IN DEPTH: High growth for low harmonics

IMS Report: Power quality issues seek a common standard as emerging economies wrestle with the issue.


To view a larger version of the included graph, click the PDF at the bottom of the page.

The Asia Pacific region for low harmonic solutions is poised for 2011 growth of 17.8%, according to a new market report, The World Market for Regenerative Drives and Low Harmonic Solutions from IMS Research. China in particular will grow across many different industry sectors, unlike other developed countries that focus harmonic standards on specific industries, such as water & wastewater and commercial HVAC.

“Asia Pacific is the largest regional market for harmonic filters, representing 41.4% of sales in 2010, due to the region’s poor power quality in relation to Europe and to a lesser extent the United States,” comments IMS Research analyst Sarah Sultan.

In an interview with CFE Media, Sultan takes a deeper look at the issue of harmonics, and what global manufacturers will face in the absence of a single global standard:

CFE: Why is the problem of poor harmonics such a big problem in China and other emerging manufacturing markets?

Sultan: Poor harmonics is a big problem in China due to the enormous amounts of industrial usage, a lot of it dependent on heavy equipment which introduce harmonics. In general, China will not upgrade their current power grid, but rather build entirely new distribution infrastructure. 

CFE Media: Power quality has become a critical issue in many regions because of the high dependence on automation equipment. Both regionally and globally, how would you rate plants’ understanding of this problem?

Sultan: Plants’ understanding of this problem varies quite significantly by region. In developed regions, there tends to be less of a focus on harmonics for individual plants unless a larger internal problem arises due to harmonics. Developing regions are enforcing stricter guidelines across industry, making factories much more conscious of the problem. In all regions, focus on harmonics is becoming a greater issue and will continue to become more important in future.

CFE: The Smart Grid continues to be a topic of conversation. How does the issue of harmonics play into that debate?

Sultan: Harmonics and other power quality issues are drivers for the market for Smart Grid technologies. Electricity grids are having greater demands placed on them now as distributed generation and electric vehicle charging begin to draw upon aging electrical utility infrastructure. As harmonic issues mount, installing Smart Grid technologies, including advanced metering, distribution automation, and power quality management equipment becomes more important.

These technologies can enable the utility company to measure power quality at many points throughout the grid, pinpointing sources of harmonic distortion and working with industrial energy users to minimize power quality issues. In some regions, utilities are motivated to provide greater power quality through fees and penalties, and in turn these utilities demand more community-minded power usage from their industrial customers, driving increased concern for power quality at the industrial level.

CFE: The research also looks at the adoption of U.S. and European electrical standards. How are the two different? Do you see a time where those standards may become – pardon the expression – harmonized?

Sultan: The US harmonic standard (IEEE 519) focuses on the point of common connection rather than the input to the plant. The key point is that harmonics are only an issue in the U.S. at the point in which they affect other users. This tends to be a problem in industries that are close to the consumer power grid, such as commercial HVAC and water & wastewater. European standards focus on the input to the plant, so individual factories must be conscious of their harmonic content. In addition, European power grid quality is higher than that of the U.S., creating fewer problems to begin with.

In my opinion, I don’t see these standards becoming uniform worldwide. One reason is the U.S. market – the U.S. market handles harmonics at a utility level, and in comparison to many other regions has not been very concerned about harmonics. IEEE 519 is a guideline, and is not strictly mandated unlike other regions.

In addition, individual utility companies, of which there are thousands, handle harmonic problems with users very differently at the moment. IEEE-519 is in their bylaws and requirements, but they only enforce it when someone causes a violation. The U.S. harmonic standards would need to become uniform before possibly considering an international harmonization of standards.

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