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Portable Generators in

Motion Picture Production


Al l Gener at or s ar e not
c r eat ed Equal
Al l Loads ar e not c r eat ed
Equal
Har moni c s & Pow er
Di st or t i on
Cl ean & Ampl e Loc at i on
Pow er
2009 Guy Holt ------- All Rights Reserved ------- May not be reproduced without written permission.
Introduction
Given the wide variety of generators manufactured for different markets, it is important to understand the benefits and drawbacks to each
when it comes to their use in motion picture production. Especially, given that the increasing use of personal computers and microprocessor-
controlled recording equipment in HD production has created an unprecedented demand for clean, reliable power on set at a time when the
trend in lighting is toward light sources that generate dirty power. The power waveform below left is typical of what results from the
operation of a couple of 1200W HMIs with non-power factor corrected ballasts on a conventional portable generator. The adverse effects of
the harmonic distortion exhibited here, can take the form of overheating and failing equipment, efficiency losses, circuit breaker trips,
excessive current on the neutral wire, and instability of the generator voltage and frequency. Harmonic noise of this magnitude can also
damage HD digital cinema production equipment, create ground loops, and possibly create radio frequency (RF) interference.
Left: Distorted power waveform created by Non-PFC 1200W HMI ballasts on conventional generator.
Right: Near perfect power waveform created by the same lights as part of a new production system.
Why is harmonic distortion suddenly an issue in motion picture electrical distribution systems? First, one must appreciate that the power
generation and electrical distribution systems developed for motion picture production were never designed to deal with an abundance of
non-linear loads like the electronic HMI and Fluorescent lighting ballasts prevalent today. In the past, attention was given to portable
generator features such as automatic voltage regulation and speed regulation. But, given the increasing prevalence of harmonic currents and
the problems they cause, an increasingly more important feature today is the quality of the generated power waveform and how well it
interacts with today's light sources. As production gets more electronically sophisticated, a thorough understanding of the demands placed on
portable generators by such production equipment is necessary in order to generate power that is safe and reliable.
It is the intent of this article to establish a foundation of knowledge that will enable us to build a new production system that generates the
clean stable set power (seen in the waveform above right) capable of operating larger lights (HMIs up to 6kw or Quartz lights up to 5kw), or
more smaller lights, off of portable gas generators than has ever been possible before. But, before we can begin to build the edifice of this
new production system (pictured below), we must first lay a foundation with the basics of power generation.
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Generator Basics
Principles of Operation
An electric generator is a device or machine that is used to convert mechanical energy into electrical energy. It is based on the principle of
electromagnetic induction, a scientific law that was discovered by British scientist Michael Faraday and American scientist J oseph Henry in
1831. The principle states that when an electric conductor, such as a copper wire, is moved through a magnetic field, electric current will
flow through the conductor. The mechanical energy of the moving wire is converted into the electric energy. Faraday and Henry also found
that when you move a magnet in a coil of wire, electric current is generated.
A rudimentary electrical generator with static magnets and rotating current carrying coils
A generator produces an Electromotive Force (emf) by changing the number of Magnetic Flux Lines (Lines of Force), passing through a
Wire Coil. In the rudimentary electrical generator illustrated above and below, when the Coil is rotated between the Poles of the Magnet by
cranking the handle, an AC Voltage Waveform is produced.
A generator operates on the principle of Electromagnetic Induction, which is defined by Faradays Law, which states:
Faraday's Law
The Electromotive Force, (emf) induced in a Coil is proportional to the number of turns, N, in the Coil and the Rate of Change of the
number of Magnetic Flux Line passing through the surface (A) enclosed by the Coil. In the rudimentary generator illustrated here, the Coil is
under a Stationary Magnetic Field. The Magnetic Flux Density, B, is constant and so Lines of Force is proportional to the Effective Area,
Aeff, of the Loop (Lines of Force =B x Aeff.) As the Loop rotates at different angles, there is a change in Aeff which is shown in the
illustration below.
Effective Area of the Wire Loop at Different Rotational Angle
The Rate of Change of the Lines of Force is the largest at the zero points of the Waveform and is the smallest at the peaks of the Waveform.
Since, an Induced Effect is always opposed to the cause that produced it, the Induced emf is maximum at the zero points and minimum at
the peaks as illustrated below. To see why that is, lets look more closely at what happens as the loop rotates.
Different Rates of Change of the Magnetic Flux
at Various Rotational Angles
In the loop diagrams below, the loop is rotating in a clockwise direction. At position A, the top leg (black) is moving toward the south pole,
and the lower leg (white) toward the north pole. In position A, no flux lines are being cut since both legs are moving parallel to the lines of
flux. Since no flux is cut, no voltage is induced. In position B, the loop has rotated 1/4 of a turn (90). The black leg is now moving
downward, and the white leg is moving upward. In this position, both legs are cutting across a maximum number of lines of flux, and the
emf is maximum. At position C the loop has rotated 1/2 of a turn. The two legs are once more moving parallel to the lines of flux, and again
no voltage is induced. At position D, the black leg is moving upward, and white leg downward. Both legs are again cutting a maximum
number of lines of force, but in the direction opposite to that of position B. Since the legs are cutting the field in the opposite direction, the
emf induced causes the current to flow in the opposite direction. The next 1/4 turn brings the loop back to position A, and the cycle starts
over again.
Position of the Rotating Wire Coil Plane to the Magnetic Field Direction
and the Induced Electromotive Force
If we were to plot on a graph this induced emf against coil rotation, we would get the sinusoidal waveform that appears below the loop
diagrams in the illustration above. Line X-X' is the zero line. All the area above this line is positive (+), and the area below is negative (-).
A careful plotting of induced emf through one rotation of the coil reveals that a sinusoidal voltage waveform is the natural result of the
mechanical motion of a generators coils. For example, in position A on the illustration of the coil rotation, the loop is cutting no lines of
force so the induced emf is zero (point 1 on the graph.) One quarter turn later, the loop is in position B. It is cutting a maximum number of
lines of force, so the emf is maximum (point 2 on the graph). At position C, the loop has completed 1/2 of a turn, and no lines of flux are
being cut, so the emf is back to zero at point 3 on the graph. In position D, the loop is cutting the field in the direction opposite to that of
position B. The emf induced in the coil i s maximum, but in the opposite direction (point 4 on the graph). Position E is the same as A, so
the loop is ready to start over again. If we were to summarize what happens during one full rotation of the coil: it starts at zero, rises to
maximum in one direction (+), falls back to zero, rises to maximum in the opposite direction (-), and then comes back to zero. Since, an
alternating emf causes the current to flow first in one direction and then the other it is called, Alternating Current, or just plain A.C. A c
omplete rotation is called a Cycle. If the generator coil is made to turn 60 complete rotations in one second, the Frequency of rotation is 60
Cycles per second. If we plot induced emf against coil rotation at 60 Cycles per second we get the familiar AC voltage sine wave - the
Alternating Current (AC) used in commercial electrical power systems.
Generator Anatomy
In order to obtain a larger emf, modern generators use stronger rotating Electromagnets instead of the fixed permanent magnet of our
illustration. The electromagnets are mounted on a shaft (called the Rotor) and rotated within electrical coils (called the Stator.) DC power is
used to Excite the electromagnets of the Rotor. The voltage of the AC output is a function of the level of the excitation of the Rotors
electromagnets, and controlled by the Exciter. Illustrated below is the anatomy of a Honda conventional generator. It consists of a stationary
Stator and a two pole Rotor that spins inside the Stator.
The Rotor contains magnetic fields which are established and fed by the Exciter. When the Rotor is rotated, electrical current is induced in
the armature coils of the Stator. The voltage of the electrical current generated is proportional to the strength of the magnetic fields, the
number of coils (and number of windings of each coil), and the speed at which the Rotor turns. And, since the Rotor rotation produces
different directions to the +/- poles of the magnetic field at different points in time, the voltage generated is sinusoidal (AC), and each full
engine rotation produces one complete AC sine wave. Consequently, the engine must spin the generator Rotor 3600 RPM to produce the
60Hz AC frequency required in North America (60 cycles/second x 60 seconds/minute =3600RPM). If, because of varying loads, the Rotor
spins faster or slower, the voltage and frequency of the output vary in step. The quality of the electricity a conventional generator puts out
then is determined by the quality of the engine, how smoothly it runs, and how well the engine is capable of maintaining a constant speed.
The Stator assembly consists of insulated windings (armature coils) positioned near an air gap in the Stator core in which the Rotor rotates.
The number and the way the armature coils are connected determine the phase of the power generated. The Stator of a single phase
generator, like the Honda EX5500 illustrated above, has two sets of armature coils which are spaced 180 degrees apart (a three phase
generator has three sets of coils spaced 120 degrees apart.) As illustrated in the wiring schematic below, one end of each coil is connected to
a common neutral terminal. The other end of each coil is connected to separate terminals. Conductors attached to the three terminals (hot,
hot, neutral) carry the current to the generators distribution panel (load bus) and on to the electrical load.
Generator Wiring Schematic
As such a single phase generator, like the EX5500, has two separate main power producing circuits. These two circuits supply equal power
to the receptacles shown below when the voltage selector switch is in the "120/240V" position. With single phase generators, when the
distribution panel has two or more receptacles, you must balance the total load on the generator by dividing the individual loads between the
two main power circuits.
For example, the Honda EX5500 is rated for a continuous load of 5000W (41.7A total or 20.8A/main circuit). Now, if receptacle 2 (R2) in
the illustration above has a 2k light (a 16.8A load) connected to it and receptacle 3 (R3) has a 1k light (a 8.4A load) connected to it, the total
power draw on Main Circuit 1 is 25.2A (greater than the 20.8A capacity of Main Circuit 1). This is a substantial overload to this circuit.
Main Circuit 1 is substantially overloaded because both receptacles (R2 & R3) are powered by Main Circuit 1. To eliminate the excessive
power draw on Main Circuit 1, the load from receptacle 3 (R3) should be switched to receptacle 1 (R1). Now Main Circuit 1 is powering a
16.8A load (less than 20.8A) and Main Circuit 2 is powering a 8.4A load (less than 20.8A).
In addition to the rotor and stator, a conventional generator has an excitation circuit (illustrated below) that consists of slip rings and brushes
attached to the engine shaft (not illustrated.) DC flows from the Exciter, through the negative brush and slip ring, to the rotor field poles to
establish the magnetic fields. The return path to the exciter is through the positive brush and slip ring.
Rotor Electromagnet Excitation Circuit
Higher quality portable gas generators, like the Honda EX5500, use an automatic voltage regulator (AVR) as an Exciter. The AVR is an
electronic device that ensures constant voltage output regardless of the load applied to the generator (up to the rated load capacity). The
AVR accomplishes this by sensing the voltage in the stator coils and adjusts the DC excitation current, carried to the rotor electromagnets
via the slip rings and brushes, to regulate the field pole flux to maintain constant voltage at the AC output receptacles.
ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF HONDA POWER PRODUCTS
In small portable gas generators the generator end (called the alternator) is direct-coupled to the engine to provide smooth operation.
Alternator housings are bolted directly to the engine providing precise rotor and stator alignment.
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Portable Generator Types
What differentiates generators is how they go about regulating the voltage and frequency (Hz) of the AC power they generate through
magnetic induction. A generator that is intended to power only the universal motors found in power tools and the incandescent lights found
on construction sites requires very little power regulation because their intended loads are very forgiving. Where as, a generator that is
intended to power sophisticated electronic equipment that is voltage and frequency sensitive, requires sophisticated and costly power
regulation. Where there is a direct trade-off between cost and power quality, the degree to which a generator regulates its power depends
upon the requirements of the loads it is intended to power.
For example, since it is less expensive to make a relatively simple generator that will satisfactorily operate most construction equipment and
RV appliances (but not sophisticated electronics), there is not the cost/benefit return to warrant the incorporation of the more expensive
power regulation controls in generators manufactured for these markets. This explains why there are basically four types of generators
available on the market to this day. Given this variety of generators manufactured for different markets, it is important to understand the
benefits and drawbacks to each when it comes to their use in motion picture production.
Where what differentiates one type of generator from another is the quality of its power it is important to understand the AC power
waveform. AC Power is depicted using a sine wave.
The sine wave is a way for us to graphically represent how electricity works. The sine wave is measured using an oscilloscope. The vertical
axis represents amplitude (this may be represented in Volts.) The horizontal axis (degrees) represents time and is also known as wavelength.
Notice how the voltage sine wave above starts at 0. It then reaches its peak at 90. This is where the voltage is at its positive maximum. The
wave then crosses 0 volts again at 180 (this is called the zero crossover) before peaking again at 270 in the negative and returning to 0
volts at 360. This process is called a cycle. The frequency of cycles per minute is measured in Hz (Hertz). The standard in North America
is 60Hz.
Pure Sinusoidal Power Waveform
A pure sinusoidal voltage, like the one represented above, is a conceptual quantity produced by an ideal AC generator built with finely
distributed stator and field windings that operate in a uniform magnetic field. Since in reality neither the winding distribution nor the
magnetic field can be uniform in a working AC generator, voltage waveform distortions are created, and the voltage-time relationship
deviates from our conceptual pure sine function. The smoother the curve of the sine wave, the more stable the power. Any spikes or "blips"
in the curve are caused by a fluctuation in the power. These can be bad for both your generator and the equipment being powered.
Here are the representative waveforms, and brief descriptions, of the four types of generators available on the market today. Given the
importance of understanding the benefits and drawbacks to each when it comes to their use in motion picture production we will examine
each type of generators, as well as the typical loads they will power on a set, in more detail latter.
Brushless Generators: Among the most common because of their
inexpensive construction, brushless generators have the least reliable
voltage control. Brushless generators can't react quickly to changing
loads, either producing low power (a brownout) or high power.
Fluctuations of this nature will cause voltage sensitive equipment like
HMI lights to shut off, or will damage sensitive electronics. With a
substantual voltage waveform distortion of 23%, brushless generators
do not interact well with HMI and Kino Flo ballasts. For this reason
brushless generators are only suitable for powering incandescent
lighting.
AVR Generators: AVR generators feature an Automatic Voltage
Regulator designed to consistently control voltage. The AVR keeps the
output voltage more or less constant, regardless of the load. With no
large fluctuations in voltage resulting from changing loads, AVR
generators will for the most part operate HMI lights reliably. With
older magnetic HMI ballasts, AVR generators require frequency
governors to eliminate flicker on film and scrolling in video. With an
appreciable voltage waveform distortion of 19.5%, AVR generators do
not interact well with non-power factor corrected HMI and Kino Flo
ballasts.
MSW Inverter Generators: CycloConverter, Modified Sine
Wave, Psuedo Sine Wave are different manufacturers trade names
for modified square wave inverter generators. These generators use
inverters to produce not a sine wave, but a modified square wave that,
depending on their cost, more or less resembles a sine wave. Where the
modified square wave is generated from switching DC power that is
converted from the AC power the alternator generates, the power
MSW Inverter generators generate is cleaner and more stable than
AVR generators. With a slight voltage waveform distortion, MSW
Inverter Generators will interact reasonably well with HMI and Kino
Flo ballasts. However, a modified square wave will cause sensitive
electronic equipment (computers, hard drives, video cameras) to
overheat. While, equipment that depends on peak voltage (battery
chargers) will not operate as effectively on a modified square wave.
For these reasons MSW Inverter Generators are less than ideal for HD
digital cinema productions.
PWM Inverter Generators: PWM Inverter Generators operate like
MSW Inverter Generators, but use a sophisticated pulse width
modulation (PWM) logic to control a micro processor to switch IGBTs
at high speeds to produce a near pure sine wave from the DC power
that is converted from the AC power of the generator alternator. With
a negligible voltage waveform distortion of 2.5% (less than grid
power), PWM Inverter Generators interact well with HMI and Kino
Flo ballasts. These units are ideal for sensitive electronics, such as
computers, audio, and video recording equipment. PWM Inverter
Generators offer a number of other benefits, including less noise,
lower weight, and greater fuel efficiency as compared to conventional
AVR Generators.
WAVEFORMS COURTESY OF HONDA POWER EQUIPMENT
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Conventional Portable Generators
A conventional generator rotates two electro-magnets (energized wire coils) inside its stator core. Since the rotation produces different
directions to the +/- poles of the magnetic field at different points in its circular motion, the voltage generated is sinusoidal (AC), and each
full engine rotation produces one complete ac sine wave. By design, the engine must spin the generator rotor 3600 RPM to produce an AC
frequency of 60 Hz (60 cycles/second x 60 seconds/minute =3600RPM). If, because of varying loads, the generator spins faster or slower,
the voltage and frequency of the output vary in step. The quality of the electricity a conventional generator puts out then is determined by
the quality of the engine, how smoothly it runs, and how well the engine is capable of maintaining a constant speed.
Brushless Generators
Among the most common because of their inexpensive construction, brushless generators have the least reliable voltage control of all
generators. The drawback to brushless generators in motion picture lighting applications is that they don't react quickly to changing loads.
When a new load (light) is switched on, a brushless generator will alternately produce low voltage (a brownout) and then high voltage (a
surge) as the engine slows down under the additional load, and then speeds ups again, before stabilizing under the greater load.
Fluctuations of this nature can result in the following scenario we have all probably experienced at one time or another when trying to run
multiple HMI lights with conventional portable generators. After turning on the first HMI light, you switch on a second light. The striking of
the HMI arc creates a surge in the power load, this causes momentary engine instability, which results in a dip in output voltage. The dip in
voltage causes both HMI lamps (the one already running and the one striking) to cut out. When, within seconds, the engine stabilizes again,
the power comes back up to full, which causes the HMI light that cut out to hot-restrike (because the ignition switch is still on.) But,
because the lamp is hot, the strike doesnt take. The striking voltage returns to the ballast and fries delicate electrical components in the
ballast. As this nightmare scenario demonstrates, the voltage fluctuation of brushless generators are sufficient to cause voltage sensitive
equipment, like HMI lights to shut off, for this reason brushless generators are really only suitable for powering incandescent lighting and
not much else.
Another problem with brushless generators is that the power they generate exhibits significant voltage waveform distortion (see waveform
above). With an applied voltage waveform distortion of upwards of 23%, brushless generators do not interact well with HMI and Kino Flo
ballasts, causing harmonic currents to be thrown back into the power stream, which results in a further degradation of the voltage waveform
(more on that latter.)
Automatic Voltage Regulated (AVR) Generators
To be suitable for filming with all types of HMI ballasts, conventional generators must employ governor systems to maintain constant
voltage (V) and AC Frequency (Hz).
To avoid the nightmare scenario described above when striking multiple small HMIs (less than 1200W), a portable generator must have an
Automatic Voltage Regulator or AVR. An AVR keeps the output voltage more or less constant, regardless of the load. It accomplishes this
by first monitoring the output voltage. It then compares it with the desired set value and corrects any error by suitably changing the field
excitation current. By constantly adjusting the excitation to the brushes to increase or decrease the output voltage, the AVR ensures a more
or less consistent flow of power regardless of the load. Under normal circumstances an AVR system can ensure a voltage that is within 3%
of the mean voltage. In this fashion, AVR systems eliminate surges and brown-outs that would otherwise occur when switching on and off
small movie lights (both HMI & Quartz.)
Unfortunately, given the size of portable generators (usually less than 7000W) relative to common motion picture lighting loads (upwards of
2000W), even the best AVR systems are still not responsive enough to always handle the changes in load created when switching on larger
motion picture lights. Where the load placed upon the generator by a 1200W HMI (which draws anywhere from 13.5-19 Amps depending on
the type of ballast), or a 2000W Quartz light (which draws 16.8 Amps) can account for 30-60 percent of the capacity of the generator, the
generators AVR system is more often than not simply overwhelmed. For this reason (and others), the general rule of thumb when using
conventional AVR generators is to oversize the generator by a factor of 2 to 1 relative to your total load. It also helps to use more small
lights than just a few large lights.
The second type of governor system a portable generator must have to be suitable for lighting with all HMI ballasts, as well as sophisticated
electronic production equipment like laptops, hard drives, and HD monitors, is a AC Frequency governor.
Broadly speaking, HMI ballasts now come in two varieties. They are magnetic ballasts and electronic square wave ballasts, also called
flicker free ballasts. For the purpose of this discussion, I will not refer to electronic square wave ballasts as flicker free, because that implies
that magnetic ballasts generate flicker, which they do not under controlled circumstances. To avoid flicker with magnetic HMI ballasts
operating on conventional generators, the generator speed must be tightly governed. The need for such tight control of the AC frequency has
to do with the fact that HMI lights are inherently arc lights whose output pulsates.
