Power harmonics refer to unwanted electrical frequencies or currents that can distort the shape of the voltage and current waveforms in an electrical system. These harmonics are typically integer multiples of the fundamental frequency of the power supply. In most cases, power systems operate on a fundamental frequency of 50 or 60 Hz, depending on the region.
Common sources of power harmonics include nonlinear loads, such as:
Electronic Devices Many modern electronic devices, such as computers, variable frequency drives (VFDs), LED lighting, and uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), are nonlinear in nature. They draw current in short pulses, which can introduce harmonics into the electrical system.
Rectifiers Devices like rectifiers and converters, which are used to convert alternating current (AC) to direct current (DC), can generate harmonics. This is because they often draw current in a non-sinusoidal manner.
Switching Power Supplies These power supplies, commonly found in electronic equipment, convert AC to DC and operate by rapidly switching transistors on and off. This switching action can introduce high-frequency harmonics.
The presence of power harmonics can have several negative effects on electrical systems and equipment:
Voltage Distortion Harmonics can distort the voltage waveform, leading to a poor power quality. This can cause voltage sags, swells, and flicker, which can damage sensitive electronic equipment.
Increased Current Harmonics can increase the current flowing through the electrical system, leading to overheating of conductors and transformers. This can reduce the efficiency of the system and potentially cause equipment failures.
Transformer Overheating Transformers are particularly sensitive to harmonics because they can overheat and experience premature failure if subjected to excessive harmonic currents.
Resonance In some cases, harmonics can cause resonant conditions in the electrical system, leading to further amplification of harmonic currents and voltages.
Power quality standards and regulations exist in many regions to limit the level of harmonics that can be present in the electrical system, ensuring that power quality remains within acceptable limits for reliable and safe operation.
Legacy mechanical techniques have been deployed for decades to mitigate the effects of power harmonics including harmonic filters and line reactors. Mechanical techniques are expensive and have short life-spans.
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