5044 B U Bowman Dr #102  :::  Buford, Georgia  30518

e-mail stedipower@tvss.net   :::  Phone: 678.546.6780


What is Harmonic Distortion?

    Harmonic distortion is found in both the voltage and the current waveform. Most current distortion is generated by electronic loads, also called non-linear loads. These non-linear loads might be single phase loads such as point-of-sale terminals, or three-phase as in variable speed drives. 

   As the current distortion is conducted through the normal system wiring, it creates voltage distortion according to Ohm's Law. While current distortion travels only along the power path of the non-linear load, voltage distortion affects all loads connected to that particular bus or phase. 

   Current distortion affects the power system and distribution equipment. It may directly or indirectly cause the destruction of loads or loss of product. From the direct perspective, current distortion may cause transformers to overheat and fail even though they are not fully loaded. Conduc tors and conduit systems can also overheat leading to open circuits and downtime. 

   On three-phase wye systems, current distortion causes higher than expected currents in shared neutrals. A shared neutral is one that provides the return path for two or three-phases. Currents as high as 200% of the phase conductors have been seen in the field. This large level of current can easily burn up the neutral creating an open neutral environment. 

This open neutral creates voltage swells and overvoltages. These voltage conditions easily destroy equipment, particularly power supplies. 

Another indirect problem introduced by current distortion is called resonance. Certain current harmonics may excite resonant frequencies in the system. This resonance can cause extremely high harmonic voltages, possibly damaging equipment. 

There is one additional comment about current distortion. When the current is non-sinusoidal, our conventional ammeters and voltmeters will not respond accurately. To accurately measure currents that are harmonically distorted, use a True-RMS meter. This applies equally to distorted voltages. 

Voltage distortion, on the other hand, directly affects loads. Distorted voltage can cause motors to overheat and vibrate excessively. It can also cause damage to the motor shaft. 

Even non-linear loads are prey to voltage distortion. Equipment ranging from computers to electronically-ballasted fluorescent lights may be damaged by voltage distortion. 

If damage occurs due to current distortion, except for high neutral current, then one solution is to reduce the distortion. There are three methods for this. First, a passive filter can be used to reduce the current from one or two specific harmonics. 

In the second method, an active filter reduces all the h armonic currents. It is more costly and complex to use, but it works better than passive filters. 

The third method involves the use of transformers. Delta-wye transformers reduce certain harmonics, particularly what are called zero sequence harmonics. Zig-zag transformers can also be used to reduce zero sequence harmonics, but without changing the system type between delta and wye. In addition, they can help reduce high neutral currents. 

If there is concern that these special transformers or the regular distribution transformers may overheat, then transformer derating, or the use of K-rated transformers, is recommended. 

If high neutral currents are the culprit, then the first step is to eliminate shared neutrals wherever possible. Where this cannot be done, try oversizing the neutral wire so it won't overheat. If this doesn't work, then the distortion must be reduced as described above. 

There are two ways to reduce voltage distortion. Remember that internal voltage distortion is the result of the business's non-linear loads interacting with the wiring. The first way to reduce the distortion is to reduce the harmonic current. 

The second way is to reduce the impedance of the wiring. This is done by increasing the size of the conductors. 

Where the total voltage distortion is the sum of internal and external distortion, these techniques reduce the internal contribution.


     While motor drives and commercial power supplies are most often blamed for harmonics, the most likely culprits in the typical commercial power system is "switched-mode-power-supplies" such as those seen in personal computers and other electronically driven devices.

     The typical office can have as much as 50% of its load being determined by devices of this type.

PHONE:   (678) 546-6780      FAX:   (678) 546-6782

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Stedi-Power, Inc.
5044 B U Bowman Drive,
Suite 102
Buford GA 30518

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Stedi-Power, Inc
5044 B U Bowman Drive #102
Buford, Georgia 30518
PHONE: (678) 546-6780

Last Updated: 07 Jun 2004
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