If you were to look at an HMI globe, instead of a coiled tungsten filament glowing, you would find an electrical arc spanning the gap
between two opposing electrodes. On the most fundamental level, a magnetic HMI ballast is simply a variable transformer choke between
the power supply and the lamp electrodes. The transformer provides the start-up charge for the igniter circuit, rapidly increasing the potential
between the electrodes of the heads arc gap until an electrical arc jumps the gap and ignites an electrical arc between the lamp electrodes.
The transformer then shifts gear and acts as a choke, regulating current to the lamp to maintain the pulsating arc once the light is burning.
As such, the light intensity of a HMI powered by a magnetic ballast follows the waveform of the supply power and increases and decreases
120 times a second, twice every AC cycle. This fluctuation in the light output is not visible to the eye but will be captured on film or video
if the frequency (Hz) of the AC power is not precisely synchronized with the film frame rate or video scan rate. If the AC Frequency of the
power were to vary, a frame of film or video scan, would receive more or less exposure depending upon the exact correspondence of the
film/video exposure interval to the cycling power waveform because the light intensity is pulsating at twice the AC frequency.
ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF HARRY BOX
The normal sinusoidal 60Hz current of a magnetic ballast (left) creates a fluctuating light output (right)
requiring that the camera frame rate be synchronized with the light fluctuations to obtain even exposure frame to frame.
In film production with magnetic HMI ballasts (as opposed to video), to avoid this flicker, you must also use a crystal controlled camera,
run the camera at one of a number of safe frame rates (those that can be divided into 120 and result in a whole number), and use power that
is regulated at exactly 60 Hz +/- a quarter cycle (59.75 Hz - 60.25 Hz).
The problem one encounters when operating magnetic HMI ballasts on conventional generators is that by design the AC frequency they
generate is a function of engine speed and their speed fluctuates. As the generator spins faster or slower, the frequency of the output varies
in step. For this reason, when filming with magnetic HMI ballasts, a separate governor is required to ensure that the engine spins its core at
a near constant 3600 RPM to produce the desired AC Frequency of 60 Hz (60 cycles/second x 60 seconds/minute =3600RPM).
A Barber Coleman AC Frequency Governor in a Honda EX5500
An AC Frequency governor accomplishes this by first monitoring the engine speed, it then compares that reference signal with an internal
quartz crystal reference, and corrects any error by adjusting the engine throttle through a mechanical linkage (see picture above.) By
constantly adjusting the engine speed in this fashion the governor ensures a more or less stable 60 Hz AC Frequency. It is worth noting here,
for the purpose of our latter discussion regarding the adverse effects of power waveform distortion, how the governor system obtains its
engine speed reference.
Larger generators that are designed to take AC frequency governors, have a magnetic pick up that senses the rotation of the core. However,
since the AC frequency governors for portable gas generators are after market modifications, the engine speed reference signal is obtained by
measuring the frequency of the output voltage inside the AVR unit. By sensing the zero-crossing information from the waveform, the AC
frequency governor can precisely regulate the engine speed and in theory eliminate erratic exposure of film frames or video scans.
In practice, AC governor systems work well in small portable generators only if the generator is well maintained, finely tuned, and carefully
prepped for each shoot. The carburetors of small generator engines are easily gummed up by old fuel making them run rough. For this
reason, it is important to bleed old fuel from the system and replace it if the generator as been sitting idle for an extended period of time. A
second maintenance issue is that the generator battery must be at full capacity as well as fully charged. The reason for this requirement is
that the battery charging system of the generator was not designed for the additional electrical load of the AC Frequency governor. If the
generator battery is not at full capacity and fully charged, the AC Frequency governor eventually runs the battery down to the point that it
can no longer regulate the engine because it is underpowered. Unfortunately, more often than not, the generators coming out of rental houses
are poorly maintained and inadequately prepped making the AC governor system ultimately unreliable.
ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF HARRY BOX
The refined square-wave signal of an electronic ballast (left) creates virtually even light output (right)
When electronic square wave HMI ballasts came on the market, they were at first thought to be the solution to all the problems inherent in
running HMI lights on small portable generators. By eliminating the flicker problem associated with magnetic ballasts, they also eliminated
the need for the expensive and ultimately unreliable AC governors required for flicker free filming with magnetic HMI ballasts and portable
gas generators. Electronic square wave ballasts eliminate the potential for flicker by squaring off the curves of the AC sine wave supplying
the globe. Squared off, the changeover period between cycles is so brief that the light no longer pulsates but is virtually continuous. Even if
the AC Frequency of the power were to vary, a frame of film or video scan, would receive the same exposure because the light intensity is
now not pulsating but nearly constant. Electronic square wave HMI ballasts allow you to film at any frame rate and even at a changing
frame rate.
Since they are not frequency dependent, it was thought at first that electronic square wave ballasts would operate more reliably on small
portable generators even those without frequency governors. For this reason, as soon as electronic square wave ballasts appeared on the
market, many lighting rental houses replaced the more expensive crystal governed portable generators with less expensive non-synchronous
portable generators. The theory was that an electronic square wave ballast would operate reliably on a non governed generator and allow
filming at any frame rate, where as a magnetic HMI ballast operating unreliably on a AC governed generator allowed filming only at
permitted frame rates.
In practice, electronic square wave ballasts turned out to be a mixed blessing. Part of the problem with operating electronic HMI ballasts on
portable gas generators in the past has to do with the purity of the power waveform they generate. With an applied voltage waveform
distortion of upwards of 19.5%, conventional AVR generators do not interact well with electronic HMI ballasts, causing harmonic currents
to be thrown back into the power stream, which results in a further degradation of the voltage waveform and ultimately to equipment failure
or damage (more on that latter.)
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Inverter Generators
A conventional generator, one that runs at 3600 RPM, makes a pretty decent sine wave. This is because it generates power by rotating two
large coils in a magnetic field, and as discussed above, sine waves are a natural product of rotating machinery. However the power that
conventional generators produce is considered dirty power.
ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF KIRK KLEINSCHMIDT
Waveform of power output by conventional generator. Note the frequency error and noticeable distortion
Measured on an oscilloscope (pictured above), its sine wave appears jagged. Those small spikes in the sine wave indicate noise that can
cause HMI lights to act erratically and cause problems for sophisticated electronics, like video cameras, monitors, computers, and hard
drives that need a clean sine wave to operate. With the increasing use of personal computers and microprocessor-controlled recording
equipment in motion picture production, the demand for clean, reliable power has reached new heights.
ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF HARRY BOX
Step 1: Rectifier Bridge converts multi-phase AC power to rectified sine wave. Step 2: rectified sine wave is flattened to DC.
Step 3: micro processor switching alternates wave polarity creating a modified square wave.
Inverter generators meet this demand for cleaner power by adding an additional component that completely processes the dirty AC power
from the generators alternator. An inverter module takes the raw power produced by the alternator and passes it through a microprocessor
controlled multi-step process to condition it. But, rather than using simple two pole cores, the alternators of inverter generators use multi-
pole cores and small stators to produce a raw AC power that is multiphase (more than 300 overlapping sine waves), high frequency (up to
20000 Hz), and upwards of 200 Volts. This high voltage AC power is then converted to DC. Finally the DC power is converted back to
low voltage single phase AC power by an inverter. In the process the inverter cleans and stabilizes the power.
Not all inverter generators are equal (Modified square wave verses true sine wave inverters.)
There are 3 major types of inverters used in generators - sine wave, modified square wave, and square wave. One might wonder why there
are so many types of inverters. As J ohn De Armond, explains in his informative article "The Hows and Whys of Inverters and Inverter
Generators" the primary reason is cost. To paraphrase J ohn's article, to make a nice sine wave from DC power is expensive. There is a
trade-off between cost and waveform purity. An approximation of a sine wave may be created by outputting one or more stepped square
waves with the amplitudes chosen to approximate a sine (a modified square wave). The more steps, the more like a sine wave the output is.
However, each of the voltage steps requires its own voltage supply, its own transistor switch, plus the necessary control circuitry. The
bottom line is that the more steps, the more expensive the inverter. The two go hand in hand.
ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF JOHN DE ARMOND
Ideal Sine Wave (black), Single Step Square Wave (blue),
Three Step Square Wave (red)
Take a look at the figure above. The black trace is, of course our ideal true sine wave. The blue wave is a single step approximation or
square wave. The red wave is a three step wave or modified square wave. As is intuitive, the three step wave produces a closer
approximation of a sine wave and thus will satisfactorily operate more devices than the single step one. The tradeoff is cost and complexity
ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF JOHN DE ARMOND
Switch sequence of three step output stage of a modified square wave inverter.
The figure above is a line drawing of a typical three step output stage of a modified square wave inverter. The voltages V1 through V3 are
increasingly higher DC voltages converted from the AC power generated by magnetic induction. A microprocessor generates the pseudo sine
wave (modified square wave) by sequentially switching S1 through S3 on, S3 through S1 off, S4 through S6 on, S6 through S4 off. It
repeats this 60 times a second. Where each of the voltage steps requires its own voltage supply, its own transistor switch, plus the necessary
control circuitry, one can intuit that the more steps in the modified square wave, the more complicated and thus more expensive the inverter
is.
Where it is less expensive to make a modified square wave that will satisfactorily operate most construction equipment and RV appliances,
than it is to make a true sine wave there is not the cost/benefit return to warrant the incorporation of the more expensive true sine wave
inverters in generators manufactured for these markets. This is why there are still three types of inverter generators available on the market
to this day.
Advantages and Disadvantages:
Square Wave Generators
While a square wave inverter will run simple things like tools with universal motors with no problem, they will not operate much else. For
this reason, generators with square wave inverters are now found only in the construction trades, where they offer the benefit of being
cheaper, smaller, lighter, and running longer on a gallon of gas than conventional generators. For reasons I will explain below, square wave
inverter generators have no application in motion picture production.
Modified Square Wave Generators
Modified Sine Wave, Psuedo Sine Wave, and Cycloconverter are all sales terms used for a modified square wave type of AC power.
Modified square wave inverters are low in cost, slightly more efficient than conventional generators, and will satisfactorily operate almost all
common household appliances and power tools. For this reason, they are typically used in the economy RV/Residential Standby and
Industrial lines of generator manufacturers.
Where the modified square wave is generated from switching DC power that is converted from the AC power the alternator generates, the
power MSW Inverter generators generate is cleaner and more stable than AVR generators. With a slight voltage waveform distortion, MSW
Inverter Generators will interact reasonably well with HMI and Kino Flo ballasts. However, a modified square wave will cause sensitive
electronic equipment (computers, hard drives, video cameras) to overheat. While, equipment that depends on peak voltage (battery chargers)
will not operate as effectively on a modified square wave. For these reasons MSW Inverter Generators are less than ideal for HD digital
cinema productions. J ohn De Armond, clearly explians why that is the case using one of the more rudimentary inverter generators, the
simple three step modified square wave discussed above, as an example in his article "The Hows and Whys of Inverters and Inverter
Generators".
ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF JOHN DE ARMOND
Output waveform of a Honda EX350 square wave inverter generator
The photo above is an oscilloscope shot of the actual output of an older Honda EX350 modified square wave inverter generator. Notice the
RMS voltage indication on the right side - 120 volts even though the peak voltage is only 142 volts. For a true sine wave, the peak voltage
would be 120 * 1.414 =169 volts. This difference in peak voltage is what makes or breaks the operation of modified square wave inverter
generators in motion picture production applications where they work fine on construction sites.
ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF JOHN DE ARMOND
Voltage and the current output waveforms of a Honda EX350 square wave inverter generator
powering 300W incandescent light
The photo above shows a scope shot of both the voltage and the current output of this generator driving a 300 watt incandescent light (a
resistive load.) As you see, a modified square wave works well for a resistive load like an incandescent light. Things get a whole lot more
interesting when one connects a fluorescent lamp to the generator. As you can see in photo below the solid-state ballast of the fluorescent
lamp slightly distorts the voltage waveform (creates a spike) and creates all kinds of current oscillation. This kind of harmonic activity can
cause a noticeable audio buzz, equipment to malfunction, or shut off (more on harmonic noise latter.)
ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF JOHN DE ARMOND
Voltage and the current output waveforms of a Honda EX350 square wave inverter generator
powering fluorescent light
Another common problem with modified square wave generators like the Honda EX350 is encountered when they are used to charge
batteries on remote sets without grid power. J ohn De Armond illustrates the problem in his informative article "The Hows and Whys of
Inverters and Inverter Generators" by first examining how the battery charger works on grid power when plugged into a conventional outlet.
To paraphrase him a battery charger typically consists of a transformer, a rectifier and support electronics like charge control circuitry. On
each half-cycle of the 60 hz line voltage, the voltage first increases and then decreases in the shape of a sine. The transformer secondary of
the battery charger follows this voltage. Connected to the secondary is the rectifier that converts the AC to DC for battery charging. Only
when the instantaneous AC voltage exceeds the battery voltage plus the 0.7 voltage drop of the rectifier does current flow to charge the
batteries. Photo 5 illustrates this effect. The two lines at 1 and 2 mark on the voltage sine wave where the rectifier starts conducting and
causing current to flow.
ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF JOHN DE ARMOND
Problems arise when a charger of this type is connected to a modified square wave inverter. Recall from the first photo above that the peak
voltage of a modified square wave does not rise as high as a sine wave (142 volts verses the 169 volts of a true sine wave.) The horizontal
line in the photo above shows about where the square wave would reach. In this particular case, the square wave would never reach a
voltage sufficient to make the rectifier conduct and so the battery would never charge even though power is connected, the LED indicators
light up, and a true RMS voltmeter would indicate about 120 volts. This is another fundamental problem with modified square wave
inverters in production applications.
Audio/video production equipment, computers, and battery chargers require a nearly pure (low distortion) sine wave input. If these devices
are to be run from an inverter generator, then the generators inverter module must supply a sine wave or something pretty close to it. As
discussed, inverters of this sophistication are appreciatively more expensive - from 2 to 3 times - because of the number of and prohibitive
cost of high power electronic switch devices and components required. However, recent rapid developments in the field of IGBT (insulated
gate bipolar transistors) electronics and miniaturization/mass production of microprocessor based digital control systems have reached the
stage that Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) inverter modules are economically viable and affordable. Still not as cheap as modified sine
wave inverter modules, generator manufacturers only put Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) inverter modules in their deluxe or Super Quiet
product lines. For instance, the Honda super quiet EU series of generators employ Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) inverter modules with a
waveform distortion factor of less than 2.5% - which is considerably better than conventional generators and quite often better than what you
get out of the wall outlet.
True Sine Wave Generators
Pulse width modulation (PWM) inverters provide a more sinusoidal current and for that reason are commonly called true sine wave
inverters. Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) inverters use micro-processor control modules to produce AC power with a "true" sine wave
(with full width and amplitude) from high voltage DC power converted from the AC power generated by magnetic induction in the core of
the generator. PWM inverters are more efficient and typically provide higher levels of performance.
ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF KIRK KLEINSCHMIDT
Waveform of power output of PWM inverter generator. Note there no discernable distortion or frequency error.
The "true" sine wave these generators deliver is more suitable for computers, solid-state equipment with built-in computer functions or
microcomputer-controlled functions. Unlike the simple two-pole alternators of AVR generators, an inverter generator uses a core that
consists of multiple stator coils and multiple rotor magnets. Each full rotation of the engine produces more than 300 three phase ac sine
waves at frequencies up to 20 kHz, which is considerably more electrical energy per engine revolution than produced in conventional two
pole AVR generators.
PHOTO COURTESY OF SUBARU/ROBIN POWER PRODUCTS
Core parts from PWM Inverter Generator. Note the multiple windings of the core stator.
The power generated by the multi-pole core next goes to the inverter module. A basic PWM inverter consists of a converter, DC link,
control logic, and an inverter.
Basic wiring schematic of PWM Inverter
The converter section consists of a fixed diode bridge rectifier which converts the more than 300 three phase ac sine waves at frequencies up
to 20 kHz to a DC voltage (about 200 V in at least one unit).
Converter and DC Link
AC Output is then generated from the high voltage DC by the inverter section with voltage and frequency set by a PWM control logic. A
highspeed microprocessor switches IGBTs (insulated gate bipolar transistors) on and off several thousand times a second according to the
PWM control logic to create a variable voltage and frequency.
Control logic and Inverter Section
PWM inverter control logic goes something like this: to generate the positive half cycle of a true AC sine wave, an IGBT connected to the
positive value of the DC voltage from the converter is switched on and off by a micro-processor at variable rates and for variable intervals to
create current to flow of a variable voltage.
ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF SIEMENS CORP.
PWM Voltage and Current
In other words, the IGBT is switched on for a short period of time, allowing only a small amount of current to build up and then is switched
off. The IGBT is switched on and left on for progressively longer periods of time, allowing current to build up to higher levels until the
current reaches a peak. The IGBT is then switched on for progressively shorter periods of time, decreasing current. The negative half of the
AC sine wave is generated by switching an IGBT connected to the negative value of the converted DC voltage. The fixed DC voltage (200
VDC) is modulated or clipped in this fashion to provide a variable voltage and frequency. Where IGBTs can turn on in less than 400
nanoseconds and off in approximately 500 nanoseconds, they are ideal for the high switching speed necessary to create a true sine wave in
this fashion. The fixed DC voltage (200 VDC) is modulated or clipped in this fashion to provide a variable voltage and frequency.
ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF KIRK KLEINSCHMIDT
The three phases of the inverter generator process: high frequency AC converted to DC; DC inverted to stable clean 120V, 60 Hz AC.
To summarize this complex process: the generator's multi-pole core produces high voltage multiphase AC power. The AC power is then
converted to DC. Finally the DC power is converted back to AC by an inverter. Since the inverter completely processes the raw power
generated by the alternator, the voltage and frequency of the power it generates is no longer linked to engine speed (RPM) as is the case
with conventional AVR generators. Rather, using microprocessor controlled IGBTs the inverter module switches the high voltage DC
according to PWM control logic to provide AC power with a voltage stability within 1%, and frequency stability within 0.01 HZ. The
end result is a nearly pure sine wave with a wave distortion of only 2.5%; which, is as clean or cleaner than commercial power.
As discussed above, developments in this direction began a long time ago, but a techno-economical solution could not be found to
manufacture true sine wave inverters until recently because of the prohibitive cost of high power electronic devices and components.
However, recent rapid developments in the field of IGBT electronics and miniaturization/mass production of microprocessor based digital
control systems have reached the stage that Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) inverter modules are economically viable and affordable.
__________________________________________________________________
Lighting Load Types
All loads are not created equal
All lighting loads are not the same. Incandescent, Fluorescent, LED, and HMI lights fall into two broad categories. Those that are linear
loads and those that are non-linear loads. Non-linear loads further break down into two categories: those that exhibit high inductive reactance
(magnetic HMI ballasts) and those that exhibit high capacitive reactance (electronic HM, Fluorescent, & LED ballasts). Because each type of
load has an effect (mostly adverse) on the power supply, their individual characteristics are worth exploring in more detail. Even more so,
because they adversely affect generated power more than they do grid power.
Linear Loads
Incandescent Lights (Purely Resistive Loads)
An incandescent light is a simple resistive load. The high resistance of its tungsten filament creates heat until the filament glows - creating
light. The current in such a simple resistive AC circuit increases proportionately as the voltage increases and decreases proportionately as the
voltage decreases. Changes in alternating current (AC) and the relationship between voltage and current in a purely resistive circuit
(Incandescent Lights) can be represented graphically by the sine waves below.
Unity Power Factor: Voltage & Current are in Phase.
For a sinusoidal voltage, the current is also sinusoidal. For a purely resistive load like incandescent lights, the current is always proportional
to the voltage. The voltage and current are in phase and so have a Power Factor of 1 or unity power factor (power factor will be explained in
detail below.)
Non-Linear Loads
HMI Lights with Magnetic Ballasts
The make up of a magnetic HMI ballast is relatively simple by comparison to the newer electronic HMI ballasts. Between the power input
and the lamp is a transformer that acts as a choke coil. The transformer provides the start-up charge for the igniter circuit, rapidly increasing
the potential between the electrodes of the heads arc gap until an electrical arc jumps the gap and ignites an electrical arc between the lamp
electrodes. The transformer then acts as a choke, regulating current to the lamp to maintain the pulsating arc once the light is burning. As
such, the light intensity of an HMI follows the power waveform and increases and decreases 120 times a second, twice every AC cycle. This
fluctuation is not visible to the eye but will be captured on film or video as a steady pulsation if the camera is not in precise synchronization
with the AC power frequency. With magnetic HMI ballasts, to avoid this flicker, you must use a crystal controlled camera, run the camera
at one of a number of safe frame rates (those that can be divided into 120 and result in a whole number), and use power that is regulated at
exactly 60 Hertz (cycles per second.)
