What are non-linear loads and why are they a concern today?

Published by Mirus International Inc., [2010-01-08] MIRUS-FAQ001-B2, FAQ’s Harmonic Mitigating Transformers, 31 Sun Pac Blvd., Brampton, Ontario, Canada. L6S 5P6.

A load is considered non-linear if its impedance changes with the applied voltage. The changing impedance means that the current drawn by the non-linear load will not be sinusoidal even when it is connected to a sinusoidal voltage. These non-sinusoidal currents contain harmonic currents that interact with the impedance of the power distribution system to create voltage distortion that can affect both the distribution system equipment and the loads connected to it.

In the past, non-linear loads were primarily found in heavy industrial applications such as arc furnaces, large variable frequency drives (VFD), heavy rectifiers for electrolytic refining, etc. The harmonics they generated were typically localized and often addressed by knowledgeable experts.

Times have changed. Harmonic problems are now common in not only industrial applications but in commercial buildings as well. This is due primarily to new power conversion technologies, such as the Switch-mode Power Supply (SMPS), which can be found in virtually every power electronic device (computers, servers, monitors, printers, photocopiers, telecom systems, broadcasting equipment, banking machines, etc.). The SMPS is an excellent power supply, but it is also a highly non-linear load. Their proliferation has made them a substantial portion of the total load in most commercial buildings.

Examples of the current drawn by various types of equipment are shown in Figure 1-1. The most common form of distorted current is a pulse waveform with a high crest factor. The SMPS is one such load since it consists of a 2-pulse rectifier bridge (to convert AC to DC) and a large filter capacitor on its DC bus. The SMPS draws current in short, high-amplitude pulses that occur right at the positive and negative peaks of the voltage. Typically these high current pulses will cause clipping or flat-topping of the 120VAC supply voltage. The “double-hump” current waveform of the 6-pulse rectifier in a UPS or a VFD also will cause clipping or flat-topping of the 480V or 600V distribution system.

Figure 1-1: Typical linear and non-linear current waveforms

Harmonics and Harmonic Mitigating Transformers (HMT’s) Questions and Answers

This document has been written to provide answers to the more frequently asked questions we have received regarding harmonics and the Harmonic Mitigating Transformer technology used to address them. This information will be of interest to both those experienced in harmonic mitigation techniques and those new to the problem of harmonics. For additional information visit our Website at www.mirusinternational.com.

Published by PQBlog

Electrical Engineer

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