capacitor on main supply
  • Add variable frequency drives

But in order to fix any problem, you first must identify it. On many electricity bills, the power factor is listed somewhere in the fine print and on others all you get is the data required to do the calculation yourself. Either way, it’s going to take you a lot of time to dig out the bills and comb through them to see if you’ve had one bad month or a historical trend of poor power factor.

There is an easier way to improve your overall energy efficiency and gain control of your costs. By running your bills through the automated algorithms built into the Bruce Power Saver energy management system, you can identify operational efficiencies and anomalies, and start reducing waste. The Bruce Power Saver will help you get to get to know and understand your overall energy consumption, as well as your power factor charges, and help you identify ways to save. Remember, you don’t need a perfect power factor score to avoid additional costs. You just need a power factor above 90% to avoid that penalty box.

Whether you’re not sure if you have a problem or you’d just like to know how much your poor power factor has cost you, it’s worth it to take a look. For more strategies on how to take control of your energy costs, download our new eBook.


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