Transformers of a 12k Magnetic HMI Balllast
Essentially a large coil of wire that is tapped at several places to provide for various input voltages and a high start-up voltage, the
transformers of magnetic HMI ballasts exhibit high self-inductance. Self-inductance is a particular form of electromagnetic induction that
inhibits the flow of current in the windings of the ballast transformer, pulls the voltage out of phase with the current, and reduces the power
efficiency (power factor) of the ballast. Because the high self-inductance inherent in magnetic HMI ballasts adversely effects the power
generated by small portable generators, it is a topic worth exploring in more detail.
Self-Inductance
Self-inductance is defined as the induction of a voltage in a current-carrying wire within a coil when the current in the wire itself is changing
as it alternates. Taking a close look at a simple circuit with a coil will help us to understand how voltage is induced by changing current.
The alternating current running through a coil creates a magnetic field in and around the coil that is increasing and decreasing as the current
alternates. The magnetic field forms concentric loops that surround the wire and join to form larger loops that surround the coil as shown in
the image below. When the current increases in one loop the expanding magnetic field will cut across some or all of the neighboring loops
of wire, inducing a voltage in these loops. This voltage causes a current to flow in the windings of the coil.
ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF THE NDT RESOURCE CENTER
Magnetic fields created in and around a coil with alternating current running through it.
By studying this image of a coil, it can be seen that the number of turns in the coil will have an effect on the amount of voltage that is
induced into our simple circuit. Increasing the number of turns or the rate of change of magnetic flux thereby increases the amount of current
induced. The current induced by this voltage has a direction such that its magnetic field opposes the change in magnetic field that induced
the current. Or, in other words, the current induced in a conductor will oppose the change in current that is causing the flux to change.
Inductive Reactance
By taking an even closer look at a coil of wire it can be seen how induction reduces the flow of current in our simple circuit. In the image
below, the direction of the primary current is shown in red, and the magnetic field generated by the current is shown in blue. It can be seen
that the magnetic field from one loop of the wire will cut across the other loops in the coil and this will induce current flow (shown in
green) in the circuit.
ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF THE NDT RESOURCE CENTER
Induced current works against the primary current in a coil.
Note that the induced current flows in the opposite direction of the primary current and accomplishes no actual work other than to create
energy circulating back and forth between the coil and the power source. The induced current working against the primary current results in
a reduction of current flow in our simple circuit. This opposition to the flow of current is called inductive reactance.
Since inductive reactance reduces the flow of current in a circuit, it appears as an energy loss just like resistance. However, it is possible to
distinguish between resistance and inductive reactance in a circuit by looking at the timing between the sine waves of the voltage and current
of the alternating current. As we saw above, in AC circuits with resistive loads, the voltage and the current are in-phase, meaning that the
peaks and valleys of their sine waves occur at the same time. When there is inductive reactance present in the circuit, the phase of the
current will be shifted so that its peaks and valleys do not occur at the same time as those of the voltage. As illustrated below, inductive
reactance causes current to lag behind the voltage. The degree to which the two waveforms are put out of phase depends on the relative
amount of resistance and inductance offered by the coil.
Poor Power Factor: Voltage & Current are in out of phase.
As we saw in our simple circuit above, the number of turns in the coil will have an effect on the amount of voltage that is induced into the
circuit. Increasing the number of turns increases the amount of induced voltage. In the case of a magnetic HMI ballast, the multiple fine
windings of the ballast transformer induces appreciable voltage and considerable current that is in opposition to the primary current, causing
the primary current to lag behind voltage, a reduction of current flow, and an inefficiency in the use of power supplied by the generator. Put
simply, the ballast draws more power than it uses to create light. Capacitors are typically included in the design of magnetic HMI ballasts to
compensate for the high inductance of the transformer and to bring the current back in phase with the voltage.
Apparent Power Verses True Power = Power Factor
If, in this situation, you were to measure the current (using a Amp Meter) and voltage (using a Volt Meter) traveling through the cable
supplying the magnetic HMI ballast and multiply them according to Ohms Law (W=VA) you would get the apparent power of the
ballast. But, if you were to instead, use a wattmeter to measure the actual amount of energy being converted into real work (light) by the
ballast, after the applied voltage overcomes the induced voltage, you would get the true power of the ballast. The ratio of true power to
apparent power is called the power factor of the ballast.
The favorite analogy electricians like to use to explain power factor is that if apparent power is a glass of beer, power factor is the foam that
prevents you from filling it up all the way. When lights with a low power factor are used, a generator must be sized to supply the apparent
power (beer plus foam), even though only the beer (true power) counts as far as how much actual drinking is possible. Where a typical
1200W magnetic HMI ballast takes 13.5 Amps at 120 Volts to generate 1200 Watts of light the power factor is .74 (13.5A x 120V=1620W,
1200W/1620W=.74).
Capacitive Reactance
Electronic HMI, Fluorescent, & LED ballasts belong to a category of power supplies, called Switch Mode Power Supplies (SMPSs), that
exhibit another type of opposition to the flow of current that is called Capacitive Reactance. SMPSs utilize electronic components that use
only portions of the AC power waveform. These devices then return the unused portions as harmonic currents that stack on top of one
another, pull the voltage and current out of phase, and under the wrong conditions create distortion of the voltage waveform.
As illustrated in the wiring schematic above, all SMPSs consist of first a diode-capacitor section (consisting of a Bridge Rectifier and
Smoothing Capacitor) that converts the AC input power to DC power; and then, in the case of HMI & Fluorescent lights, a Switch-mode
Converter section that converts the DC power back to an alternating power waveform that ignites the lamp. In the case of High Output AC
LED ballasts, the Switch Mode Converter further conditions the DC power the diode-capacitor section outputs. How HMI and Fluorescent
ballasts differ as SMPSs is by the shape and frequency of the alternating power waveform the Switch-mode converter generates. In the case
of electronic HMI ballasts the Switch-mode converter generates a low frequency (60Hz) square wave. In the case of electronic Fluorescent
ballasts, the Switch-mode converter generates a high frequency (>20kHz) sine wave. Regardless of what circuits are in the green box in the
illustration above, all SMPSs utilize a diode-capacitor section to first convert the AC line input power to DC power. The diode-capacitor
section of a SMPS is the source of the capacitive reactance that opposes the flow of current and contributes to its poor power factor.
ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF HARRY BOX
The capacitive reactance of SMPSs act on power in a way opposite to inductive reactance. It causes current to lead voltage. SMPSs typically
have a power factor less than .6, meaning that the ballast (whether HMI, Fluorescent, or LED) has to draw 40% - 50% more power than it
uses. Where capacitive reactance leads to an inefficient use of power (lots of foam, not much beer), and the harmonic currents generated can
have adverse effects on other equipment operating on the same power, it is worth exploring the cause of capacitive reactance and the source
of the harmonic currents in more detail. To understand the cause of the capacitive reactance of SMPSs, and its effect on the power supply,
lets look first at the operation of fluorescent ballasts in more detail.
Fluorescent Ballasts (Electronic vs. Electromagnetic)
The ballast of a fluorescent light functions very much like an HMI ballast. It provides the lamp with high voltage during start-up to ignite an
arc between the lamp electrodes, and then stabilizes the arc by limiting the electrical current to the lamp. As in the case of HMI lights, there
are two basic types of fluorescent ballasts: magnetic and electronic.
A magnetic fluorescent ballast works very much like a magnetic HMI ballast. It uses a magnetic transformer of copper windings around a
steel core to convert the input line voltage and current to the voltage and current required to start and operate the fluorescent lamp. Like
magnetic HMI ballasts, they exhibit high inductive reactance and have a poor power factor. The power factor of magnetic ballasts is usually
less than .5 and they typically account for 18% to 35% of total harmonic distortion in the power supply of offices where they are commonly
used. Like magnetic HMI ballasts, the output frequency of a magnetic fluorescent ballast is the same as the input AC line frequency (60 Hz),
which means that (as was the case with an HMI magnetic ballast) the camera frame rate must be synchronized with the AC frequency of the
power supply in order to avoid the appearance of light intensity fluctuation in the image. For this reason fluorescent lights were seldom used
in motion picture production until the advent of high frequency electronic ballasts for fluorescent lamps.
Fluorescent Lights with Electronic Ballasts
Electronic fluorescent ballasts are a Switch-mode Power Supply (SMPS) designed to perform all the same functions as a magnetic ballast
but at a higher frequency. They first rectify the 60 Hz AC input to DC and then produce a very high frequency alternating current (20,000 -
50,000 Hz depending on the fixture) using an inverter and power conditioning components.
Kino Flo 4 Bank Select Ballast
The high frequencies at which electronic fluorescent ballasts operate make them a suitable light source for film and television production. By
converting the 60 Hz input frequency to between 20,000 - 50,000 Hz, electronic ballasts eliminate the problem of light intensity fluctuation
associated with standard magnetic ballasts. At those frequencies the period of time between the off and on pulse of each cycle is so short that
the illuminating phosphors do not decay in light output.
Assorted High Frequency Fluorescent Lights Designed for Motion Picture Lighting.
Like the glowing tungsten coil of an incandescent lamp, the fluorescent phosphors become essentially flicker free. Electronic fluorescent
ballasts also weigh less and dont have the characteristic hum of magnetic ballasts. These characteristics of high frequency electronic ballasts
make them well suited for motion picture lighting. Developed first by Kino Flo (above), and now available from a number of manufacturers,
motion picture fluorescent lights now come in a wide assortment of shapes and sizes.
Assorted CFL Fluorescent Lights Designed for Motion Picture Lighting.
Regardless of its shape or size, the ballasts of all high frequency fluorescent lights utilize a Diode-Capacitor circuit to first convert the AC
line input to DC. Since it is the Diode-Capacitor circuit of an electronic ballast that generates a high level of capacitive reactance, which
leads to an inefficient use of power and the generation of harmonic currents, let us examine how they work in one type of fluorescent light
in more detail the self ballasted Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL) pictured below.
CFL Fluorescent Light being tested.
Since the Diode-Capacitor circuit of a self ballasted CFL is similar in design to those in most all fluorescent movie lights (Kino Flo, Lowel,
etc.), a close examination of the power factor of CFLs will help us to understand the cause of the capacitive reactance in SMPSs in general,
as well as its effect on the power supply.
circuit schematic of an Incandescent bulb.
To understand the power factor of a self ballasted CFL bulb it is helpful to compare it to an incandescent bulb. If you will recall from the
beginning of this section, an incandescent light is a simple resistive load (see circuit schematic above.) The high resistance of its tungsten
filament creates heat until the filament glows - creating light. As we see in the oscilloscope shot below, of a 25W incandescent bulb
operating on grid power, the current is always proportional to the voltage (current is represented on the scope as the voltage drop on a 1
Ohm resistor.)
Current and Voltage Waveform of a ACEC 25W Incandescent bulb.
If the applied voltage is sinusoidal, the current generated is also sinusoidal. That is, the current increases proportionately as the voltage
increases and decreases proportionately as the voltage decreases. Since the peak of the voltage corresponds to the peak in current, the voltage
and current are also in phase and so have a unity power factor (Power Factor of 1.)
The voltage and current waveforms, below, of a CFL bulb operating on grid power is very different from that of the incandescent light
above. The most noticeable difference is that the current, generated by the CFL bulb, no longer proportionately follows the nice smooth
sinusoidal voltage waveform supplied to it by the power grid. Rather, it has been distorted by electrical components in the ballast so that it
instead consists of sharp spikes in power that quickly drop off over a short duration. A second distinguishing characteristic is that the peak
of the voltage no longer corresponds to the peak in current. The current now leads the voltage by 1.7 milli seconds. The voltage and
current are no longer in phase, but instead exhibit what we call a Leading Power Factor.
Current and Voltage Waveform of a Brelight 25W CFL Bulb.
Like all electronic fluorescent ballasts, the ballasts of CFLs are a Switch-mode Power Supply that converts line-frequency power (60Hz) to a
high frequency alternating current. In the case of self-ballasted CFL bulbs, what is in the green Switch Mode Converter box of the SMPS
illustration above, are a pair of MOSFETS (metaloxidesemiconductor field-effect transistors) that act as a high frequency DC to AC
inverter. For the purpose of this discussion, what's in the green Switch Mode box, or what the power supply ultimately does with the DC
power put out by the diode-capacitor circuit is not important. What's important is that like all SMPSs, CFL ballasts consist of first a diode-
capacitor section that converts the AC input power to DC power. Since, the capacitive reactance of all SMPSs is caused by this diode-
capacitor circuit, how it operates in self-ballasted CFL bulbs and the affect it has on power quality is representative of SMPSs in general
(fluorescent, HMI, & AC LED.)
Typical schematic of CFL electronic ballast: L-to-R consists of half-bridge rectifier, conditioning capacitor, DC/AC Inverter.
The distorted current waveform and Leading Power Factor exhibited by CFLs is caused by the Diode-Capacitor circuit of its electronic
ballast. To quickly summarize the cause of this current distortion, the Diode-Capacitor circuit uses only the ascending portion of the supply
voltage waveform - which pulls the current out of phase with the voltage. As seen in this scope shot, it also draws current in quick bursts,
and returns the unused portions as harmonic currents that stack on top of one another creating harmonic distortion of the power waveform.
These harmonic currents, combined with the Leading Power Factor, creates the capacitive reactance that opposes the flow of current in the
circuit that leads to an inefficient use of power by the ballast. Since, the harmonic currents generated can have an adverse effect on other
equipment operating on the same power, it is worth exploring the cause of this capacitive reactance and the source of the harmonic currents
in more detail.
Step 1: Rectifier Bridge converts line frequency AC power to rectified sine wave. Step 2: rectified sine wave is flattened to DC by conditioning Capacitor.
Step 3 (not shown): Inverter alternates wave polarity creating a high frequency alternating power to excite lamp gases.
As illustrated above, the diode-capacitor section converts the AC power to DC power by first feeding the AC input current through a bridge
rectifier, which inverts the negative half of the AC sine wave and makes it positive. The rectified current then passes into a conditioning
capacitor that removes the 60 Hz rise and fall and flattens out the voltage - making it essentially DC. The DC is then fed from the
conditioning capacitor to the Switch-mode converter which in the case of a fluorescent ballast is a high frequency inverter that utilizes a pair
of MOSFETs to generate the high frequency (20-50kHZ) AC power.
Yellow Trace: Rectifier Bridge converts AC power to rectified sine wave. Blue Trace: Stored Capacitor Voltage. Red Trace: Current drawn by capacitors
once input voltage is greater than voltage stored in the capacitor (Blue trace.)
As shown in the illustration above, the diode-capacitor circuit only draws current during the peaks of the supply voltage waveform as it
charges the conditioning capacitor to the peak of the line voltage. Since the conditioning capacitor can only charge when input voltage is
greater than its stored voltage, the capacitor charges for only a very brief period of the overall cycle time. That is because, after peaking, the
half cycle from the bridge drops below the capacitor voltage; which back biases the bridge, inhibiting further current flow into the capacitor.
Since, during this very brief charging period, the capacitor must charge fully, large pulses of current are drawn for short durations.
Consequently, electronic fluorescent ballasts (and SMPSs in general), draw current in high amplitude short pulses. The remaining unused
current feeds back into the power stream as harmonic currents.
Given this method of operation, the diode-capacitor circuits of CFLs (and SMPS in general) create two artifacts that can effect power quality
adversely. First, since the conditioning capacitor starts to charge when input voltage is greater than its stored voltage, and stops after the
input voltage peaks, it pulls current out of phase with voltage. As we can see in the oscilloscope shot above, it causes current to lead
voltage or creates a "Leading Power Factor." Second, the unused portions of the voltage waveform that return into the power stream as
harmonic currents can have a severe effect on power quality under certain conditions. Where, it is the combination of a Leading Power
Factor and harmonic currents generated by diode-capacitor circuits that constitute the capacitive reactance of SMPS that opposes the flow of
current it is worth exploring the effect of both in CFLs in more detail.
Components of a CFL ballast
These simple diode-capacitor circuits are used in CFL bulbs and in many fluorescent movie lights because they are compact and
inexpensive. However, they have a number of drawbacks. For instance, notice how large the input current spike (red trace above) of the
diode-capacitor circuit is. Without power factor correction, the in-put bridge rectifier requires a large conditioning capacitor at its output.
This capacitor results in line current pulses (as seen in our oscilloscope shot above) that are very high in amplitude. All the circuitry in the
ballast as well as the supply chain (the generator, distribution wiring, circuit breakers, etc) must be sized to carrying this high peak current
(the foam in our analogy).
For a rather amusing demonstration of the greater current drawn by SMPSs for the same wattage of light check out this You-Tube video
Compact Fluorescent verses The Generator." In this video, lighting designer Kevan Shaw, first operates a 575W ETC Source Four Leko
with Quartz Halogen bulb on an 850W two stroke gas generator without problem. However, when he tries to operate an equivalent wattage
of CFLs (30 x 18W bulbs =540W) the generator goes berserk. Kevan then turns off the 18W CFL bulbs one at a time until the generator
stabilizes. Only after turning off half the CFL Bulbs does the generator operate normally with a remaining load of 15 - 18W CFLs (270 W.)
What accounts for the erratic behavior of the generator in this video under the smaller load of CFLs? It is a combination of the poor Power
Factor of the CFL bulbs and the harmonic currents they generate. Even though the 15 CFL bulbs have a True Power of 270W, the Watt
indicator on Kevan's generator indicates that they draw twice that in Apparent Power (535W), or have a Power Factor of .5 (270W/535W
=.504.)
Another drawback to the diode-capacitor circuits used in SMPSs is that when they draw current it is for only a fraction of the half cycle of
the voltage waveform. If we return to the illustration above, we see that the pulses of current are narrow, with fast rise and fall times. Since a
diode-capacitor circuit uses only the very peak of the voltage waveform, they generate high harmonic content as the unused portions of the
voltage waveform are returned as harmonic currents (see graph below.)
Distribution of Harmonic Currents generated by CFL bulb
The fast rise time of these current pulses can cause Radio Frequency Interference (RFI) problems. For this reason, Lowel Light warns on
their website that their compact fluorescent (CFL) fixture, the Lowel Ego, that: The lamps may cause interference with radios, cordless
phones, televisions, and remote controls. If interference occurs, move this product away from the device or move to a different outlet
(http://www.lowel.com/ego/lamp_info.html.)
Harmonic currents can also stack on top of one another creating excessive current on the distribution system neutral (see below.) And, since
the neutral conductor of a distribution system is not fused, it can cause the neutral to overheat and possibly catch fire.
In one study, substituting incandescent lamps with the equivalent wattage of CFLs in a small single phase distribution system
substantially increased the current on the system neutral as a result of the 3rd harmonics generated by the CFL Bulbs.
For this reason, on their website Kino Flo cautions users of their older style fixtures, that the ballasts will draw double the current on the
neutral from what is being drawn on the two hot legs. On large installations it may be necessary to double your neutral run so as not to
exceed your cable capacity. (http://www.kinoflo.com/FYI/FAQs.htm#2"]FAQ Why is the neutral drawing more than the hot leg.)
Finally, when the power is supplied by a conventional AVR generator, these harmonic currents can also lead to severe distortion of the
voltage waveform in the power distribution system. When you plug an electronic ballast (fluorescent, HMI, or LED) into a wall outlet you
need not be concerned about current harmonic distortion producing voltage distortion. The impedance of the electrical path from the power
plant to the outlet is so low, the distortion of the original applied power waveform so small (less than 3%), and the power plant generating
capacity so large by comparison to the load, that harmonic currents fed back to it will not effect the voltage at the load bus (electrical
outlet.) However, it is an all together different situation when plugging an electronic ballast (fluorescent, HMI, or LED) into a portable
generator. In this case, the impedance of the power generating system (generator and distribution cable) is sufficient enough that a harmonic
current will induce a voltage at the same frequency. For example, a 5th harmonic current will produce a 5th harmonic voltage, a 7th
harmonic current will produce a 7th harmonic voltage, etc. Since, as we saw above, a distorted current waveform is made up of the
fundamental plus one or more harmonic currents, each of these currents flowing through an impedance will, result in voltage harmonics
appearing at the load bus, a voltage drop, and distortion of the voltage waveform.
Since electronic ballasts consume current only at the peak of the voltage waveform (to charge the smoothing capacitor), voltage drop due to
system impedance occurs only at the peak of the voltage waveform. In this fashion, the pulsed current consumed by electronic ballasts
produces voltage distortion in the form of flat-topping of the voltage waveform.
The pulsed current consumed by electronic ballasts produce voltage distortion in the form of flat-topping
The measurement of this distortion is designated as the Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) of the distribution system. While self ballasted
CFLs generate the most severe harmonic noise, all fluorescent ballasts (both magnetic & electronic) generate harmonic noise (see table
below.)
