An estimated 3 percent of every sales dollar in the United States is spent on solving power quality (PQ) problems, according to Christopher Forthaus, senior product manager, test division, Ideal Industries Inc., Sycamore, Ill.

“The cost of power quality issues worldwide is estimated to be as high as $400 billion a year,” he said.

Some PQ experts don’t agree with those numbers, but it’s true that energy consumption and PQ is of great concern to end-users as they try to increase competitiveness and save as much as possible. That concern is warranted. According to the U.S. Energy Information Association (EIA), total energy consumption is estimated to reach 114.512 quadrillion British thermal units (Btus) in the United States by 2035, which is about a 20 percent increase from current levels.

Data communications, building automation and higher speed transmission of every kind of data are dependent on the availability, affordability and quality of power. Therefore, electrical contractors can seize the opportunity to test and measure PQ and consumption, and ultimately offer solutions to end-users.

Instrumentation


PQ instruments measure the voltage and current feeding an electrical load, section of a building or entire facility, according to Wade Thompson, product specialist at Fluke Corp., Everett, Wash. PQ can be measured at different points to identify the power component that is corrupted or causing trouble to the load.

“The power fed to loads directly impacts their health,” he said. “Maintaining healthy power quality helps avoid situations such as the slow degradation of equipment; PLC [programmable logic controller] resets; the malfunction of electronics; breaker tripping; and, in extreme situations, overheating, smoke and fire.”

Energy instruments also examine voltage and current but intend to determine how much is being consumed. That data can help a facility manager establish costs based on the energy that departments, tenants or particular pieces of equipment actually consume.

“Any energy-conservation program requires facts, baselines and goals to determine success,” Thompson said.

Although both PQ and energy instruments measure voltage and current, they require different resolutions and accuracies. Energy meters, which compute watts, volt-amperes, volt-­amperes reactive and power factors, require accuracy. Typically, they also do not have PQ capabilities.

On the other hand, most PQ meters measure time periods as short as milliseconds and microseconds, and, although most of them have the accuracy to measure energy, they are not certified to do so.

“The objective of power quality meters is to get an idea of the compatibility of the power source to the load being measured and to look for sags, swells, transients and harmonics to assess the quality of the electrical service,” said Ross Ignall, director of product management at Dranetz Technologies, Edison, N.J.

PQ and energy instruments also have a role in building safety.

“Power quality instruments diagnose problems stemming from an electrical systems’ loose connections, grounding and other components, helping to ensure overall building safety,” Thompson said.

PQ instruments can also be used to ensure that the power supply and utility service are operating within designed parameters, which will help to avoid any possibility of overheating, overdrawing of electricity or other safety issues.

“Energy instruments, in general, can determine whether equipment or circuits are operating within capacity to avoid overheating,” Ignall said.

For the contractor


Low-cost, high-performance devices are available to establish, measure and record PQ in every installation, from residential to heavy industrial applications.

“For the contractor, power quality monitoring means offering customers a new value-added service that will drive revenue and increase customer satisfaction by isolating problems before they occur,” Forthaus said.

Load studies and other PQ and energy measurements enable electrical contractors to go beyond data collection and make recommendations, Thompson said.

“Any contractor interested in building long-term, service-related relationships with customers can use load studies to demonstrate where a facility has infrastructure load or power quality issues that could affect operational efficiency or safety,” he said.

There have been real changes to PQ instruments over the last three years, said Leah Friberg, global manager of education and industry relations, Fluke Corp.

“Models have become more fail-safe to use and ensure more reliable results,” she said.

Although newer instruments are easier to use, higher end tools can still be more complicated and require training.

As more sensitive electronics and computer-­based components enter every facet of life, more electricity is being used. The loads themselves may corrupt power in the way that they operate.

“Power quality will become increasingly more challenging as we create these more sophisticated loads,” Thompson said.