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Excessive Total Harmonic Distortions (THD) and not unity Power Factor (PF) is costly at every level of the electricity market. Cost of PF and THD impact is difficult to estimate, but both can potentially cause heat, vibrations, malfunctioning and even meltdowns. Power factor is the ratio of real to apparent power in a power system. Drawing more current results in a lower power factor. Larger currents require costlier infrastructure to minimize power loss, so consumers with low power factors get charged a higher electricity rate by their utility. True power factor is made of displacement power factor and THD. Power quality is typically monitored at the transmission level. A spectrum of compensation devices mitigate bad outcomes, but improvements can be achieved only with real-time correction devices (old style switching type, modern low-speed DSP driven and near real-time). Most modern devices reduce problems, while maintaining return on investment and significant reduction of ground currents. Power quality problems can cause erroneous responses from many kinds of analog and digital equipment, where the response could be unpredictable.
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There was a time when electricity was electricity. Like so many other places around America, in Houston, electricity didn’t mean “cheap electricity”. But you moved into your home and you called the utility and they turned on the power and the bill came in and you paid it every month. Oh, sure, you might grumble at the amount but then you’d go around and yell at the kids for leaving the lights on and the TV blaring with nobody in the room or maybe you’d look into buying more energy-efficient appliances. When it came down to it, the Bill was the Bill. Either you paid the bill or you ate dry packet meals, had cold showers, and watched TV by peering through the neighbor’s window after dark (preferably once they’d turned the TV on). What’s that? You want cheap electricity? Sure thing: call 1-800-WHO-CARES any time during regular business hours of 2:17am to 3:04am Sundays only.
Why are so many African power utilities effectively bankrupt? For one thing, they are incredibly inefficient. Efficiency can be improved by proper metering, investing in the system to reduce losses, improving collections and being able to cut off non-payers. This last one being easier if there is up-to-date metering and certain big players like government departments and military installations are also forced to obey the rules. These operational improvements and efficiencies will improve the supply of power but will not go far enough.
There are over 60 different energy suppliers competing for your business on any given day in Texas. Many of these electric companies have websites that are confusing and nearly impossible to navigate, their rates and fees hidden by dense industry jargon and misleading advertising. Who has the spare the time to sort through the choices spread out over all these different sites and companies?