The severe voltage waveform distortion exhibited above can cause overheating and failing equipment, efficiency losses, circuit breaker trips,
and instability of the generator's voltage and frequency. In addition to creating the radio frequency interference (RFI) mentioned on the
Lowel Light website, harmonic distortion of this magnitude can also cause component level damage to HD digital cinema production
equipment and create ground loops. We will explore how harmonic distortion of the power waveform adversely effects equipment operating
on it in more detail in subsequent sections, but first lets continue our survey of lighting loads with electronic HMI ballasts.
HMI Lights with Electronic Ballasts
Like the development of electronic fluorescent ballasts, the development of electronic HMI ballasts was a major advance in lighting
technology because they eliminate the flicker problem associated with magnetic ballasts, as well as the need for expensive frequency
governors in small generators. They allow you to film at any frame rate and even at changing frame rates. An electronic HMI ballast
eliminates flicker by creating a virtually constant output of light over the AC cycle by squaring off the curves of the AC sine wave. The
changeover period is so brief that the light is virtually continuous.
By comparison to magnetic HMI ballasts, electronic HMI ballasts are quite a bit more complicated. As another example of a Switch-mode
Power Supply (SMPS), they, in fact, operate in a very similar fashion to electronic fluorescent ballasts. Like a fluorescent ballast, AC power
is first converted into DC. Then, a high-speed switching device (micro processor controlled IGBTs) turns the DC current into alternating
current. The difference between an electronic HMI ballast and an electronic fluorescent ballast is that the HMI ballast generates a square
wave where the electronic fluorescent ballast generates a high frequency sine wave.
Since an electronic ballast completely processes and regulates the input power they can tolerate fairly wide voltage and Hertz rate
discrepancies. A 120V electronic ballast can take an input from 95V to 132V with out effecting the output signal and the fixture's color
temperature, and it will not be affected by the fluctuations in frequency (Hz) of conventional AVR generators without governors.
Where they are not frequency dependent and will tolerate voltage fluctuations, at first it was thought that electronic square wave ballasts
would operate more reliably on small portable generators even those without frequency governors. For this reason, as soon as electronic
square wave ballasts appeared on the market, many lighting rental houses replaced the more expensive crystal governed portable generators
with less expensive non-synchronous portable generators. The theory was that an electronic square wave ballast would operate reliably on a
non-synchronous generator and allow filming at any frame rate, where as a magnetic HMI ballast operating on a crystal controlled
synchronous generator allowed filming only at permitted frame rates. In practice, electronic square wave ballasts turned out to be a mixed
blessing.
Like all SMPSs, electronic HMI ballasts without power factor correction draw current in large pulses and return harmonic currents to the
power stream. The capacitive reactance of electronic HMI ballasts also causes current to lead voltage and so they also have a leading power
factor. An electronic square wave HMI ballast typically has a power factor less than .6, meaning the ballast has to draw 40 percent or more
power than it uses. For example a 1200W non-power factor corrected electronic HMI ballast takes 18.5 Amps at 120 Volts to generate 1200
Watts of light and has a power factor of .54 (18.5A x 120V=2220W, 1200W/2220W=.54).
Above is the nameplate from an Arri 575/1200 Electronic Ballast with DMX Control. You can see that it is marked that it will draw 18A of
current ("I") at 125 Volts ("U"). You will also notice that it states that the ballast has a cos@=.6 which mean that the Power Factor is .6. It
is important to understand that this greater Apparent Power consists not only of the high amplitude short pulses of current drawn by the
ballast. Like a CFL, a non-PFC electronic HMI ballast also returns the unused portion of the voltage waveform into the distribution system
as harmonic currents. That is, when a wattmeter measures the actual amount of energy being converted into real work (light) by the ballast
(the True Power of the ballast), it is not measuring the power that goes into the generation of harmonic currents. Before exploring in more
detail how the Leading Power Factor and harmonics generated by electronic HMI ballasts can adversely effect equipment operating on it, Id
like to conclude our survey of lighting loads by saying a few words about "High Output" AC LEDs.
High Output AC LEDs
An LED consists of a chip of semiconducting material doped with impurities to create a p-n junction. As in other diodes, current flows
easily from the p-side, or anode, to the n-side, or cathode, but not in the reverse direction. As illustrated below, when the opposing
electrodes of the p-n junction have different potentials, electrons fall into the lower energy level, releasing energy in the form of a photons or
light. LEDs, by nature, require direct current (DC) with low voltage, as opposed to the mains electricity from the electrical grid that supplies
a high voltage with an alternating current (AC).
LED lights used in motion picture lighting applications fall into a category of LED technology called AC LED lighting. The term AC LED
lighting refers to illumination generated by High Power LED (HPLED) light engines supplied with a sinusoidal AC voltage source
typically the utility line voltage (e.g., 120 V in the U.S., 100 V in J apan, 220 V in Europe). AC LEDs present many advantages over
incandescent light sources including lower energy consumption, longer lifetime, improved robustness, smaller size, faster switching, and
greater durability and reliability. For these reasons, but principally because of its high luminous efficacy, AC LED lighting has tremendous
potential to become the dominant type of lighting in motion picture production. However, they are relatively expensive and require more
precise current and heat management than traditional motion picture light sources.
One of the key advantages of LED-based lighting is its high efficiency, as measured by its light output per unit power input. White LEDs
quickly matched and overtook the efficiency of standard incandescent lighting systems. In 2002, Lumileds made five-watt LEDs available
with a luminous efficacy of 1822 lumens per watt [lm/W]. For comparison, a conventional 60100 W incandescent light bulb produces
around 15 lm/W, and standard fluorescent lights produce up to 100 lm/W. In September 2003, Cree, Inc. introduced a white LED light
giving 65 lm/W at 20 mA, becoming the brightest white LED commercially available at the time, and more than four times as efficient as
standard incandescent lights. In 2006 Cree, Inc. demonstrated a prototype with a record white LED luminous efficacy of 131 lm/W at 20
mA, which is even better than standard fluorescent lights. However, these efficiencies are for the LED chip only, held at low temperature in
a lab. In a lighting application, operating at higher temperature and with drive circuit losses, efficiencies are much lower. United States
Department of Energy (DOE) testing of commercial LED lamps showed that average efficacy was still about 46 lm/W in 2009 (tested
performance ranged from 17 lm/W to 79 lm/W).
Cree's high-power LED XLamp 7090 XR-E Q4
As of September 2009 some High Output LEDs manufactured by Cree Inc. now exceed 105 lm/W (e.g. the XLamp XP-G LED chip pictured
above) at room temperature; and Cree issued a press release on February 3, 2010 about a laboratory prototype LED achieving 208 lumens
per watt at room temperature (the correlated color temperature was reported to be 4579 K.) Without a doubt AC LEDs have become the
most efficient light source available. But, before the full potential of AC LED lighting can be realized for motion picture lighting
applications, the AC LED manufacturers must overcome some key barriers: color rendering, cost, power quality and versatility.
The Color Rendering/Cost Trade-Off
At this point in time, manufacturers of LED Lights for motion picture applications seem to trade off color rendering for cost. The
inexpensive motion picture LED lighting instruments are affordable because they use High Power AC LED chips that are mass produced for
home and industrial lighting applications. The problem is that the color rendering of these LED chips is less than optimum for motion
picture lighting applications (to see how poor the color rendering of LEDs is compared to traditional tungsten lights use this link to the
Solid State Lighting Project Technical Assessment generated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences). Expensive LED lighting
instruments, like the MoleLED 12 Pack (pictured below), are expensive because they use LED chips, like the OSRAM KREIOSstage
light module, that are specifically designed for motion picture lighting applications and hence are not produced on a mass scale.
The MoleLED 12Pack
Until the recent development by OSRAM of their KREIOSLED technology, the color rendering of LED fixtures was generally pretty poor
- they exhibit significant green output. Where most manufacturers of LED fixtures for motion picture production have chosen to either build
into the fixture minus green gel filters (Litepanels) or provide them to apply separately (CoolLights, Nila), Mole-Richardson instead chose to
use the new OSRAM KREIOSstage light module (pictured below) in their MoleLED 12 Pack fixture.
The OSRAM Kreios stage light LED module
The KREIOSstage light module is a metal core circuit board with 20 high-output blue LEDs each topped with a remote phosphor dome.
The phosphor domes are an OSRAM proprietary design, which are blue light activated to produce light in two exact color temperatures,
Tungsten and Daylight. While, remote phosphor technology has been used for years to extend the short wavelength of Blue LEDS to create a
fuller color spectrum, OSRAM was the first LED manufacturer to use remote phosphor technology to exactly match the spectral sensitivity
of Tungsten and Daylight balanced film stocks.
The spectrum distribution of the Daylight balanced MoleLED clearly shows the blue light emitted by the InGaN-based LED (peak at about 465 nm)
as well as the more broadband light created by phosphors.
Remote phosphor technology uses phosphor materials to convert the monochromatic light emitted by Blue LEDs to broad-spectrum white
light, much in the same way a fluorescent light bulb works. This method involves coating a blue LED made of InGaN with phosphors that
are activated by the 465 nm wavelength emitted by the InGaN based Blue LED. Once activated, the phosphors create light of other colors
that blend with the blue light to produce a fuller spectrum white light. In effect, a fraction of the blue light undergoes what is called a Stokes
shift and is transformed from shorter wavelengths to longer. By applying several phosphor layers of distinct colors, the color spectrum of a
given LED can be manipulated to a desired effect. OSRAM was the first LED manufacturer to use remote phosphor technology to exactly
match the spectral sensitivity curves of Tungsten and Daylight balanced film stocks. And, with the help of Kodak, Panavision, Technicolor,
and Shelly J ohnson ASC, multiple film tests were shot with the KREIOSstage light module in order to verify the color generated by the
MoleLED on set would translate to the color viewed in film dailies. This attention to detail and strict testing has proven the MoleLED will
mix seamlessly with any existing Tungsten Halogen light source, natural daylight, or any daylight balanced light source.
The spectrum distribution of the Tungsten balanced MoleLED clearly shows the blue light emitted by the InGaN-based LED (peak at about 465 nm)
as well as the more broadband light created by phosphors.
Besides being able to precisely manipulate the spectral distribution of an LED source, other benefits to remote phosphor technology used in
the MoleLED is that it offers a single semiconductor system (rather than blending Red, Green, & Blue LEDs in a RGB blending system)
which results in consistent color temperature behavior and allows the MoleLED to achieve a greater than 90 CRI with ease. Additionally,
the technology ensures light and color output stability over time (a drawback to RGB blending systems.)
The Power Quality of AC LED Lights
Despite improved color rendering and significantly higher energy efficiency than incandescent lighting, the power quality of AC LED
lighting has been a much less compelling story because of its reliance on Switch Mode Power. As was true of early electronic HMI ballasts,
manufacturers of AC LEDs will have to address the relatively poor power quality generated by the Switch Mode Power Supplies (SMPSs)
used in AC LED lighting ballasts before AC LED lighting can replace incandescent lamps in studios and on location sets powered by
generators.
High Power AC LEDs use separate power supplies because they require more precise voltage/current management than traditional motion
picture light sources. Unlike incandescent light bulbs, which illuminate regardless of the electrical polarity, LEDs will only light with
correct electrical polarity. When the voltage across the p-n junction is in the correct direction, a significant current flows and the device is
said to be forward-biased. If the voltage is of the wrong polarity, the device is said to be reverse biased, very little current flows, and no
light is emitted.
.
While LEDs can operate on direct alternating current, this approach is unsuitable for motion picture lighting applications because it will
cause flicker in the image. Since an LED only lights when forward-biased, when powered directly with alternating current they will only
light with positive voltage, causing the LED to turn on and off at the frequency of the AC supply. As in the case of magnetic HMI ballasts,
these pulsations of light will lead to flicker in the image unless both the power supply and camera shutter are tightly regulated. For this
reason, LEDs used as a light source for motion picture production require direct current (DC) be applied to their diodes. To operate on AC
mains power, LEDs need not only some type of AC-to-DC converter but also additional regulation of the DC to the diodes.
A small voltage change results in a exponentially large change in current.
LEDs require additional regulation of the DC to the diodes because the current drawn by LEDs is an exponential function of voltage. As
illustrated above, a small voltage change results in a large change in current. It is therefore critically important that the right DC voltage be
provided to the diodes. If the voltage is below the threshold, or on-voltage, no current will flow and the result is an unlit LED. If the voltage
is too high, the current will go above the maximum rating, heating and potentially destroying the LED. To make matters worse, as an LED
heats up, its voltage drop decreases, further increasing current. For these reasons, High Power AC LEDs require a high degree of power
conditioning unlike incandescent light sources.
Left: The Cool Lights LED 600 Fixture. Right: Schematic diagram for an LED string with series resistor and linear voltage regulator.
Existing AC LEDs employ additional power conditioning in the head that is either a DC-to-DC Switch Mode Power Supply type (SMPS)
with constant current regulation, or a Resistor Type with linear voltage regulation. While a resistor wired in series with a string of LEDs
permits a linear voltage regulator to stabilize the LED current, this approach (used by Cool Lights and illustrated above) has several
drawbacks. First, considerable energy is wasted in the series resistors. Second, the linear voltage regulator that converts the supply voltage
to the desired voltage for the LED strings maintains a constant output by wasting excess electrical energy by converting it to heat. As such,
this approach is highly inefficient and not ideal for battery operation. The same function is performed more efficiently by using DC-to-DC
switched-mode power supply (SMPS) in conjunction with a constant current regulator in the light head.
Left: The Litepanel 1x1 LED Fixtre. Right: Schematic diagram for an LED string with constant current regulator.
The SMPS/constant current regulator approach, in contrast, regulates output voltage by rapidly switching a pass transistor (typically between
50 kHz and 1 MHz). In this approach (used by Lite Panels, Mole, & Zylites and illustrated above) voltage regulation is provided by varying
the ratio of on to off time of the transistor. Since transistors have no resistance when "closed" and carry no current when "open" almost
all the input power is delivered to the load; no power is wasted as dissipated heat. This higher efficiency is the chief advantage of switch-
mode power supply when compared to a linear power supply that dissipates excess voltage in the form of heat to regulate its output. In
addition to enabling the total LED string voltage to be a higher percentage of the power supply voltage, resulting in improved efficiency and
reduced power use, the highly regulated power provided by SMPS also stabilize the light output of High Power AC LEDs over the wide
range of voltages provided by batteries as they discharge.
Figure 1(a): schematic diagram for a SMPS type AC-to-DC Converter that converts sinusoidal AC voltage to DC voltage to drive a LED.
Since, LEDs used in motion picture lighting require direct current (DC) be applied to their diodes, to operate them on AC mains power
requires some type of AC-to-DC converter. Again, because of their higher efficiency AC-to-DC switch-mode power supplies are almost
universally used for this purpose.
Litepanel 1x1s use the Cincom TR70A24 SMPSs Type AC-to-DC Converter (above right)
which boasts a line regulation of +/- 1%, load regulation of +/- 2%, and an efficiency of 84%..
But, as Figure 2(a) below illustrates, the SMPSs used in AC LED ballasts can draw a very distorted current, and can result in current that is
significantly phase-shifted with respect to the sinusoidal voltage waveform. For instance, the AC power supply that Litepanels uses for their
1x1 panel arrays have a Leading Power Factor of 0.54 and generate high harmonic distortion (THD upwards of 68.1%). As such, the AC
power supplies of LEDs can have an adverse effect on power quality similar to that of CFLs described above.
Figure 2(a): Voltage and Current waveforms generated by SMPS type AC-to-DC Converter used to drive AC LEDs.
Like Fluorescent and HMI electronic ballasts, the power quality of SMPS-based AC LED ballast can be improved, but this comes at the
additional cost of adding a power factor correction module to further condition and control the current drawn by the load. Unfortunately, the
manufacturers of High Power AC LED Light fixtures for motion picture lighting applications generally do not give Power Factor
specifications for their products. But, if the present state of Fluorescent and HMI lights is any indication, it is probably the case that the less
expensive LED lights are not Power Factor Corrected, while the more expensive ones are Power Factor Corrected.
Distribution of harmonics generated by the power supply of the Litepanel 1x1 LED Fixtures.
Note: predominance of the 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 9th harmonics that don't cancel on neutral returns
The final issue LED Manufacturers will have to address, before LEDs will be widely accepted in motion picture production, is their lack of
versatility and control. The drawback to existing LED light panels is that their light falls off very rapidly and is hard to control. These
characteristics make LED light panels only suitable as Key sources in documentary interview set-ups where the Keys are typically
positioned close to the interview subject. In that capacity LED light panels (with heavy diffusion) can generate a wonderful soft light that
wraps around the interview subject without wilting them. However, in dramatic set lighting, where Key sources must be capable of throwing
a distance, LED light panels have only limited applications as fill sources. The broad soft light they put out drops off too rapidly, and is too
difficult to control, for them to be effective as a Key or Backlight source in dramatic set lighting. However, progress is being made in the
development of a LED light with the versatility and control of a traditional Fresnel instrument . In April 2010, Litepanels introduced a
prototype for their Sola-Series LED Fresnels at NAB. While definitely a step in the right direction in developing a production LED light,
the Litepanel Sola fixtures still dont quite combine the advantages of LED illumination (cool-burning, energy-efficient) with the
characteristics of a traditional Fresnel fixture.
The 75W Liepanel Sola 6 LED "Fresnel"
With the Sola fixtures, Litepanels has not overcome the basic problems of LEDs discussed above. For instance, Litepanels claims the 75W
Sola 6 (pictured above) has the output equivalent to a 650W Tungsten, but comparing the photometrics published on their website to those
of an Arri 650 Fresnel, the Arri has nearly three times the output of the Sola 6. Litepanels doesnt give CRI ratings for the Sola Fresnels on
their website, but when asked they say the CRI is in the 80s which is still rather anemic compared to other light sources. And, even
though, Litepanels has improved the Power Factor of the Sola Fixtures over that of the 1x1s, at .85 it could stand further improvement (a
Power Factor Corrected HMI has a Power Factor of .98 and Tungsten lights have unity power factor.) And, while the Sola 6 has an
impressive spot to flood range (10 to 70 degrees), spot/flood capability is not the only characteristic that makes a Fresnel light versatile. Of
equal importance is the ability to render clearly defined shadows and cuts. The ability of Fresnels to render crisp shadows make them ideal
for creating gobo effects like window or branch-a-loris patterns. And, the ability of Fresnels to render clearly defined cuts enables their light
to be precisely cut to set pieces and talent. Finally, Tungsten & HMI Fresnels have sufficient output that the crispness of their shadows or
the hardness of their cuts can be varied by simply adding one of a variety of diffusion material to soften their output if desired. These are the
characteristics of traditional Fresnels that make them extremely versatile, that the Sola Fresnels have not been able to emulate. Arri, on the
other hand, may finally have developed a true LED Fresnel.
In September 2010, Arri introduced a prototype for their L-Series LED Fresnel at the European trade show, IBC 2010. As is evident in the
demo video below that was recorded at the show, Arri has finally engineered a fixture that combines the cool-burning, energy-efficient
advantages of LED illumination with the controllable versatility of traditional Fresnel fixtures.
Not only is the beam of the Arri L-series Fresnel continuously focusable from spot to flood; but it is also easily controlled with barndoors
and flags. And, while CRI ratings are not available (the L-Series Fresnels are still in the prototype stage), Arri promises on their website
broad spectral output (such that), skin tones, costumes and scenery will appear vivid and lifelike. With the clear and defined shadow
rendering, excellent field homogeneity, and smooth continuous flood to spot focus demonstrated in the IBC 2010 show video, Arri has
clearly engineered the first true LED Fresnel. And, if they can deliver on their promise of broad spectral output, Arri may well have the
first true production LED light (see below for more details.)
__________________________________________________________________
Review
To review, an incandescent light has no inductive or capacitive properties. As discussed above, its tungsten filament merely creates
resistance in a circuit. The voltage and the current are in-phase, meaning that the peaks and valleys of their sine waves will occur at the same
time. A purely resistive load has a power factor of 1.0 (also called a unity power factor or 100% power factor). When an AC load involves
coils, such as those in a magnetic HMI ballast, it creates inductance as well as resistance. When there is inductive reactance present in a load
(an induced current that opposes the flow of the primary current), the phase of the current will be shifted so that its peaks and valleys do not
occur at the same time as those of the voltage.
Voltage/Current phase syncrhonization of lighting loads:
Incandescent Lights (top), Magnetic HMI Ballast (middle), non-PFC HMI Ballast (bottom)
Inductive reactance causes current to lag behind the voltage. The degree to which the two waveforms (current & voltage) are put out of
phase depends on the relative amount of resistance and inductance offered by the transformer and the number of capacitors built into the
ballast to counter the inductance. The more they are out of phase, the lower (poorer) the power factor (with a PF commonly between .7 and
.9.) If the load has a large capacitive component (electronic ballasts), capacitive reactance (the return of unused portions of the current
waveform) likewise puts voltage and current out of phase. However, capacitive reactance acts on the waveform in a way opposite to
inductive reactance. It causes current to lead voltage. Again, the more the two wave forms are put out of phase, the lower (poorer) the power
factor (with a PF commonly below .6.)
