A power quality problem, according to the Power Quality Service Center, Portland, Ore., is defined as any deviation of electricity applied to the equipment that results in damage or misoperation of electronic equipment or other electrical devices. Power quality problems can be complicated, involving the facility wiring; natural phenomena, such as lightning, interacting with facility equipment; and equipment connections to the electric power system.

Estimates vary for the total cost the customer experiences from power quality problems. In the United States, as early as 1987, costs of power quality issues for the manufacturing sector were estimated to be between $12.8 and $25.6 billion per year. In 1990, the cost of power quality problems were projected at $34 billion or more per year. Similar estimates have maintained since that time. Recent market research shows the manufacture, sale and service of power quality improvement or protection equipment is about a $2 billion-per-year industry, which means the opportunity is vast for electrical contractors in the field of power quality testing, analyzing and monitoring.

“The entry of more and more electrical contractors into the power quality market is being driven by the effect that energy-saving devices have on the building’s electrical systems and power quality,” said Frank Healy, power quality product marketing manager for Fluke Corp., Everett, Wash.

Power quality testers and analyzers enable contractors to perform energy surveys to quantify current energy usage and identify potential savings.

“Sophisticated power quality products need to have a wide range of functionality and be easy to use so that, as contractors are required to perform more tasks, they have access to tools with short learning curves that fulfill the facility’s informational needs,” he said.

One of the emerging trends in power quality tools, testers and monitoring equipment or devices is their increasing use of consumer technologies, such as networking, wireless and Bluetooth, according to Ross Ignall, director of product management for Dranetz, Edison, N.J.

“These technologies are compatible with common PC and mobile devices and add an element of safety in dangerous or hazardous locations,” he said.

In addition to power quality issues that are present in a facility, the facility itself is increasingly being scrutinized as being prone to power quality problems, according to Andre Rebelo, global communications manager, Extech Instruments, a FLIR company, Waltham, Mass. The pressure is on for power quality analyzers to assess building and equipment electrical usage and quality. To respond, power quality analyzers are growing in sophistication and becoming increasingly multifunctional.

“Frost and Sullivan reported in 2009 that a dominant trend in test and measurement will be ‘combinational’ testers. I believe we’ll see more and more capabilities in power quality testers that will enrich data and increase versatility,” Rebelo said.

Improving energy management
Since most power quality tools have dual functionality—that is, they measure both power quality and power usage—the electrical contractor can use them to identify larger loads and determine more effective power-usage profiles for customers.

“Contractors can also use tools and analyzers to identify where poor power factors exist in machinery and equipment, which allows the facility to install power factor correction equipment and maintain established billing rates,” Healy said.

According to Donald Millstein, president and CEO of E-Mon LLC, Langhorne, Pa., an owner gains value by having the ability to monitor everything from an individual circuit breaker, electric panel or entire building and to interface that data to a building automation system on a standard set of protocols.

“The ability to analyze data through graphical presentations of 15-minute interval data load profiles allows the customer to identify areas of energy waste and opportunities for energy-efficiency upgrades,” Millstein said.

Poor power quality can reduce electrical system capacity and affect a range of systems and components that are vital to building operations across the board, Rebelo said. To help the customer improve the management of their energy, contractors can look for increases in unnecessary heat, reduced cooling capacity of air conditioning and refrigeration, and unusually short service lives of motors; lighting; and heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems.

“Most companies are not in a position to conduct a wholesale upgrade of all their building components to LEED-certified or Energy Star status. The next best, intermediary step is to use analyzing tools to ensure that existing building assets are operating as energy- and cost-efficiently as possible,” Rebelo said.

As sustainability mandates continue to proliferate, power quality analyzers will become a fixture on the electrical contractor’s tool belt.

And, as power quality standards migrate to the United States from Europe and other countries, monitors will be needed to measure power quality to ensure compliance, which leaves contractors well positioned to benefit.


BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 and darbremer@comcast.net.