First access, then power quality

77th IEC GM Open Session addresses the challenges of Power Quality

By Janice Blondeau

The challenges of maintaining a reliable, high quality power supply took centre stage at the Council Open Session held in New Delhi. And once those who are non-connected have reliable access to electric power – 1.3 billion still do not have access to electricity – then the quality of that power is of crucial importance.

A distinguished panel addressed the topic of Power Quality at the Council Open Session

The scope of the Power Quality problem

The “Challenges of Power Quality” Open Session, held in New Delhi as part of the 2013 General Meeting, was attended by hundreds of electrotechnology standards experts. They heard that insufficient PQ (Power Quality) is not only disruptive to those who experience it but it is also very costly to economies, companies and individuals.

Disruptions in the digital, manufacturing and essential services have an immediate repercussion on the rest of the economy. A study conducted in 2001 by EPRI (Electric Power Research Institute) estimated the impact of power outages on the US economy at up to USD 164 billion a year and up to USD 24 billion for PQ phenomena, such as surges and sags in voltage, transients and harmonics. In today’s environment we are multiple times more connected than previous generations so these PQ issues affect us even more.

The European Power Quality survey report 2008 based on information collected in 2003-2004 from 62 companies, declared that PQ problems caused a financial loss of more than 150 billion Euros per year in the EU-25 countries. In Asia, the size of the economic loss that can be suffered by industry is not well-documented at industry level, however it is estimated that its impact is also highly significant.

View from developing countries

Standards for power quality and reliability in developing countries was addressed by Paul Johnson, Secretary, South African NC and Executive Secretary, AFSEC (African Electrotechnical Standardization Commission). Johnson explained that for developing countries and in many African countries in particular, partly due to the lack of widespread access to electrical energy, there is still the vital need to achieve some or all of the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals). Improved health care, education and extreme poverty eradication can only be achieved with access to electricity.

According to the IEA (International Energy Agency) about 1.3 billion people have no access to electricity, with one billion more people having access only to unreliable electricity networks. That means in electricity network terms, a significant percentage of world population is not connected to a grid or is without any form of electrical energy. In developing countries, there are thin radial networks, geographically dispersed customers, a generation deficit and the existing electrical infrastructure is aging and under-maintained.

First priority is electricity access

Johnson stated that getting electricity to these people is the first priority, and then it will be time to start looking at power quality. Moving forward to ensure the quality, efficiency, reliability, and long-term effectiveness through appropriate international standards and conformity assessment systems will be a major contributor to power quality for such communities.

In developing countries there are three main categories of residential customers with quite different power quality needs. First, non-electrified rural customers whose migration from paraffin lamps to reliable solar power lighting is a major power quality improvement. Second, off-grid customers with their minigrids where 24/7 availability is the main challenge. The third category is the grid-connected customers for whom reliability is more the focus than other PQ parameters. Moreover asset theft and electricity theft are significant causes of unreliability and quality of supply. At the level of transmission networks, Johnson stated, the PQ requirements are no different to developed countries.

Regulators’ role to play

Measurement of reliability and voltage regulation should be the main focus with regulators concentrating on building measurement data history before introducing PQ based penalties, he said. Integration of previously separate independent networks to create power pools requires agreement on the rules, including power quality standards for power interchange and there International Standards are a prerequisite.

Johnson cited the East African power pool as an example of how countries in the region are developing innovative and cooperative solutions to address power quality and other issues. The East African Power pool is currently developing a comprehensive grid code for its members.

How PQ issues affect us

The importance of a reliable quality electrical power supply has never been greater than it is today. There is an ever-increasing reliance on new devices and digital communications in both our public and private lives – from personal communications devices such as smart phones and tablets, through to healthcare equipment, the technology that drives business services and industrial processes. It is in this context that disturbances such as power outages (anywhere from tiny fluctuations to total absence of power for hours or days) and fluctuations that occur with the quality of power (voltage sags or surges, transients and harmonics) have such a major impact on our lives and our economies.

Tools to address Power Quality issues

Standardization provides the methods to measure quality and helps determine minimum and maximum tolerance levels to protect both industrial and private investment. IEC International Standards address a myriad of power quality aspects such as requirements for cables, fuses, converters, electromagnetic compatibility issues, handling power dips and surges, and integrating renewable energy from wind and solar sources into the grid.

"Challenges of Power Quality" programme

Welcome and introduction

Dr Klaus Wucherer, IEC President

Key note speaker

Rabindra Nath Nayak, Chairman & Managing Director of Powergrid Corporation of India Ltd.


James E. Matthews III, IEC Vice President and Chairman of SMB

Addressing power quality challenges with a system approach

Richard Schomberg, Convenor of the IEC Systems Evaluation Groups on Smart Grid

Coping with the power quality challenges - China’s practice and experience

Dr Yinbiao Shu, IEC Vice-President and President of State Grid Corporation of China

Tackling power quality issues

Dr Bhim Singh, Professor at Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi

Standards for power quality and reliability in developing countries

Mr Paul Johnson, Secretary, South African NC and Executive Secretary, AFSEC (African Electrotechnical Standardization Commission)

A new educational prospective based on power quality research

Dr Sivaji Chakravorthy, Professor at Jadavpur University

DSC_1338 A distinguished panel addressed the topic of Power Quality at the Council Open Session
DSC_1306 Paul Johnson highlighted access to energy as first prioriy, followed by power quality
Lighting_Africa credit needs to be given (see description) BD1_0534_ Children study using a solar powered task light in Dakar, Senegal (© Bruno Demeocq/Lighting Africa)