As we have seen, when a sinusoidal voltage is applied to a load through a distribution system, the load, depending on its Power Factor, may
or may not effect the quality of the current traveling though the system. With an incandescent light (a resistive load), the current drawn by
the light is proportional to the voltage and impedance and the current waveform follows the envelope of the voltage waveform having a
negligible effect on the quality of power in the distribution system. This type of load is referred to as a linear load (loads where the voltage
and current follow one another without any distortion to their pure sine waves).
ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF ELECTRICAL CONSTRUCTION & MAINTENANCE (ECM) MAGAZINE
Shown are plots of different linear load currents,
Ip is a pure resistive circuit current.
IL is a partially inductive (lagging) circuit current.
IC is a partially capacitive (leading) circuit current.
In contrast, loads like magnetic and electronic HMI and fluorescent ballasts, return current in the form of secondary currents that put the
primary current out of phase with the voltage. These loads are classified as nonlinear loads. Where it is these harmonics that effect the
operation of our production equipment, a basic understanding of harmonics is essential to providing safe and reliable power on set.
__________________________________________________________________
Harmonics
Harmonic Basics
When dumped back into the electrical distribution system of a generator, harmonic currents can combine with the fundamental (60 Hz)
current to create distortion of the voltage waveform similar to what can be seen below.
When looked at on an oscilloscope, the current waveforms of nonlinear loads appear like the non-sinusoidal waveform above because they
contain additional waveforms of the secondary currents superimposed upon the primary sinusoidal current waveform, creating multiple
frequencies within the normal 60-Hz sine wave. The multiple frequencies are harmonics of the fundamental frequency.
Undistorted Fundamental Pure Sine Wave
The current sine wave above represents what is called the fundamental wavelength. This is how the power waveform should look on an
oscillosocpe in an ideal situation. However, in practicality nothing is ever ideal. For example, as we saw above, solid state electronic
components found in electronic HMI and Kino Flo ballasts use only portions of the sine wave. These devices then return the unused portions
as harmonic currents.
Isolated Fundamental and its' Third Harmonic
The harmonic currents that have the most adverse effects are the high frequency odd number multiples of the original frequency. With 60Hz
power, the 3rd order harmonic will be 180Hz and the 5th order will be 300Hz, and so on. While modern test equipment is able to detect up
to 63 orders of harmonics, there is no doubt among electrical engineers that there are higher frequencies present that are undetectable. The
diagram above shows the fundamental sine wave (in blue) and the third order harmonic (in green) together for comparison.
Third Harmonic superimposed on Fundamental as it would appear on oscilloscope.
When the wave is measured on an oscilloscope, it will not appear as two waves but one (depicted above in blue.) The harmonics are super-
imposed onto the fundamental wave creating a ripple effect. These ripples are known as harmonic distortion. Below is a diagram showing
the fundamental and 3rd order harmonic waves super-imposed for the two predominant types of non-linear lighting loads - inductive and
capacitive.
ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF ELECTRICAL CONSTRUCTION & MAINTENANCE (ECM) MAGAZINE
The waveforms on the left illustrate the effect of the 3rd harmonics of capacitive loads (where current leads voltage) like the SMPS-based
ballasts used for HMI, fluorescent, and High Output AC LED lights. The waveforms on the right illustrate the effect of the 3rd harmonics of
an inductive load (where current lags voltage) like the magnetic ballasts of older HMIs and fluorescent practicals. If we were to add the
effect that the 5th, 7th, 9th, etc. harmonic currents would have on the waveform, we would see a further distortion of the waveform from its'
ideal sinusoidal shape. In the case of highly capacitive non-linear loads like electronic HMI ballasts, we would see a further squaring off of
the power waveform.
The Adverse Effects of Harmonics
Voltage Waveform Distortion
In theory, each harmonic current in an electrical distribution system will cause a voltage at the same harmonic to exist when the harmonic
current flows into an impedance. For example, a 5th harmonic current will produce a 5th harmonic voltage, a 7th harmonic current will
produce a 7th harmonic voltage, etc. Because a distorted current waveform is made up of the fundamental plus one or more harmonics
currents, each of these currents flowing into an impedance will, in theory, result in voltage harmonics appearing at the load bus, a voltage
drop, and distortion of the voltage waveform.
Each harmonic current in the electrical distribution system will cause
a voltage at the same harmonic to exist when
the harmonic current flows into an impedance.
As can be seen in the illustration above, voltage distortion will be greatest at the loads themselves, since the harmonic currents are subjected
to the full system impedance (generator, cables, etc.) at that point. In other words, the voltage will be the least distorted nearest to its source
and will become more distorted nearer to the load, where the harmonic current encounters the greatest impedance. This is a characteristic
most often misunderstood about distribution systems with a high THD. It means that even if voltage distortion levels are low at the power
source, they can be unacceptably high at the loads themselves.
In practice, when you plug a HMI light into a wall outlet you need not be concerned about current harmonic distortion producing voltage
distortion. However, it is an all together different situation when plugging a HMI into a small portable generator. That is because the
magnitude of voltage waveform distortion in a distribution system depends upon three factors: the impedance of the power system, the
quality of the original applied power waveform, and the relative size of the nonlinear loads with respect to capacity of the power generating
system. Lets look at each one of these factors in more detail.
Inherent Applied Voltage Waveform
A pure sinusoidal voltage, like the one represented below, is a conceptual quantity produced by an ideal AC generator built with finely
distributed stator and field windings that operate in a uniform magnetic field.
Since in reality neither the winding distribution nor the magnetic field can be uniform in a working AC generator (not even power plant
generators), voltage waveform distortions exist, and the voltage-time relationship deviates from our conceptual pure sine function. Typically,
the distortion of grid power is very small (less than 3%), but nonetheless it exists.
WAVEFORM ILLUSTRATIONS COURTESY OF HONDA POWER PRODUCTS
Waveforms Left to Right: Grid Power, Brushless Generator, AVR Generator, MSW Inverter Generator, PWM Inverter Generator
As we saw at the outset, it is an all together different situation when it comes to generators. Since, there is a direct trade off between
generator cost and quality of the power waveform, voltage distortion in the original power waveform varies greatly between the types of
generators (see representative waveforms above and chart below.)
ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF HONDA POWER PRODUCTS
Total Harmonic Distortion Values for original waveforms of
Brushless (blue), Conventional AVR (green), Inverter (red) generators.
System Impedance
Since harmonic currents react with impedance to cause voltage drop, the magnitude of a voltage waveform distortion caused by a non-linear
current demand is a function of the source impedance. In the case of generators, source impedance is not an easily defined value as generator
reactance varies with time following a load change. However, what is certain is that the generator with the lowest internal reactance to an
instantaneous current change at a given load will typically have the lowest value of total harmonic distortion under nonlinear load conditions.
To visualize why this is the case, imagine a birds eye view of a 1400 Amp Crawford Studio Unit parked on top of the Hoover Dam next to a
Honda EX5500 portable gas generator with Barber Coleman frequency governor. If you had 2ks plugged into each power source and
switched them on at once. Which generating source would be affected the most? The change in load would have no effect on the turbines of
the hydroelectric generating plant. Given the force exerted by millions of gallons of water driving the turbines and the inertia of their mass,
they would not be disturbed at all by a small load change.
In the case of the Crawford 1400A Studio Unit, switching on a 2k might create a very slight momentary fluctuation in the engine speed of
the 1400A Crawford. But given the mechanical inertia of its large diesel engine and the sophistication of it governing systems, the effect
will be negligible. However, given the small mass of the Honda EX5500s engine and the relative simplicity of its governing systems,
switching on a 2k load will cause the Honda EX5500 engine to fluctuate for several seconds as the voltage and frequency governors adjust
for the change in load.
While exaggerated, this example demonstrates why, depending on the size and design of the generator, it may have 5 to 100 times greater
internal reactance to an instantaneous change in load than a power grid transformer. Consequently, non-linear loads which work fine on
utility power, will react entirely different when powered by a generator set. And, the generator with the lowest internal reactance at a given
load will typically have the lowest value of total harmonic distortion under nonlinear load conditions.
For this reason, voltage waveform distortion as a result of harmonic currents is not a problem on grid power and is for the most part not a
practical problem on large film sets. In practice, when you plug a HMI light into a wall outlet you need not be concerned about current
harmonic distortion producing voltage distortion. The impedance of the power source is so low, the distortion of the original applied power
waveform so small (less than 3%), and the power plant generating capacity so large by comparison to the load, that harmonic currents fed
back to it will not effect the voltage at the load bus.
To say that harmonic currents are not a practical problem on large film sets is more of a testament to the industry and the means it has
developed to remediate the problem than to say that harmonics do not exist. Voltage waveform distortion is for the most part not a problem
on large film sets because of remedial steps taken in the design of form specific generating and power distribution systems engineered to
remediate the adverse effects of harmonic currents. With 2/3 pitch windings, MQ Power studio (Crawford) generators are specifically
designed to remediate the most troublesome of the harmonics generated by non-linear loads and as such have specifications for total
harmonic distortion (THD) values of less than 7% under full linear load, and of not more than 3% of any given harmonic current. For this
reason, and the fact that they offer a comparatively low sub-transient impedance value and are typically oversized for the load, harmonic
currents do not cause substantial voltage waveform distortion.
Percentage of Load
However, it is an all together different situation when plugging a couple of 1200W HMIs into a small portable generator that is not
specifically designed to remediate the effects of harmonics. Given the comparatively large sub-transient impedance of conventional AVR
portable gas generators, and the high THD value of their inherent power waveform (see no load waveforms below), you have a situation
where even a small amount of harmonics being fed back into the power stream will result in a large amount of harmonic distortion in its
voltage. Making the matter worse is that, given the increasing prevalence of non-linear light sources in production, it is likely that the
percentage of the generators capacity taken up by non-linear loads will be very high given its small size relative to the size of HMIs
typically used on these generators (575-2500 Watts.) Small portable conventional AVR generators present a perfect (electrical) storm where
the return of any harmonic currents results in a very high degree of voltage distortion.
Left: Original Grid Waveform w/no load & low THD (>3%)
Right: Original conventional AVR Generator (Honda EX5500) waveform w/ no-load & high THD (@17%)
The means by which the industry has more or less successfully dealt with harmonics - namely the over-sizing of generators, the over-sizing
of neutrals, the incorporation of power factor correction circuitry in large HMI ballasts, and finally the use of generators with 2/3 pitch
windings are generally not available to users of small portable generators as their primary source of power. It is generally not an option for
small independent productions using portable gas generators by necessity to upscale to larger generators; and, given that there is not much
that the end user can do to alter the power output panel of a portable gas generator, it is not an option to customize their distribution
package for the requirements of higher neutral currents resulting from non-linear loads. All that users of small portable generators can do to
remediate the adverse effects of harmonic currents is downsize their lighting package when it consists predominantly of non-linear light
sources.
Left: Pkg. of 2-1200 HMI Par w/ non-pfc ballasts & Kino Wall-o-Lite powered by grid power.
Right: Same Lighting Pkg. powered by conventional AVR Generator (Honda EX5500)
Note different effect that the same non-linear load harmonics have on grid power and power from conventional AVR generator.
What we see above is the voltage distortion at the power bus of our distribution system created by the harmonic currents, or "noise", being
thrown back into the system by a typical non-linear lighting package. An artifact of this noise, that is evident here and worth noting, is the
zigzag saw tooth pattern as voltage ascends from zero potential and descends to zero potential. This zigzag saw tooth pattern is an indication
of the existence of high frequency wavelettes within the primary sine wave. When interpreting the highly distorted voltage waveform
above, it is worth remembering that the square wave depicted on our scope is in fact comprised of many, many voltage spikes, at extremely
high frequencies, stacking one on top of the other.
Harmonics making up a Square Wave.
That is, if we were to break out the components contributing to the generation of the square-wave we see on our scope it would be
comprised of more than just the three orders of current harmonics depicted in the example above. We would find that it is generated by
many many high frequency harmonic currents, each inducing a voltage spike of its' own. Each of these voltage spikes is induced by high
frequency harmonic currents being thrown back into the power stream by the electronic ballasts of our non-linear lighting package. The
accumulative effect of all these induced spikes in voltage stacking one on top of the other is the square wave with zigzag pattern as voltage
ascends and descends from the zero crossover point that we see in the oscilloscope shot above.
Sprectrum analysis of the high frequency Harmonic Currents that create a Square Wave
It is important to realize that the oscilloscope shot above is of the voltage waveform at the distribution bus of the generator "upstream" of
the load (a 1200W non-PFC Electronic HMI ballast in this case) and that the oscilloscope probe is reading between hot and ground. While,
as we will see below, harmonic currents stack on the neutral return of a distribution system, what we are looking at here is the effect of
harmonics currents that are also feeding back up through the distribution system all the way to the generator's Stator and Rotor windings.
What this means is that any piece of equipment plugged into this distribution system sees only this distorted waveform as its' power supply.
This harmonic distortion of the voltage waveform exists only in the case of the portable generator power, where it would not in the case of
grid power, because of the inherent distortion in the applied voltage and the relatively high impedance of the generator and distribution
system compared to power from the utility grid. To put it in the most simplistic terms, if I had to explain this electrical phenomenon to my
5 year old, I would say that Ms. Sinusoidal Voltage met Mr. Harmonic Current over Impedance, and had a baby they named Pseudo Sine
Wave. While this description is overly simplistic, it drives home the point that this Pseudo Sine Wave is a completely new entity created
from the other two, and is all that equipment on the distribution system will see.
Other Adverse Effects of Harmonics
Without a doubt, as the trend toward HD production continues, the increasing use of personal computers and microprocessor-controlled
recording has created an unprecedented demand for clean, reliable power on set. At the same time a parallel move toward HMI and
Florescent lighting instruments is dumping more and more harmonics back into the power stream. Where, as we have seen, these loads can
have undesirable effects on the current wave form of generated power, an awareness of these effects will help us to build production systems
that avoid or mitigate problems, as well as show us how to solve problems should they arise. Here is a quick summary of other adverse
effects that can result from excessive harmonic distortion.
Adverse Effects to the Generator & Distro
Overheating
Harmonic currents produce high frequency flux change in the generators Stator core which can lead to them overheating. Higher core
temperatures result in higher winding temperatures. Winding heating is, in fact, proportional to effective or RMS current squared. Rotor loss
can also occur because harmonic currents in the Stator will induce currents in the Rotor pole faces and windings. Of course, harmonic
currents cause increased resistive losses everywhere, resulting in increased temperatures everywhere, not only in the windings.
Erractic Voltage Fluctuation
As discussed previously, the Automatic Voltage Regulator (AVR) of conventional portable generators maintain the terminal voltage of the
generator at a constant value by sensing the output voltage, comparing it with a set value, and correcting any error by suitably changing the
field excitation current. Given how it works, the sensing part of an AVR system is the most important part from an operational standpoint.
How the AVR system senses the generated voltage varies from one generator design to another. Regardless of how the voltage is sensed, a
considerable amount of harmonic distortion in the terminal voltage will result in the voltage getting regulated at a wrong level unless the
AVR system is specifically designed for non-linear loads. Modern designs on large gen sets that are specifically engineered for non-linear
loads use filtering in the voltage sensors, sense on all the power phases, and use true rms calculation (either using analog electronics or by
using digital techniques in micro processors) to avoid voltage regulation problems when serving non-linear loads. Needless to say,
conventional portable gas generators do not use AVR systems of this level of sophistication, and so distortion of the terminal voltage as a
result of harmonic distortion results in the voltage getting regulated at a wrong level. Because an AVR system is a closed-loop control
system, as the voltage is incorrectly changed, based on the distorted information, it is then even more incorrect and the output voltage finally
gets so far off that the generator ceases to produce an output that is usable.
Erractic Speed Fluctuation
Another problem that can result from high THD values is the malfunctioning of the generators AC frequency governor. As discussed
previously, the engine governor system needs a speed feedback signal. In the case of after market engine governors designed for portable gas
generators, this signal is generated by measuring the frequency of the sensed output voltage inside the AVR unit.
Voltage notching can create multiple zero crossings
Where this frequency calculation involves zero-crossing information from the waveform, high THD values can cause problems. For
example, voltage notching and heavy ringing transients like the ones present in our distorted waveform (above) create multiple zero-
crossings within one cycle of ac waveform. This leads to large magnitude random errors in the frequency signal prepared by the AVR unit
for use by the governor unit. The governor unit gets confused and there results instability of the speed governing system.
In our discussion above, we covered a number of the adverse effects that harmonic noise can have on the generator itself. To review they
include over heating, voltage regulation and speed regulation problems. Kevan Shaws You-Tube video Compact Fluorescent verses The
Generator"(discussed previously) clearly demonstrates these effects. It is informative not only for the point he sets out to make, but also for
the point he makes unintentionally. If you will recall, in his video (below), lighting designer Kevan Shaw set out to demonstrate that CFL
bulbs have a poor power factor (.5) and consume double the energy (Apparent Power) for the 18 Watts of light (True Power) they generate.
However, his video also clearly demonstrates the severe effect that leading power factor loads can have on the governing systems of
conventional AVR generators.
When Kevan turns off the 18W CFL bulbs one at a time until the generator stabilizes, he is not only demonstrating that 15 18W CFL
bulbs has roughly the same Apparent Power (535W), according to the generators Watt meter, as a 575W incandescent light; but, also that
the maximum Leading Power Factor load a 850W conventional generator can operate satisfactorily is 270 Watts (15 18WCFL bulbs).
Looked at another way, 576 Watts of Apparent Power with a Leading Power Factor (16 - 18W CFL bulbs) overloaded the generator, while
575 Watts of Apparent Power with a Unity Power Factor (the 575W Quartz Leko) did not. What accounts for this difference? Since the load
is almost the same (576 & 575 Watts of Apparent Power respectively), the only factor that can account for the generator going berserk with
the equivalent load of CFL lights is the harmonic currents that they generate - that the Quartz Leko does not. Without a doubt, Kevan
Shaws video is a clear demonstration of the adverse effect that harmonic currents have on the governing systems of conventional AVR
generators.
For the same reason that Kevan Shaw was not able to operate more than 270 Watts of CFL bulbs (15 18W bulbs), it has never been
possible to reliably operate more than a couple of 1200W HMIs with non-PFC electronic ballasts on 6500W conventional AVR generators.
The adverse effects of the harmonic currents they generate, so graphically demonstrated in Kevans video, limits the total amount of Leading
Power Factor loads, as compared to Unity Power Factor loads, that can be reliably operated on conventional AVR generators. So much so
that, manufacturers take the type of load that a generator will likely operate into account in determining the continuous load rating of a
generator for a specific market (more on this subject latter.)
High Nuetral Returns
With incandescent lights, if we draw equal current from each leg of our single phase portable generator, there will be no return current on the
neutral. That is because the current on the legs is 180 degrees out of phase, and so the current cancels out when combined on the neutral
return. When an inductive or capacitive load causes current and voltage to be out of sync, the phase currents no longer cancel when they
return on the neutral. When using magnetic ballasts, it is normal to have as much as 20-25% of the total amperage return on the neutral
when the legs are evenly loaded.
Electronic square wave ballasts, in addition to pulling the voltage and current out of phase, also create harmonic currents that can stack on
top of one another, creating very high currents returning to the power source on the neutral wire. If the nuetral return path has not been
oversized to accomodate additinal current, these high currents can cause excessive heat on the neutral wire, and the neutral bus of the
generator. Where the neutral of a distribution system is not fused, this excessive heat can lead to a possibly hazardous situation. Where high
currents on the neutral can be hazardous, it is important to understand the root cause of these currents so that we can design a location
lighting package that eliminates, or at the very least mitigates, these factors.
The harmonic currents produced by electronic HMI ballasts are primarily generated by the diode-capacitor section of the ballast. As you may
recall from our discussion above, the diode-capacitor section rectifies the AC input power into DC, which is then used by the power module
to create the square wave. The diode-capacitor section accomplishes this by first feeding the AC input current through a full wave bridge
rectifier, which inverts the negative half of the AC sine wave and makes it positive. The rectified current then passes into a bank of
capacitors which removes the 60 Hz rise and fall and flattens out the voltage-making it essentially DC. The required DC is then fed from
these capacitors to the power module. Since the rectifying circuit of the power supply only draws current from the AC line during the peaks
of the supply voltage waveform, charging the capacitors to the peak of the line voltage, these power supplies draw current in high amplitude
short pulses and pull current out of phase of the voltage. The remaining unused current feeds back into the power stream as harmonic
currents.
