When Should PQ Engineering Services be Used?

Partnering with Electrotek to manage power quality (PQ) is taking the proactive step before the effects of power PQ cause irreversible financial losses. PQ is a shared responsibility between utilities, architectural and engineering (A&E) design firms, equipment manufacturers and end users. Utilities take responsibility for their grid PQ and don't address PQ internal to end users' facilities. A&E firms are responsible for designing facility electrical systems, specifying and interconnecting customer loads and designing the point-of-common-coupling (PCC) at the utility service entrance. Manufacturers are responsible for their equipment designs and ensuring their equipment is properly tested for PQ emissions and immunity. PQ internal to a customer's facilities doesn’t belong to the utility; it belongs to the end user responsible for the plant's electrical system and for operating the plant. End users make every effort to operate their systems and equipment but rarely consider the importance of PQ and the effects it has on their equipment, processes and more importantly, their bottom line. 

Utilities are more aware of their own grid PQ than they were 33 years ago. They have invested millions of dollars in PQ improvements on generation, transmission and distribution power system. They continue to make PQ a high priority with respect to grid operations. A&E firms are more aware of PQ phenomena like harmonics and surges. Before the use of electronic equipment in customer facilities, their mission has been to design electrical systems for their customers that deliver power to their equipment. The increase in the level of awareness regarding the causes of PQ and its effects on equipment has given rise to their increased interest in PQ. While the availability of best engineering design practices for PQ has improved in some areas of PQ, a significant amount of work to further understand complex PQ remains to be done. Equipment manufacturers and suppliers want to provide equipment that will operate without problem in all customer electrical environments. End users expect their equipment to operate without malfunctions and failures when installed and energized. However, end users lack enough of the right knowledge to manage their own internal PQ. In fact, end users don't know enough about their plant electrical systems, especially how they react to disturbances regardless of where they originate—on the utility grid or internal to their plants. Moreover, end users need more help with understanding, identifying, solving and preventing (UISP) PQ and how the lack of careful engineering design, application of PQ-based equipment installations, maintenance on their plant electrical systems and the increased use of non-linear electrical and electronic loads causes poor PQ to impact their bottom lines.

Utilities, A&E firms, manufacturers and end users are all stakeholders in PQ. Each have different responsibilities when it comes to PQ. Poor PQ impacts each of them differently. Utilities must be concerned about their grid PQ, because when problems occur, they can impact hundreds to millions of customers. Utilities are concerned about the PQ they deliver to their customers and strive to manage transmission power quality (TPQ) and distribution power quality (DPQ) every hour of every day. A&E firms face questions about the design of customer electrical systems when past PQ problems occur in customer facilities, regardless of what caused the problem. Often, they aren’t prepared to answer PQ questions and sometimes refer to industry experts such as Electrotek PQ engineers.

Manufacturers and suppliers typically face the difficult questions when PQ problems occur in their customers' facilities. End users expect manufacturers to design their products to endure at least the common every day disturbances that occur in customer electrical environments. Manufacturers and suppliers aren’t prepared to answer even the basic PQ questions and lack enough knowledge to understand, identify, solve and prevent PQ problems. End users are at the “end of the line” and must deal with any anomalies in the grid PQ that occur and the negative PQ effects of operating their electrical and electronic non-linear loads on their electrical system. When end users experience an equipment malfunction or failure, their first reaction is to call the manufacturer. They finally discover that the manufacturer doesn’t know enough about PQ to determine what to do for the customer other than send them a replacement product—sometimes under warranty and sometimes not. If multiple products fail at the same customer facility, the problem typically becomes more complex causing further delays in resolving the problem.

A&E firms should contact Electrotek when they suspect a customer might encounter a PQ problem if:

  • The electrical engineering designer realizes that a load which must be included in a building design doesn’t exactly match one of US facility voltages, and vice versa.
  • The electrical engineering designer is aware of poor PQ on the specific feeder power the building where upgraded or new electrical designs will be added.
  • Concerns about the wiring and grounding arise during the electrical system design process.
  • The building owner presents some unusual requests regarding the use of electrical and electronic equipment or aims to avoid a PQ problem that occurred at another facility.
  • The A&E firm has had bad experience with a specific piece of electrical or electronic equipment and needs to consult about a facility's existing internal PQ or about understanding more about a piece of equipment's PQ immunity.

Equipment manufacturers and suppliers should contact Electrotek when:

  • They are planning for the development of a new electrical or electronic product – PQ should be integrated into the product design process as early as possible to manage and minimize the risk of malfunctions and failures.
  • They are planning to revise the design of an existing product. Designers will have early failure information from returned product and customer sites. Electrotek can help designers understand the causes of failure, determine if the failures are PQ related and include new design practices to improve product performance and manage the risk of malfunctions and failures.
  • They receive calls from distributors, installers and customers regarding malfunctions and early failures of new products. 

End users should contact Electrotek when:

  • They plan to install new and advanced production equipment in their facility and question their internal PQ. Taking a proactive stance regarding internal PQ will save end users thousands to millions of dollars in downtime, lost production, equipment failures and fees for late delivery of products to customers. 
  • They plan to install variable frequency drives (VFDs) in their facility for the first time.
  • They plan to install new electronic lighting to replace traditional high-intensity discharge (HID) or fluorescent lighting in their facility.
  • They experience early failure of new or existing products and want a third-party independent forensic analysis of their failed products, a PQ investigation and PQ monitoring at their facility.
  • They experience unusual electrical system problems or problems with electrical or electronic loads in their facility.
  • They experience faults on their electrical system. A fault is an indication that there’s an underlying PQ problem in the system that needs to be addressed. Faults should not be ignored and accounted as one-off events which will not likely occur again. Sometimes, faults can cause severe damage to electrical systems, equipment and result in catastrophic events possibly causing injury or death.

All of these stakeholders should take an active role in understanding, identifying, solving and preventing PQ problems before they occur. Electrotek is armed with leading industry experts and ready to provide professional engineering consulting to any entity who experiences PQ problems in any environment or situation.