Introduction to Harmonics

Technology advancement has its pros and cons. Computers increase the efficiency of doing everyday office jobs. Most companies now has the policy of paperless office which is good for the environment, less trees being cut-down and less rubbish going to garbage dumps, not to mention the equivalent carbon foot print in the production and disposal of such.

Better technologies help industries in the more efficient use of electricity. High efficiency motors, smart motor control centers or variable speed drives are now commonly used leading to better plant efficiencies.

On the downside, most of these new technologies are non-linear loads to the electricity network. Non-linear laods does not draw electric current in a sinusoidal form creating multiples of the fundamental waveform in the process. These multiples of the fundamental waveform are called harmonics.

Computers (desktops and servers), printers, telecommunications facilties, variable speed drives, home appliances (TV, DVDs, microwave) are all non-linear loads and creates harmonics into the electricity network. You may ask, how my TV is just a 250W appliance, how much could that contribute harmonics into the electricity network. The answer is simple, how many TVs operate at anytime within a network particularly during primetime. Adding all of those contributions, how much will it be?

New technologies were not the only source of harmonics. There are also old technologies used by industries which are sources of harmonics. A good example of this is the electric arc furnace used by steel industries. The arc used to melt the steel is non-linear.

Harmonic current increases the effective heating effects of current depending on its magnitude. The increase heating effect decreases the efficiency, life expectancy of equipment or worst can be a hazard to personnel.

These bad effects of harmonics lead to the creation of standards setting the maximum harmonics contribution for each individual customer. IEEE 519 and IEC 61000 series provide limits on total harmonic distorion. IEEE 519 sets a 5% THD while IEC 61000-3-6 THD limit has to be less than 8%.

Harmonic filters are simple solutions to harmonics problem. Passive filters are the less expensive solution but less efficient. These are basically low pass filters, allowaing the fundamental frequency but limiting the magnitude of its mutliples.

Active filters is an alternative. They provide a dynamic harmonics correction. The magnitude of harmonic order is calculated and an out-of-phase of equal amplitude is produced by the filter cancelling out that particular harmonic. The limitation of this solution is that, it does not correct harmonics in a full spectrum. Only selected multiples are corrected. A variant of this is the full spectrum harmonics cancellation.

About the Author

Ver Pangonilo
A Filipino Engineer, Registered Professional Engineer of Queensland (RPEQ) - Australia and Professional Electrical Engineer (PEE) - Philippines with extensive experience in concept select, front-end engineering, HV & LV detail design, construction and commissioning of Hazardous and Non-Hazardous Area electrical installations in water and waste water pipeline and pumping facilities, offshore platforms, hydrocarbon process plants and pipelines including related facilities. Hazardous area classification and design certification (UEENEEM015B, UEENEEM016B, UEENEEM017B).
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