The Triplen Harmonics Stack to create excessive current on the Nuetral of a distro system
Of the harmonic currents that electronic ballasts generate, the odd harmonics (i.e. 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, etc.) are more of a concern because the
even harmonics have a tendency to still cancel out. Of these the 3rd harmonic, and odd multiples of the 3rd (9th, 15th, etc) are particularly
troublesome. These harmonics are called the triplens. What makes them troublesome is that the triplen harmonics dumped back onto each
phase of the distribution system are all in phase with each other. For this reason, rather than cancel each other out on the neutral conductor,
as the out of phase fundamentals normally do, they instead add up. By generating harmonic currents that stack one upon another, and
shifting the phase of the primary currents so that they don't entirely cancel, electronic square wave ballasts can create unusually high returns
on the neutral of the distribution system. If the lighting package consists entirely of non-linear light sources without power factor correction,
about 80 percent of the current does not cancel out between legs, resulting in very high current on the neutral return. Return currents of this
magnitude can cause sufficient heat to overload the neutral wire, and the neutral bus of the generator, leading to a possibly hazardous
situation since the neutral return has no fused protection.
For this reason it is a standard practice when powering large numbers of electronic ballasts on large film sets to size the neutral feeder of the
distribution system to carry the sum of the currents of the phase legs times 80 percent (.8). Likewise, the generator is typically oversized to
handle the higher return current. However, productions using conventional portable gas generators by necessity, for whom it is not an option
to upscale their generator and customize their distribution package for the requirements of a non-linear load, the only alternative is to de-rate
the generator and distribution equipment.
Given that there is not much that the end user can do to alter the power output panel of a portable gas generator, all they can do is downsize
their lighting package when it consists predominantly of non-linear light sources. The general rule of thumb is to maintain a factor of 3 or 2
to 1 between the continuous rated load capacity of the generator and the total lighting load when it consists of predominantly non-linear light
sources. This translates to operating no more than a couple of 1200W HMIs on a 6500W generator if the ballasts are not power factor
corrected.
Adverse Effects on Loads
Thus far we have examined the adverse effects on the generator of loads that generate harmonic currents. Now, let us consider the effect that
power with a high THD value has upon the distribution system and the loads operating upon it.
Increased Resistance
As we saw above, harmonic frequencies are always higher than the 60Hz fundamental frequency. Where THD is high, the higher
frequencies create what is known as skin effect. Skin effect is a phenomenon where the higher frequency causes the electrons to flow
toward the outer sides of a conductor. Since the flow of the electrons is no longer evenly distributed across the cross sectional diameter of
the conductor, more electrons are flowing through less copper and the resistance of the conductor increases. The increase in resistance
reduces the ability of the conductor to carry current, resulting in greater voltage drop over shorter distances and overheating of the
conductor. The greater voltage drop as a result of skin effect has several adverse effects.
Skin Effect
The area of the cross sectional diameter of a conductor used by DC current (left), Low Frequency AC Current (center), High Frequency AC Currents
(right).
One adverse effect is that it causes equipment connected to the circuit to draw more current to maintain the power rating (watts) of the unit.
This, in turn, can cause protective fuses on electrical boards of equipment to blow - even those of the square wave electronic ballast itself. I
experienced this first hand, when I first tried to operate a 4k HMI Par on a Honda ES6500 (a conventional AVR generator) with the first
generation of electronic square wave ballasts - a Lightmaker. The ballast inexplicably failed when it had never given us problems on mains
power. Upon closer inspection back in our shop, we found that a protective fuse on the main board had failed. We replaced the fuse and
continued to operate the ballast off of grid power without incident. But as soon as we tried to run it again on the Honda the fuse blew. In
hindsight, what accounts for the ballasts erratic behavior was the amount of harmonic distortion it was feeding back into the power stream.
The harmonic currents were not a problem on grid power because they did not induce voltage distortion for the reasons discussed above.
But, fed back into the power stream generated by our Honda ES6500, the same harmonic currents created voltage distortion and sufficient
voltage drop from skin effect to blow protective fuses on the ballast boards. The Lightmaker ballasts, in general, fed so much harmonic
distortion back into the power stream that they were nicknamed Troublemaker ballasts by many set electricians.
Ballast performance has improved remarkably since that first generation of electronic ballasts. The latest generation of power factor corrected
electronic ballasts have filters built in that reduce the number of harmonic currents the ballast will feed back into the power stream.
However, since power factor correction is not commonly found in HMI ballasts smaller than 4000W, voltage drop from skin effect can
still create problems when operating HMI lights on conventional portable generators. Whenever a piece of electrical equipment inexplicably
fails while operating well below its design ratings, and it was operating on the same distribution system as HMIs without power factor
correction, it is a safe bet that you will find blown fuses.
Another common problem associated with skin effect is the apparently inexplicable tripping of breakers. Since it is not uncommon to use
portable gas generators to power 1200W HMIs with non power factor corrected electronic square wave ballasts, even a slight increase in
load resulting from the voltage drop caused by skin effect can cause what appear to be the inexplicable tripping of circuit breakers in the
distribution system or on the generator. If you recall, a 1200W non-power factor corrected HMI ballast can draw upwards of 19 Amps under
normal circumstances (grid power), it doesnt take much increase of circuit resistance to push its load over the 20A threshold of distribution
circuit breakers. Especially, given that 1200W ballasts are commonly wired with u-ground Edison plugs rated for 15 Amps, resulting in
overheating of the plug end, and an increase of resistance even under normal conditions.
RF (Radio Frequency) Interference
If you will recall, the distorted square wave depicted on our scope is in fact comprised of many voltage spikes, at extremely high
frequencies, stacking one on top of the other. That is, if we were to draw out the time base of our scope we would see the square portion of
the wave break out into many more voltage "wavelettes" of a higher amplitude than what we already see in the zig-zag portion of the wave.
Each of these high frequency voltage spikes are the result of discreet harmonic currents being thrown back into the power stream by non-
linear lighting loads.
Sprectrum analysis of the high frequency Harmonic Currents making up
a Square Wave that can cause RF Interference
The power stream can become so full of high frequency harmonic currents, that it creates RF (Radio Frequency) interference. Sensitive
electronic devices that are not even hooked up to the distribution system, but simply in close proximity to it, may pick up the RF (Radio
Frequency) interference and begin to show its artifacts, or worse not function at all. Examples of RF interference include lines or fuzzy
picture in set monitors, a buzz in audio tracks, and poor reception in radio mics.
Ground Loops
It is also worth noting that ground loops can result from the harmonic currents that non-pfc electronic ballasts throw back into the
distribution system. Current on neutral conductors with a high THD value will induce voltage in ground wires greater than the 2 volt
maximum stipulated by IEEE Standard 1100-1992 "Recommended Practice for Powering and Grounding Sensitive Electronic Equipment."
For instance, there was an episode, recently reported on CML, of a pilot shooting in HD that found they had 50 volts between the shield of
the SDI line and ground. In that case the problem was fixed by running a "Drain" wire from the SDI Shield back to the Genny via the
electrical lunchbox at the DIT station. Clearly, if not corrected high neutral-to-ground voltages will cause current to flow on the ground
wires and lead to the creation of ground loops between the tethered components of a HD production package.
A ground loop occurs when there is more than one ground connection path between two pieces of equipment. The duplicate ground paths
form the equivalent of a loop antenna that very efficiently picks up interference currents. Lead resistance transforms these currents into
voltage fluctuations. As a consequence of ground loop induced voltages, the ground reference in the system is no longer a stable potential (a
floating ground), so signals ride on the noise. The noise becomes part of the program signal. The result is that the unwanted signal will be
amplified until it is audible and clearly undesirable. Whenever you have current induced on the grounding system as well as the multiple
connections between electronic components that is typical of HD production packages, there is the potential for a "ground loop."
PHOTO COURTESY OF THOMI ENGDAHL
Interference bars caused by induced voltage on ground loop.
Small voltage differences just cause noise to be added to the signals. This can cause an audio hum, interference bars to video signals
(above), and transmission errors in computer networks. Higher currents can cause more serious problems that can damage equipment like
sparking in connections and burned wiring. As more and more electronic components, like lap top computers, hard drives, and HD monitors,
are integrated into the typical location HD production package, ground loops become more of a hazard.
Overheating and Component Level Failure
The excess part of a distorted voltage waveform (the shaded area in the diagram below) must be dissipated somehow. This comes in the
form of heat. The bigger the current draw from the unit, the more it produces excess heat within the unit that was not factored for in its
original design.
Unuseable portion of distorted waveform (shaded) dissipated in heat.
Extended exposure to power with harmonic distortion, and the heat it generates, may eventually cause premature component level failures
within the unit. Imagine having to replace a new flat screen HD monitor after only a couple of years.
"Inexplicable" Operational Malfunctions
Where there is appreciable voltage waveform distortion created by operating non-linear light sources on a conventional generator, other
electrical devices operating on the same power are unable to use the distorted waveform effectively.
Left: Waveform of grid power.
Right: Waveform of conventional AVR Generator (Honda EX5500) operating non-linear lighting pkg.
consisting of two Arri 1.2kw non-PFC ballasts and a Kino Flo Wall-o-Lite.
For instance, other production equipment that utilizes diode-capacitors and therefore depend on the peak value of the voltage waveform to
operate effectively will work sporadically, if at all, on the squared off wave-form caused by harmonic currents (above). Like the battery
charger operating on a Modified Square Wave Inverter (discussed previously), the Switch Mode Power Supplies (SMPSs) of computers,
hard drives, and electronic HMI and Kino ballasts operating on the pseudo square wave of distorted voltage will be starved of power even
though you may read full line voltage with an RMS meter and the power indicator lights light.
Kevan Shaws You-Tube video Compact Fluorescent verses The Generator" clearly demonstrates this effect. As discussed previously,
Kevan Shaw's video (below) demonstrates that, because of their poor power facgtor, CFL bulbs consume twice the power as the same size
incandescent load and generate harmonic currents that adversely effect the governing systems of conventional AVR generators. A closer
analysis of the video also shows that the voltage waveform distortion created by the harmonic currents will also adversely affect electronic
equipment operating on it.
If you will recall, after Kevan has turned off 18W CFL bulbs until the generator has stabilized, he is still "not getting all the lamps to
illuminate properly." What accounts for the bulbs not illuminting properly even though the generator has stablized? While the Harmonic
Distortion generated by the remaining CFLs is not sufficient to affect the generator governor, it is clearly affecting the CFLs themselves -
an indication that, short of affecting the generator's governing system, the voltage waveform distortion generated by harmonic currents will
adversely effect electronic equipment operating on the distorted power. Common symptoms are unexplainable operational malfunctions like
computers locking up, tripping breakers, and HMIs not striking or holding their strike. To explain these "inexplicable" operational
malfunctions requires a close examination of the characteristic distortion generated by our various lighting loads. For this reason let us put
off that analysis until we look at the waveforms of different lighting loads in the section below titled "Interpreting the Sines."
A Viscious Cycle
As more and more electronic components, like lap top computers, hard drives, and HD monitors, which are themselves sources of harmonic
distortion (but of a lower amplitude than solid state lighting ballasts) are integrated into the typical location production package, harmonic
currents begin to combine with unpredictable consequences. In fact, a viscous cycle can get started. The more harmonic orders that are
generated, the more distorted the power supplied by the generator becomes. The more distorted the power waveform becomes, the more
harmonic currents are thrown back into the electrical distribution system, which in turn, creates additional voltage distortion. In this fashion,
something akin to a feedback loop can get started. Very often, the operation of electrical equipment may seem normal, but under a certain
combination of conditions, the impact of harmonics is enhanced with unpredictable results.
To summarize, the possible effects that non-linear lighting loads can have on the current waveform reveal themselves in the form of
overheating and failing equipment , efficiency losses, circuit breaker trips, excessive current on the neutral wire, interference and instability
with generators, noisy or over heating transformers, and service equipment.
Power Factor Correction
The first step in designing a production system that mitigates the problems caused by harmonic currents is to largely eliminate the currents.
Where customarily the largest source of harmonic currents in a typical lighting package are HMI and fluorescent lights, using only ballasts
with Power Factor Correction (PFC) circuitry will go a long way in reducing the number of harmonic currents in the power stream. By
eliminating the generation of harmonic currents, a PFC circuit realigns voltage and current and induces a smoother power waveform at the
distribution bus. As a result, the ballast uses power more efficiently with minimized return current and line noise and also reduces heat,
thereby increasing their reliability. Where Power Factor Correction in HMI and fluorescent lights offer tremendous benefits in many
production applications, but is seldom understood accurately, lets explore how it works in more detail.
To start, here is a quick summary of what we know of power factor thus far. With a purely resistive linear load (Incandescent Lamps,
Heaters, etc.) voltage and current waveforms are in step (or in phase), changing polarity at the same instant in each cycle ( a high power
factor or unity.) With non-linear loads (magnetic and electronic HMI, fluorescent, & AC LED ballasts) energy storage in the loads,
impedes the flow of current and results in a time difference between the current and voltage waveforms they are out of phase (a low power
factor.) In other words, during each cycle of the AC voltage, extra energy, in addition to any energy consumed in the load, is temporarily
stored in the load, and then returned to the power distribution a fraction of a second later in the cycle. The "ebb and flow" of this
nonproductive power increases the current in the line. Thus, a load with a low power factor will use higher currents to transfer a given
quantity of real power than a load with a high power factor. The purpose of PFC circuitry is to bring the voltage and current waveforms
back in phase (closer to unity power factor.) How this is accomplished depends on whether poor factor is caused by inductive reactance or
capacitive reactance. Let us look first at how poor power factor as a result of inductive reactance is corrected in HMI magnetic ballasts.
To understand how Power Factor Correction in magnetic ballasts is accomplished, lets review what we learned about the operation of
magnetic HMI ballasts above. Between the power input and the HMI lamp is a transformer that acts as a choke coil. The transformer
provides the start-up charge for the igniter circuit, rapidly increasing the potential between the electrodes of the heads arc gap until an
electrical arc jumps the gap and ignites an electrical arc between the lamp electrodes. The transformer then acts as a choke, regulating
current to the lamp to maintain the pulsating arc once the light is burning.
Left: Transformers of a 12k Magnetic HMI Balllast
As you can see in the picture above, the transformers of magnetic HMI ballasts are essentially large coils of wire that are tapped at several
places to provide for various input voltages and a high start-up voltage. As such, the transformers of magnetic HMI ballasts exhibit high
self-inductance. As we learned above, self-inductance is a particular form of electromagnetic induction characteristic of coils (like those in
magnetic HMI ballasts and electric motors) that inhibits the flow of current in the windings of the coil. This opposition to the flow of
current is called inductive reactance. In the case of a magnetic HMI ballast, the multiple fine windings of the ballast transformer induces
appreciable voltage and considerable current that is in opposition to the primary current, causing the primary current to lag behind voltage, a
reduction of current flow, and an inefficiency in the use of power supplied to it. Put simply, the ballast draws more power than it uses to
create light.
The Capacitor Bank of a 12k Magnetic Ballast
A common strategy used to correct the self-inductance of transformers in magnetic ballasts (both fluorescent and HMI) is to supply reactive
power of the opposite type i.e. adding capacitors to cancel the high inductance of the transformers windings. Power-factor correction
capacitors will draw a current with a leading phase angle to offset the lagging current drawn by the ballast transformers. For this reason a
bank of capacitor is typically included in the design of magnetic HMI ballasts to bring the current partially back in phase with the voltage.
In this sense all magnetic ballasts are power factor corrected.
Since, capacitive reactance distorts the shape of the voltage waveform from a sine wave to some other form (example above), the addition of
linear components such as inductors cannot counteract the capacitive reactance of electronic ballasts as the addition of capacitors
counteracted the inductive reactance of magnetic HMI ballasts. In the case of electronic ballasts, other more complicated (translate
expensive) means of Power Factor Correction is required to smooth out the power waveform.
To understand how Power Factor Correction works in electronic ballasts (HMI, fluorescent, & AC LED) it would help to review what we
know about the source of the harmonic currents that create the high level of capacitive reactance in these ballasts. The harmonic currents
produced by electronic ballasts are generated by its diode-capacitor section. As you may recall from our discussion above, the diode-
capacitor section rectifies the AC input by first feeding it through a bridge rectifier, which inverts the negative half of the AC sine wave and
makes it positive. The rectified current then passes into one or more conditioning capacitors that remove the 60 Hz rise and fall and flattens
out the voltage-making it essentially DC. The DC is then fed from these capacitors to some type of Switch-mode Converter, that in the case
of fluorescent and HMI ballasts, switches it into an alternating power waveform that excites gases in the lamp. In the case of High Power
LEDs, the Switch-mode Converter further conditions the DC power fed to the diode.
Thin Black Trace: Rectifier Bridge converts AC power to rectified sine wave. Thick Black Trace: Stored Capacitor Voltage. Red Trace: Current drawn by
capacitors once input voltage is greater than voltage stored in the capacitor (thick black trace.)
Regardless of the type of type of Switch-mode Converter used in the ballast, its rectifying circuit only draws current from the AC line
during the peaks of the supply voltage waveform. As can be seen in the illustration below, electronic ballasts draw current in high amplitude
short pulses. The remaining unused current feeds back into the power stream as harmonic currents.
Voltage and Current Waveforms generated by Fluorescent ballasts without power factor correction (left) and with power factor correction (right)
In order to not draw current in high amplitude pulses, and consequently not return unused portions of the power waveform as harmonic
currents, the conditioning capacitor(s) must charge over the entire cycle rather than just a small portion of it. The PFC circuitry of electronic
ballasts ( HMI, fluorescent, & AC LED) use some type of multi-stage boost converter typology to accumulate energy in the capacitor(s)
over the entire AC cycle rather than just a brief portion of it.
Voltage and Current Waveforms generated by High Power AC LED ballasts without power factor correction (left) and with power factor correction (right)
Now that the capacitor(s) charge throughout the AC cycle rather than just a brief portion of it, the peak current is reduced and harmonic
currents are not generated. And, if the output voltage of the boost converter is set higher than the capacitor(s) input voltage (which is why
they are called boost converters), the load is forced to draw current in phase with the AC main line voltage. In this fashion, the PFC circuit
realigns voltage and current and induces a smoother power waveform at the distribution bus. As can be seen in the comparisons above of the
current and voltage waveforms of fluorescent and High Power AC LED ballasts without power factor correction (left) and with power factor
correction (right), PFC circuits can substantially increase power factor (to as much as .98), making ballasts with it near linear loads. As a
result, the ballast uses power more efficiently with minimized return current and line noise and also reduces heat, thereby increasing their
reliability.
Left: AVR Gen. No-load Waveform. Center: AVR Gen. 1.2KW non-PFC Elec. Ballast Waveform. Right: AVR Gen. 1.2KW PFC Elec. Ballast Waveform.
As the voltage waveform comparisons above demonstrates, a PFC electronic HMI ballast (right) has very little adverse effect on the power
waveform of a conventional generator as compared to a non-PFC electronic ballast (center.) If anything it has a positive effect.
For this reason, all major manufacturers include PFC circuitry in large HMIs (12-18kw), and offer PFC circuitry as an option on medium-
sized ballasts (2.5-6kw). However, because of the added cost, weight, and complexity of PFC circuitry, manufacturers have not until
recently offered PFC circuitry in HMI ballasts smaller than 2.5kw. Except for one notable exception, when manufacturers do offer PFC
circuitry in smaller ballasts it is at a premium, adding as much as a $1000 to the cost of a 1200W ballast for instance. Ballast manufacturer
Power-to- Light, on the other hand, is including PFC circuitry in their ballasts at the same price point as other manufacturers non-PFC
ballasts.
Power to Light PFC 800W ballast (left) and PFC 1200W ballast (right.)
A typical 1200W power factor corrected electronic HMI ballast has a power factor of .86 which means it will draw 11.5 Amps at 120 Volts
to generate 1200 Watts of light (11.5A x 120V=1380W, 1200W/1380W=.86). While not a huge advantage when plugging into house
power, the added efficiency of a PFC 1200 ballast can make a huge difference when powering a lighting package off of a portable generator.
For example, when you consider that a Kino Flo Parabeam 400 draws only 2 amps, the 8 Amp difference between using a PFC 1200W
electronic ballast and standard non-PFC 1200W electronic ballast, can mean the difference between running four additional Parabeam 400s
on a portable generator or not I think you would have to agree that is a major boost in production capability.
Clearly, the first step in designing a production system that mitigates the problems caused by harmonic currents is to use only Power Factor
Corrected ballasts. The next step, as we will see next, is to start with as pure a power waveform as possible.
