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  • Writer's pictureCraig Drabyk

Understanding Harmonics

Harmonics is a problem that can severely alter the quality of power delivered to electrical systems and can cause damage, disruption, or failure of electrical equipment. Harmonic distortion is largely an “invisible” problem that is not widely understood among facility personnel, but its growing impact on equipment and operations makes it a pressing issue requiring an increased depth of knowledge and expertise.

Harmonic distortion is created by electronic equipment drawing nonlinear loads. In years past, when the current drawn by most electrical equipment linear, or sinusoidal in shape, harmonics was rarely an issue. Today, however, virtually all electronic equipment in commercial and industrial buildings utilize power conversion technology that draws current in short, abrupt pulses that create distorted, nonlinear waveforms. These nonlinear waves produce reflective, or harmonic, currents that flow back into the power distribution system, degrading power quality. Equipment and devices drawing nonlinear loads include computers, servers, monitors, copiers, printers, telecom systems, fluorescent and LED lighting, medical and lab equipment, VFDs, UPS, etc.

Most buildings can manage nonlinear loads of up to 15% of the total system capacity, above which a number of troubling issues can occur due to harmonics. These include overloading of neutral conductors, overheating or failure of transformers, nuisance tripping of circuit breakers, computer malfunction or lockup, flickering or blinking of lights, electronic equipment shutdown, overheating motors, voltage drop or failure, and power interference on voice communication. Severity can range from annoying to costly (equipment failures) or dangerous (fires due to overheating).

For more information on harmonics, or if you are experiencing unexplained electrical issues that may be due to harmonics, contact Omni at 908-412-7130.

About Omni

Omni Instrumentation & Electrical Services, Inc., located in New Jersey and Maryland, is a premier instrumentation and electrical contractor, providing superior total care solutions since 1986. Services include instrument installation, tubing installation, instrument calibration, control loop testing, startup and commissioning, power and lighting, process control wiring, BMS wiring, telecommunications and data wiring, fire alarm wiring, security wiring, process network wiring, and control panel fabrication. Omni Instrumentation & Electrical Services, Inc., is certified in Foundation Fieldbus, Profibus, DeviceNet and ASI-Bus installation.

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