A Whole New World
Common questions I hear are: Why are harmonics suddenly an issue in motion picture electrical distribution systems? And, why havent we
needed Power Factor Correction in HMIs until now? To answer these questions, one must appreciate the historical interplay between power
generation and load in the past. The lagging power factor (current lags behind voltage) caused by the inductive reactance of magnetic ballasts
had a considerably less adverse effect on conventional AVR generators than the leading power factor (current leads voltage) caused by the
capacitive reactance of electronic ballasts. That was because Power Factor Correction in the form of capacitor banks brought voltage and
current in phase enough that magnetic ballasts operated reliably for the most part; while the type of voltage waveform distortion they
generated did not have an adverse effect on the relatively simple linear loads making up production packages of the day (principally the
motor drives of film cameras and quartz lighting instruments.)
However, we are no longer in our parents linear world. The power generation and electrical distribution systems developed then were not
designed to deal with the abundance of non-linear loads like electronic HMI and Kino Flo ballasts that make up lighting packages today. Its
a problem that has only recently begun because of the increasing use of non-linear lighting loads (for a comprehensive overview see the just
released 4th Edition of Harry Box's "Set Lighting Technicians Handbook" - send me a self addressed stamped envelope & I will return it
with a discount coupon good for 30% off the 4th Edition through the publisher's website.) The problem is being further compounded by the
increasing prevalence on set of sophisticated electronic production equipment like HD cameras, computers, hard drives, and monitors which
are not only sensitive to harmonic distortion, but are themselves sources of harmonic distortion.
For instance, the self-excited AVR systems of conventional generators were not designed to operate with leading power factor loads. If you
will recall from our previous discussion, in AVR systems the AC voltage generated is controlled by DC excitation of the electro-magnets of
the generator's Rotor. The amount of DC excitation required is a function of generator load; or, put another way, the excitation required to
maintain constant voltage increases with load. The type of load also affects the amount of excitation required. Lagging power factor loads
(magnetic ballasts) require more excitation than a unity power factor load (Quartz Lights.) Leading power factor loads (electronic ballasts)
require less excitation than unity power factor loads.
Rudimentary AVR systems like those in portable generators are ill equipped to deal with leading power factor loads like electronic ballasts
because the harmonic currents they generate create flux in the armature coils of the Stator that reacts additively with the Exciter flux in the
field poles of the Rotor to increase saturation and produce a higher terminal voltage than called for a given load. Consequently, the AVR
system responds erroneously to control voltage by reducing excitation. The end result is that the regulator goes to its minimum excitation
capability while the additive excitation of the armature flux from the leading power factor causes the terminal voltage to continue to rise and
not be controlled by the voltage regulator.
Erroneous regulation of voltage is just one example of the more severe effect that leading power factor loads have on conventional AVR
generators than do lagging power factor loads. In the next section, where we compare the characteristic voltage waveform distortion created
by different lighting loads on different generators, we will see that leading power factor loads also have a more severe effect on other
production equipment operating on the same power. And, that after partial Power Factor Correction with capacitors, the lagging power factor
of magnetic ballasts can actually have a positive effect on the already distorted power waveform of conventional AVR generators like the
Honda EX5500. For these reasons, as long as you could shoot at one of the safe flicker free frame rates, magnetic ballasts worked
reasonably well on conventional AVR generators with frequency governors until the introduction of electronic square wave HMI ballasts.
When electronic square wave HMI ballasts came on the market, they were at first thought to be the solution to all the problems inherent in
running HMI lights on small portable generators. Since they are not frequency dependent, it was thought at first that electronic square wave
ballasts would operate HMIs more reliably on small portable generators even those without frequency governors. By eliminating the
flicker problem associated with magnetic ballasts, they also eliminated the need for the expensive AC governors required for flicker free
filming with magnetic HMI ballasts and portable gas generators.
For these reasons, as soon as electronic square wave ballasts appeared on the market, many lighting rental houses replaced the expensive
crystal governed Honda EX5500 with the less expensive non-synchronous Honda ES6500. The theory was that an electronic square wave
ballast would operate reliably on a non governed generator and allow filming at any frame rate, where as a magnetic HMI ballast operating
on an AC governed generator allowed filming only at permitted frame rates. In practice, electronic square wave ballasts turned out to be a
mixed blessing. As we have seen in this section, the leading power factor caused by the capacitive reactance of the new electronic ballasts
proved to have a more severe effect on conventional AVR generators than did the old magnetic ballasts.
Since magnetic ballasts worked reasonably well on AVR generators with governors, in the past, attention was only given to portable
generator features such as automatic voltage regulation, speed regulation and AC Frequency. But, given the increasing prevalence of leading
power factor loads and the problems they cause, an increasingly more important feature today is the quality of the generated waveform and
the impedance of the power system. For this reason, it is imperative that todays power generation and electrical distribution systems be
designed for non-linear lighting loads, not just linear lighting loads. This is especially true of the systems to be used in low budget
independent production because these productions have traditionally relied upon portable gas generators that are more susceptible to the
adverse effects of harmonic distortion. These productions are also increasingly embracing the use of HD digital cinema production tools, like
inexpensive HD camcorders, laptop computers and hard drives, that require cleaner and more reliable power on set to operate effectively.
__________________________________________________________________
Interpreting the Sines
As we learned above, the magnitude of the current and voltage waveform distortion depends upon the quality of the original applied power
waveform and the relative size of the nonlinear loads with respect to the source impedance and capacity of the power generating system.
That is, the amount of voltage distortion increases as distortion of the applied waveform increases and the percentage of nonlinear loads
taking up the total capacity of the power generating system increases. For this reason, when designing a better production system, it is worth
looking at the specific magnitude and order of the harmonics generated by each type of lighting load on each type of power supply (Grid,
Conventional AVR Generators, Inverter Generators.) A thorough understanding of the interaction between these elements will enable us to
design a produciton system capable of providing cleaner and more stable power. To that end, I ran a series of tests in order to analyze the
interaction of conventional AVR generators with AC Frequency Governors (a Honda EX5500 with Governor), as well as inverter generators
(a Honda EU6500is), with the prevalent linear and non-linear light sources.
The Test Set Up
Left: Honda EU6500is (L) Honda EX5500 (R) Center: Test Set-Up w/60A Full Power Transformer. Right: P@L PFC 1200W Elec. Ballast (L), Arri Non-PFC 1200W Elec. Ballast (C), Arri
1200W Magnetic Ballast (R)
The test consisted of running different loads (quartz, kino, mag HMI, non-PFC HMI, PFC HMI) on each generator and grid power as a sort
of control. I then took pictures of the resulting wave form on an oscilloscope. I have attached the side by side comparisons for each load
type. The frame on the far left is always grid power (our control), the center frame is always the EX5500 power, the right frame is always
the EU6500is power as measured at the power bus. They appear in the following order: no-load, 2k Open Face Quartz Light, Arri 1200 Par
Plus with Magnetic Ballast, the same Arri 1200 Par Plus with a non-PFC electronic ballast, the same Arri 1200 Par Plus but with a Power-
to-Light 1200 PFC ballast, and finally a Kino Flo 4'-10 tube Wall-o-Lite fixture.
Voltage Waveforms
No Load Waveforms
Left: Grid Power w/ no load. Center: Conventional AVR Power w/ no load. Right: Inverter Power w/ no load.
As one would expect the wave form of the grid power is a nice sinusoidal waveform and has a Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) in this
case of less than 3%. The waveform of the EX5500 exhibits the less sinusoidal waveform, with a THD of 17%, that is typical of
conventional AVR generators. The waveform of the power generated by the EU6500is is, as Honda claims, a true sinusoidal waveform with
a THD of 2.5%. The power generated by the EU6500is is in fact cleaner than the grid power coming out of our wall outlet.
Incandescent Lights (Resistive Linear Loads)
Left: Grid Power w/ 2K Open. Center: Conventional AVR Power w/ 2K Open. Right: Inverter Power w/ 2K Open.
As a purely resistive load our Mole 2k Mighty open face has very little adverse effect on the respective waveforms. If anything it has a
positive effect on the Honda EX5500. The result confirms what every electrician knows first hand from operating these machines. Namely,
that they run smoother under load and that fact is reflected in the smoother power waveform under load than without a load.
Unfortunately, incandescent lights are the least efficient light sources of the three that we are testing here. Since eighty percent of the energy
consumed by an incandescent light goes into the generation of heat, they generate less lumens per watt of any other light source. Add to
that, the fact that the Full CTB gel required to convert incandescent lights to daylight has a transmission factor around .3 (it takes a 1000
Watt incandescent source to generate 300 Watts of day light balanced light) make them the most impractical light source for daylight fill or
the creation of cool moonlight.
As near a pure linear load as we will find, incandescent lights interact well with small portable generators. However, their inefficiency make
them a poor choice when power is limited.
Magnetic HMI Ballasts (Inductive Non-linear Load)
Left: Grid Power w/ 1.2Kw Arri Magnetic Ballast. Center: Conventional AVR Power w/ 1.2Kw Arri Magnetic Ballast. Right: Inverter Power w/ 1.2Kw Arri
Magnetic Ballast.
What we see within the inverter power waveform (right) is a spike in the voltage generated by current created by the self-inductance of the
coils inside the ballasts transformer. If you will recall from our discussion of magnetic ballasts above, an opposing current is induced in a
current-carrying wire within a coil when the principle current changes as it alternates. Since the opposing current is induced after the voltage
peaks and begins to descend again, the induced current lags the voltage and pulls the primary current out of phase with the voltage so that it
lags behind the voltage. When it encounters an impedance, this opposing current induces voltage that appears as a spike in the oscilloscope
waveform.
Harmonic currents of this magnitude can cause false circuit breaker tripping. For instance, when running multiple magnetic ballasts, these
harmonic currents can stack and induce peak voltage values many times higher than the power waveform. Under such circumstances, peak
sensing circuit breakers will trip even though their amperage value has not been exceeded. Voltage spikes, as a result of stacking harmonic
currents, goes a long way toward explaining this nightmare scenario: a number of years ago, I was gaffing a night shoot for American
Experience with a 25KVA Mulitquip Silent Star generator and we had problems with breakers on our HMIs tripping intermittently. We put
a handheld scope meter on the power line and there was harmonic distortion from the magnetic ballasts that we were using, but not so much
that I thought would be a problem for a 25KVA (180A) generator. Throughout the night, each time an HMI went out unexpectedly in the
middle of a shot, we eliminated one in our set up until we found a happy medium of a couple of babies, a 1200 Par and a 2500 Fresnel
much less than I would have expected a generator of that size could run reliably. I learned that hellish night that there are no hard and fast
equations to determine how many magnetic HMIs you can safely run on a generator. The harmonics of ballast noise react in unpredictable
ways.
Non Power Factor Corrected Electronic HMI Ballasts (Capacitve Non-linear load)
Left: Grid Power w/ 1.2Kw Arri non-PFC Elec. Ballast. Center: Conventional AVR Power w/ 1.2Kw Arri non-PFC Elec. Ballast. Right: Inverter Power w/
1.2Kw Arri non-PFC Elec. Ballast.
The first thing to note is that the noise fed back into the distribution system by the electronic ballast creates harmonic distortion in the
power generated by both generators where it has no adverse effect on the grid power. The reason for this is that the magnitude of voltage
waveform distortion is a function of the source impedance and the relative size of the nonlinear load with respect to the capacity of the
power generating system. As we see in the frame on the left, an HMI light with non-PFC electronic ballast operating on a wall outlet will
not produce voltage distortions because the impedance of the electrical path from the power plant to the light is so low, the distortion of the
original voltage waveform so small (less than 3%), and the plant capacity so large, that loads placed upon it will not effect the voltage at the
load bus.
However, as we see in the center and right frames, it is an all together different situation when plugging a 1200W non-PFC HMI ballast into
a small portable generator. Where, in this case, the sub-transient impedance of the generators are higher, and the percentage of the capacity
of the generator that the non-linear electronic ballast takes up is relatively high, current distortion from the harmonics created by the
electronic ballast produces voltage distortion. These frames clearly demonstrate that the electrical artifacts generated by electronic ballasts
are amplified on small generators where they are not on grid power.
Even though RMS voltage remains the same, the Peak Value drops
as a result of squaring of waveform from harmonic currents
The second thing worth noting is the type of voltage distortion created by the 1200 Watt non-PFC electronic ballast in the power of both
generators. Since, according to Ohms Law current reacts with impedance to cause voltage drop, in the case of capacitive non-linear loads
like electronic ballasts that consume current only at the peak of the voltage waveform (to charge their smoothing capacitor/s), voltage drop
occurs only at the peak of the voltage waveform - causing the Flat Topping we see in the oscilloscope shots above that is characteristic of
this type of load. In other words, since electronic ballasts consume current only at the peak of the voltage waveform, voltage drop due to
system impedance occurs only at the peak of the voltage waveform. This explains why the harmonic currents fed back into the distribution
system by the electronic ballast has the effect of squaring off the voltage waveforms of the power generated by both types of generators.
Left: Conventional AVR Generator w/1200W non-pfc electronic ballast. Right: Inverter Generator w/1200W non-pfc electronic ballast
A third thing worth noting is that the artifacts of harmonic distortion are amplified to a lesser degree in the inverter generated power (above
right) than the non-inverter power (above left). Possible explanations for this are, as we saw above, the original waveform of the power
generated by the EU6500is (our inverter generator) has less harmonic distortion at the outset than that originally generated by the EX5500
(our conventional AVR generator.) Another possible explanation is that the sub-transient impedance of inverter generators is appreciably
less than that of conventional AVR generators. As discussed at the outset, in the case of inverter generators, voltage and frequency are
independent of the engine. As a consequence inverter generators have very low internal reactance to changes in load. And, as discussed
above, the generator with the lowest internal reactance to an instantaneous current change at a given load (impedance) will typically have the
lowest value of total harmonic distortion under nonlinear load conditions (more on this latter.)
Voltage notching at the zero cross over is an indication of
high frequency wavelettes within the primary sine wave.
A fourth thing to note is the character of the greater voltage distortion created by the 1200 Watt non-PFC electronic ballast in the power
generated by the conventional generator (EX5500.) As discussed above, each harmonic current in an electrical distribution system will cause
a voltage at the same harmonic to exist when the harmonic current flows into an impedance. In other words, the higher the system
impedance the more likely harmonic currents will induce voltage at the same frequencies. These voltage harmonics appear in the
oscilloscope shot above as a zig-zag saw tooth pattern. This pattern does not appear in the voltage waveform of the inverter generator
because of its much lower impedance. Once again, we see that the generator with the lowest internal reactance to an instantaneous current
change at a given load (impedance) will have the lowest value of total harmonic distortion under nonlinear load conditions.
Harmonics making up a Square Wave.
The zig-zag saw tooth pattern above is also an indication that a square voltage waveform is created by not just the primary current creating a
voltage drop when it encounters system impedance, but in fact by many many harmonic currents, at extremely high frequencies, also
creating voltage drop as they also induce voltages at the same frequencies. Put anyway, the square wave depicted on our scope is in fact
comprised of many, many voltage spikes, at extremely high frequencies, stacking one on top of the other. Harmonic currents at these
frequencies can create RF (Radio Frequency) interference in sensitive electronic devices in close proximity to it. Examples of RF
interference include lines or fuzzy picture in set monitors, a buzz in audio tracks, and poor reception in radio mics.
Inverter Generator w/1200W non-pfc electronic ballast
In the case of the Inverter Generator (EU6500is), even though the same harmonic currents are fed back into the distribution system by the
electronic ballast, because of its lower system impedance and purer original power waveform, it retains an over all sinusoidal shape. The
shape of its waveform is such that electrical devices that are dependent on peak values may still operate effectively. It also exhibits much
less severe distortion as a result of high frequency harmonic currents. The appreciable difference in voltage distortion created here by the
same light demonstrates that an inverter generator will provide cleaner power regardless of the type of load. Not only will a non-PFC
electronic ballast have fewer adverse effects on other equipment when operating on an inverter generator, it will operate more reliably as
well (more on this when we look at the effect of multiple non-linear loads below.)
Power Factor Corrected Electronic HMI Ballasts (Capacitive Near Linear Load)
Because of the problems we have seen above, ballast manufacturers incorporate Power Factor Correction (PFC) circuits into their large
electronic HMI ballasts (6-18kw) by necessity. As discussed, a PFC circuit realigns voltage and current and induces a smoother waveform.
As a result, the ballast uses power more efficiently with minimized return current and line noise. Less heat is generated so the ballast
operates more reliability.
Left: Grid Power w/ 1.2Kw P-2-L PFC Elec. Ballast. Center: Conventional AVR Power w/ 1.2Kw P-2-L PFC Elec. Ballast. Right: Inverter Power w/
1.2Kw P-2-L PFC Elec. Ballast.
A quick look at the waveform comparison confirms these characteristics of power factor corrected HMI ballasts. A near linear load, the PFC
electronic ballasts tested here has no adverse effect on the respective waveforms. If anything, like the purely resistive load of the 2k
incandescent light, it has a positive effect on the Honda EX5500. The generator runs smoother under the PFC load than without a load. That
fact is reflected in the smoother power waveform under load.
Left: AVR Generator No-Load
Right: AVR Generator with PFC Electronic HMI Ballast
Note the positive effect that the near-linear load has on the power from a conventional AVR generator.
It is also worth noting that since PFC electronic ballasts have no adverse effect on power, the power generated by the inverter generator
(EU6500is) retains its near perfect sinusoidal waveform. For this reason, sensitive electronic equipment running on the same power will
operate reliably and effectively.
All major manufacturers include power factor correction on large HMIs (6-18kw) because the heat and noise reduction is absolutely
necessary for their reliable operation. However, because of the added cost, weight, and complexity of PFC, manufacturers offer PFC as an
option on medium-sized ballasts (2.5-4kw) and have not until recently offered PFC on HMI ballasts smaller than 1.2kw. What sets the
Power to Light (P2L) HMI Ballast product line apart from others is that P2L is incorporating Power Factor Correction (PFC) into their
800w, 1200w, 2.5kw/4kw ballasts at the same price points as other manufacturers conventional non-PFC electronic ballasts.
Electronic Fluorescents Ballasts (Capacitve Non-linear Load)
Left: Grid Power w/ Kino Flo Wall-o-Lite. Center: Conventional AVR Power w/ Kino Flo Wall-o-Lite. Right: Inverter Power w/ Kino Flo Wall-o-Lite.
The first thing to note is that with a power factor around .6 the older style electronic ballasts of the Kino Flo Wall-o-Lite do return some
harmonic currents to the power stream that distort the power waveforms of the generators but to a much lesser degree than a non-PFC
electronic HMI ballast. The second thing to note is that the distortion of the voltage waveform is considerably less in the case of the inverter
power (far right) than that of the conventional generator (center.) The reason for this is that, as we saw above, the original waveform of the
power generated by the EU6500is (our inverter generator) has less harmonic distortion at the outset than that originally generated by the
EX5500 (our conventional AVR generator.) Where the harmonic distortion of the power generated by the inverter generator is on par with
the grid power, what little voltage distortion there is comes as a result of the generators high sub-transient impedance.
Given how well Kino Flo ballasts interact with inverter generators, not to mention their versatility (they can operate both 5500K & 3200K
lamps) and their efficiency (they consume 1/10 the power of comparable incandescent soft lights), Kino Flo lights would appear to be an
ideal light source to operate off of portable inverter generators, and hence a good candidate for our better production system, except for one
drawback. Fluorescent lights have a very broad soft light output that is hard to control. The light also tends to drop off rapidly which means
that to serve as key sources, the units need to be positioned close to the subject they are lighting. These characteristics make them best suited
to be fill sources in dramatic productions. They are really only suited to serve as key sources in documentary interview set ups where the
keys are typically positioned close to the interview subject. In that capacity they generate a wonderful soft light that wraps around the
interview subject without wilting them. Given these characteristics, fluorescent lights in the past had only limited applications in set lighting
until the development by Kino Flo of their ParaBeam fixtures (see below for more details.)
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The Effects of Multiple Non-Linear Loads
Thus far we have looked at the effect of just one 1200W non-pfc electronic ballast on 5500W & 6500W generators. What would be the
accumulative effect of multiple non-linear loads on a generator? To see, I ran a package consisting of two Arri 1200 Par Pluses with non-pfc
electronic ballasts, as well as a Kino Flo 4 10 tube Wall-o-Lite on the EX5500 (our conventional AVR generator). And for the sake of
comparison, I ran the same package but with power factor corrected electronic HMI ballasts on the EU6500is (our inverter generator.) The
difference between the resulting waveforms is startling.
Left: Conventional AVR Power w/ Pkg. of non-PFC Elec. Ballasts & Kino Flo Wall-o-Lite. Center: Scope time base adjusted to bring elongated
waveform back on screen. Right: Inverter Power w/ Pkg. of non-PFC Elec. Ballasts & Kino Flo Wall-o-Lite.
The waveform on the left is no longer grid power but the power of the EX5500 distorted by the noise generated by multiple non-PFC HMI
& Kino electronic ballasts. As we would expect, since the percentage of the total capacity of the generator taken up by non-linear loads has
increased, the amount of voltage distortion in the power generated by the conventional AVR generator (the EX5500) has increased as well.
The first artifact of the higher Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) we notice is that the entire waveform is elongated such that it no longer fits
on the oscilloscope display. The center frame is the scope adjusted so that the entire waveform fits on its screen. The elongation of the
waveform indicates that, despite the regulation of its engine speed by the Barber Coleman AC Frequency governor, the greater load of non-
PFC electronic ballasts has caused the generator to slow down slightly. As you would expect with a conventional AVR generator like the
EX5500, the drop in RPMs results in a shift in the frequency (HZ) of the AC power waveform. The AC Frequency of the inverter generator,
on the other hand, is unchanged by the additional non-linear load.
Left: Effect of harmonics of one non-pfc 1200W Electronic Ballast.
Right: Effect of stacked harmonics of two non-pfc 1200W Electronic ballasts
and solid-state ballast of Kino Flo Wall-o-Lite
The slow down of the EX5500 (our conventional AVR generator) might be attributable to the second artifact of the higher THD we notice -
the amplitude of the high frequency wavelettes within the primary sine wave (the zig-zag saw tooth pattern) has also increased. The high
voltage notching and heavy ringing transients present in the more distorted waveform (above) is creating multiple zero-crossings within one
cycle of the AC waveform. Since, the Barber Coleman engine governor used in this particular Honda EX5500 uses a speed reference signal
obtained by sensing the zero-crossings of the frequency of the output voltage inside the AVR unit, the multiple zero-crossings may be
confusing the governor unit, causing it to regulate the engine at the wrong speed.
There was a similar case reported on the Cinematographers Mailing List (CML.) It involved a Honda EX5500 equipped with a Barber
Coleman governor. The EX5500 also had a digital frequency meter installed on the front panel. As reported in the post, the digital meter
worked fine with tungsten lights. But, as soon as a 1200 Par was struck the digital meter read 120Hz rather than 60Hz. The gaffer knew the
meter was malfunctioning, and not the governor. In order, to generate 120Hz power, the generator would have to run 7200 rpm and the pitch
of the engine had not changed. When the gaffer metered the frequency of the generator is was slightly off, but they were not too concerned
because they were using flicker free electronic ballasts and there was no problem visible in the monitor or on playback. However as soon
they tried to run a second 1200 Par the engine began heaving. The lights continued to run without visible flicker; but, a lap top that was
being used to check the download of footage to the hard drive locked up. When generator power was metered again, the Hz was cycling over
a wide range. If one of the 1200 pars was turned off, the frequency would become stable again. Clearly the harmonic noise generated by the
electronic ballasts was the problem in this case. The higher voltage notching and heavier ringing transients were creating multiple zero
crossings and throwing the governor off
Left: Effect of harmonics of one non-pfc 1200W Electronic Ballast.
Right: Effect of stacked harmonics of two non-pfc 1200W Electronic ballasts
and solid-state ballast of Kino Flo Wall-o-Lite
Also of note in the waveforms above is that the peak voltage has dropped even further, and the duration of the flat plateau is extended.
Where there is appreciable voltage waveform distortion of this type, created by operating capacitive non-linear light sources on a
conventional generator, other electrical devices operating on the same power may be unable to use this distorted pseudo square wave
effectively. For instance, other production equipment that utilizes diode-capacitors and therefore depend on the peak value of the voltage
waveform to operate effectively will work harder, if at all, on the squared off waveform caused by harmonic currents (above).
Most electronic production equipment in use today utilizes AC-to-DC diode-capacitor power conversion circuits in one way or another. As
discussed at length above, HMI and Fluorescent electronic ballasts utilize them to convert AC input power to DC power so that a Switch-
mode Converter can convert the DC power back to an alternating power waveform that ignites the lamp (50/60Hz Square wave in the case
of HMIs and high frequency sine wave in the case of Fluorescent ballasts.) The AC power supplies of lap top computers and video cameras,
as well as DC battery chargers, also use diode-capacitors to convert AC-to-DC. But, instead of using a Switch-mode Converter to switch the
DC back to AC, they use power conditioning components to supply DC power of a prescribed voltage. Regardless of the type of power (AC
or DC) ultimately generated, what is important to realize is that all diode-capacitor power conversion circuits place the load on the peaks of
the supply AC.
Step 1: Rectifier Bridge converts line frequency AC power to rectified sine wave.
Step 2: rectified sine wave is flattened to DC by conditioning Capacitor.
If you will recall from our discussion of electronic ballasts, the diode-capacitor section converts the AC power to DC power by first feeding
the AC input through a bridge rectifier, which inverts the negative half of the AC sine wave and makes it positive. The rectified current then
passes into a conditioning capacitor/s that removes the 60 Hz rise and fall and flattens out the voltage - making it DC.
Yellow Trace: Rectifier Bridge converts AC power to rectified sine wave. Blue Trace: Stored Capacitor Voltage. Red Trace: Current drawn by capacitors
once input voltage is greater than voltage stored in the capacitor (Blue trace.)
As shown in the illustration above, the diode-capacitor circuit only draws current during the peaks of the supply voltage waveform as it
charges the conditioning capacitor to the peak of the line voltage. Since the conditioning capacitor can only charge when input voltage is
greater than its stored voltage, the capacitor charges for a very brief period of the overall cycle time. Since, during this very brief charging
period, the capacitor must be fully charged, large pulses of current are drawn for short durations. Consequently, all diode-capacitor circuits
draw current in high amplitude short pulses that roughly coincide with the peak of the voltage waveform. The remaining unused current
feeds back into the power stream as harmonic currents.
A pseudo square wave after being rectified by a full bridge rectifier
Based upon how diode-capacitor circuits operate, what effect would a highly distorted voltage waveform have upon them? If we compare
one half cycle of a rectified sine wave to one half cycle of the distorted pseudo square wave generated by just one non-pfc 1200W electronic
ballast, we see that one consequence is that the period during which the capacitors must recharge is appreciably shortened. Given a shorter
interval to charge, the capacitor/s will draw current in even higher amplitude shorter bursts. The diode-capacitor circuit therefore works
harder, drawing more current during an even briefer charging period, reducing its power factor and increasing its apparent power or load. As
a consequence protective circuit breakers may trip or fuses blow.
Left: half cycle of rectified sine wave. Right: half cycle of rectified pseudo square wave.
Blue Line: Minimum Capacitor Voltage. Red Lines denote interval during which current
will be drawn by capacitors once input voltage is greater than voltage stored in the capacitor.
Another adverse effect is that more harmonic currents are generated as less of the power waveform is used by the circuit. In fact, a viscous
cycle can get started. The more harmonic currents that are generated, the more distorted the power supplied by the generator becomes. The
more distorted the power waveform becomes, the more harmonic currents are generated. In this fashion, something akin to a feedback loop
can get started until the effect of the harmonics is enhanced to the point where equipment stops working all together.
Blue Line: Minimum Capacitor Voltage. Red Lines denote interval during which current will be drawn
by capacitors once input voltage is greater than voltage stored in the capacitor.
To see why this might happen we have only to compare the pseudo square wave created by the single non-PFC 1200W electronic HMI
ballast to that created by the 2500W package of non-PFC electronic HMI and Kino ballasts above. Based upon our discussion of how diode-
capacitor circuits operate, we can see in the oscilloscope shot on the right that the peak value of the psuedo square wave created by the
2500W package (after it has be rectified) may not reach a sufficient level to charge the capacitor/s of a power supply. Whether the ballast of
a light, or the AC power supply of a lap top, the equipment may be starved of power even though its power indicator lights up, and a true
RMS voltmeter would indicate about 120 volts on the line. Common symptoms of power starvation are computers locking up, breakers
tripping, and HMIs not striking or holding their strike. And, where now more of the distorted wave falls outside a sinusoidal waveform,
more excess heat will be generated in its' electrical components causing them to overheat and eventually burn up.
Unuseable portion of distorted waveform (shaded) dissipated in heat.
The magnitude of THD we see here, created by the harmonics of multiple non-PFC electronic ballasts stacking in our distribution system,
goes a long way toward explaining this recent scenario: a local broadcast rental house sent several non-linear editing systems to the Iron
Man Triathlon for field editing. The laptops kept inexplicably locking up until their power supply was changed from a generator that was
also supplying a large number of HMIs to the onboard generator of the satellite truck. Once they were moved from the highly distorted
power supply of the lighting generator to the highly refined power supply of the satellite truck the laptops operated flawlessly.
Same as Above Left: Conventional AVR Power w/ Pkg. of non-PFC Elec. Ballasts & Kino Flo Wall-o-Lite. Center: Scope time base adjusted to
bring elongated waveform back on screen. Right: Inverter Power w/ Pkg. of non-PFC Elec. Ballasts & Kino Flo Wall-o-Lite.
The third frame on the right, is the same package of lights but with power factor corrected electronic HMI ballasts on the EU6500is ( our
inverter generator.) As you can see, the difference between the resulting waveforms is startling. Even though we are running the same
overall load in terms of watts, the fact that the ballasts are power factor corrected, that the power generated by the inverter generator has very
little inherent harmonic distortion (less than 2.5%), and that the system impedance is very low, results in virtually no voltage waveform
distortion of the power running through the distribution system. For this reason, sensitive electronic equipment running on the same power
will continue to operate reliably and effectively without damage even though the overall load on the generator has increased. These frames
clearly demonstrate that it is essential to have PFC circuitry in your ballasts, and to operate them on an inverter generator, when your load
consists primarily of HMIs and Kinos.
What it all Means
From the results of these tests the outline of a better production system is beginning to take shape. If there is one conclusion to be drawn
from these tests, it is that when your lighting package consists predominantly of non-linear light sources, like HMI and Fluorescent lights, it
is essential to have PFC circuitry in the ballasts and to operate them on an inverter generator. The combination of improved power factor
and the nearly pure power waveform of the inverter generator makes it possible to power larger lights, or more smaller lights, than has ever
been possible before on a small portable gas generator.
In the past, the primary factors limiting the use of HMIs on portable generators have been their inefficient use of power and the harmonic
noise they throw back into the power stream (below left.) However, with the recent incorporation of PFC circuitry in electronic ballasts
smaller than 4kw and the introduction of inverter generators, it is now possible to generate clean stable set power (below right) capable of
operating larger lights (HMIs up to 6kw or Quartz lights up to 5kw), or more smaller lights, off of portable gas generators than has ever
been possible before.
Left: Power waveform distorted by Non-PFC 1200W HMI ballasts on conventional generator.
Right: Near perfect power waveform of the same lights with PFC ballasts on inverter generator.
That is, where the harmonic distortion created by non-PFC ballasts reacting poorly with the distorted power waveform of conventional AVR
generators, limited the number of HMIs you could use to half the generators capacity. An inverter generator can be loaded to capacity with
PFC HMI and Kino Flo ballasts because the near-linear nature of the load and the extremely low harmonic distortion (less than 2.5%) of the
original AC power waveform of inverter generators results in virtually no distortion of the power waveform.
What this means is that you can safely power bigger lights, or more smaller lights, on a portable gas generator than was ever possible before.
For example, where a Kino Flo ParaBeam 400 draws only 2 amps, the 8 Amp difference between using a PFC 1200W electronic ballast and
non-PFC 1200W electronic ballasts, can mean the difference between running four additional ParaBeam 400s on a portable generator or not.
Given this new math, when you add up the incremental savings in power to be gained by using only PFC HMI ballasts, add to it energy
efficient sources like Kino Flos, and combine it with the pure waveform of inverter generators, you have what, I would argue, amounts to a
paradigm shift in lighting with small portable generators. Where before you could not operate more than a couple 1200W HMIs on a
conventional AVR generator, now you can run a lighting package consisting of PFC 2.5kw, 1200, and 800 Watt HMI Pars, a couple of Kino
Flo ParaBeam 400s, ParaBeam 200s, and a Kino Flo FlatHead 80 off of a Honda EU6500is Inverter Generator with the aid of a 60A Full
Power Transformer/Distro. Given the light sensitivity of HD Camcorders, this constitutes a complete location lighting package for HD
Digital Cinema productions.
Where these tests have only compared the response of different light sources to the power waveforms of conventional AVR generators and
inverter generators, let us now see how the generators compare in the areas of speed stability, noise of operation, portability, and power
capacity.
__________________________________________________________________
Movie Blimped
Inverter Generators
Production Features
Super Quiet
At first glance, you notice that unlike the typical deluxe AVR generators that use open frame designs that let everything hang out, the
design of inverter generators consist of isolated chambers that are completely enclosed. For example, the noise of the Honda EU6500is
generator has been greatly reduced by integrating a triple-chamber construction for the exhaust, engine and air intake. The exhaust chamber
is now lined with a sound-absorbing material and houses a larger muffler that is secured to the frame and enclosed in the body of the
generator, reducing both noise and vibration. The engine chamber is also lined with a sound-dampening material and has fully sealed panels
to contain acoustic energy.
ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF HONDA POWER PRODUCTS
Honda triple-chamber construction
The central air intake and exhaust system is designed to reduce mechanical noise by making airflow smoother by use of an air guide and
intake nose. A newly designed rigid frame also aids in the sound attenuation of the EU6500i. And, instead of covering the frame with a
single layer of plastic, the shell of EU6500is is made up of a layer of vibration-dampening foam sandwiched between layers of plastic. This
sandwich of material prevents the enclosure from resonating which dramatically reduces sound levels.
While the totally new frame design of inverter generators in general greatly reduces noise, what makes the Honda inverter generators
incredibly quiet, as well as more fuel efficient, is what Honda calls its micro processor controlled Eco-Throttle.
Eco-Throttle is simply the marketing name Honda uses to describe two of the characteristics of PWM inverter modules discussed above that
make inverter generators considerably quieter than conventional AVR generators. First, with their multi-pole rotors and small stator, inverter
generators produce more electrical energy per engine revolution than is produced in conventional AVR generators. Their greater efficiency,
and the fact that the frequency of the power they generate is not linked to engine speed, means they can run at much slower RPMs for a
given load than a conventional AVR generator.
The second reason that inverter generators are quieter than conventional AVR generators is that their PWM inverter modules permit their
engine speed to be varied with load. Which means that, at less than full load, the engine can be slowed down which tremendously reduces
the noise it generates. Put simply, an inverter generator is much quieter because the engine does not have to run at full speed constantly as is
the case with conventional generators. Honda calls these two features Eco Throttle because it results in a substantial reduction in fuel
consumption. But, what is of more importance for motion picture production is that these features make inverter generators substantially
quieter than traditional AVR models.
ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF HONDA POWER PRODUCTS
Improved Noise Level and Fuel Consumption as a result of Eco-Throttle
Through this combination of innovative frame design and Eco Throttle, the Honda inverter generators achieve a noise reduction of ten
decibels. Which makes them half as loud as the comparable EM7000is and ES6500 generators typically found at lighting rental houses.
Honda's EU Series generators operate at 34 to 44 dBA at 50 ft. - well below what is required for trouble free location recording and quieter
than our Crawford 1400 Amp Movie Blimped Generator.
ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF HONDA POWER PRODUCTS
Comparative Noise Levels of Honda Generators and other sources.
Smaller Size
Inverter Generators provide stable, clean power in a smaller, lighter, quieter package. This is accomplished by integrating parts from the
engine and generator set into a wholly new combination flywheel/alternator. In the case of the Honda EU6500is, this results in a generator
that is more compact and 33% lighter than the comparable Honda EX5500. This is a significant reduction in footprint for a unit producing
such a high power output.
ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF HONDA POWER PRODUCTS
Combination flywheel/alternator makes Honda Inverter Generators smaller and lighter than convential AVR Generators
Solid as a Rock
If you will recall from our discussion at the outset, conventional generators, with simple two-pole cores, require Barber Coleman governors
to govern their engines to run at a constant 3600 RPM to produce stable 60 hertz (cycle) power. To regulate voltage, their AVR systems
control the strength of the electro-magnetic field in the Alternator's Rotor through DC excitation. Voltage and Frequency in conventional
generators are intractably linked to their Engine/Alternator. Inverter generators by comparison do not have to run at a constant speed because
the AC power they output is generated from high voltage DC power that is micro-processor switched according to a PWM control logic
with a voltage stability of 1%, and Frequency stability of 0.01 HZ. This simple fact, that the voltage and frequency of inverter generators
is no longer linked to its Engine or Alternator, offers a number of benefits for filmmakers.
First off, leading power factor loads, like electronic ballasts, do not affect the regulation of voltage in inverter generators as they do in
conventional AVR generators. As discussed above, the AC power that inverter generators output is generated from a fixed high voltage DC
that is modulated according to a PWM control logic to provide a variable AC voltage and frequency. The DC voltage is generated by a
fixed Diode Bridge Rectifier that converts the more than 300 three phase AC sine waves (at frequencies up to 20 kHz) generated by the
multi-pole Rotor to a fixed DC value (about 200 V in at least one unit). Since the inverter module completely processes the raw power
generated by the Alternator, the voltage of the AC power it outputs is no longer a function of the strength of the electro-magnetic field of the
Alternator's Rotor, nor controlled by DC excitation. Where the AC voltage generated by inverter generators is no longer controlled by DC
excitation, the armature flux generated by harmonic currents in the Alternator Sator no longer causes erroneous voltage regulation as was the
case with conventional AVR systems. Consequently, leading power factor loads do not cause voltage regulation errors in inverter generators
as they did in conventional AVR generators.
TABLE COURTESY OF KIRK KLEINSCHMIDT
A second benefit to filmmakers is that inverter generators have very low sub-transient impedance. If you will recall from our earlier
discussion, impedance is a function of the internal reactance of the engine to changes in load. But, since the inverter module completely
processes the raw power generated by the Alternator (converting it to DC before converting it back to AC), the AC power it generates is
completely independent of the Engine/Alternator. So independent, in fact, that the microprocessor can actually vary the engine speed without
effecting the voltage or frequency of the power output. Now that the inverter module separates the internal reactance of the engine from the
power output, harmonic currents encounter very little impedance; and, as is evident in the oscilloscope shots above, there is considerably
less voltage distortion at the load bus. The net benefit to filmmakers is that non-linear loads, like electronic HMI & Kino ballasts, do not
adversely effect the power of inverter generators as they do the power of conventional AVR generators.
The rock solid power and low sub-transient impedance of inverter generators enable you to operate larger non-linear loads on a portable gas
generator than has been possible before. For instance, we have struck 6k HMI Pars on a modified Honda EU6500is inverter generator
without problem. These features of inverter generators make them an ideal power source for motion picture production with non-linear
lighting loads.
Honda's sophisticated micro-processor based "i-monitor" control system
Finally, with micro-processor based control systems, most inverter generators also incorporate a suite of temperature, voltage and current
sensors to make sure everything is operating correctly and to ensure that the generators can put out extra power for short time periods to
start demanding loads such as electric motors which can require three times the amount of power to start as they require to run.
New Life to Magnertic HMI ballasts
If you dont have access to the newest Power Factor Corrected (PFC) electronic ballasts, you are better served by using the older magnetic
ballasts on an inverter generator (like the Honda EU6500is) over non-PFC electronic ballasts on conventional AVR generators (like the
Honda EX5500 or ES6500.) Where this is contrary to the conventional wisdom, allow me to explain some of the advantages to operating
magnetic ballasts on inverter generators.
With a frequency variance of only hundredths of a cycle, magnetic ballasts will operate flicker free on inverter generators, without the
need for costly crystal governors, as long as you shoot at one of the many safe frame rates. Besides the extra bulk and weight of magnetic
ballasts, the smaller magnetic ballasts (575-2500W) offer the distinct advantage of being less expensive and drawing less power (13.5A
versus 19A for a 1.2kw) once they have come up to speed than the commonly available non-PFC electronic equivalents. Finally, magnetic
ballasts will operate more reliably on inverter generators, than non-PFC electronic ballasts operate on AVR generators. The reason being the
leading power factor caused by the capacitive reactance of non-PFC electronic ballasts have a more severe effect on the power waveform of
conventional AVR generators than do magnetic ballasts on the power waveform of inverter generators.
Left: Grid Power w/ no load has a THD of <3%.
Center: Conventional AVR Power w/ no load has a THD aprox. 19%
Right: Inverter Power w/ no load has a THD of aprox. 2.5%.
With an inherently distorted voltage waveform (see above) of upwards of 19.5%, high impedance AVR generators (like the Honda EX5500
or ES6500) do not interact well with the harmonic currents generated by the capacitive reactance of electronic ballasts. The net result is that
the harmonic currents thrown back into the power stream, result in severe voltage waveform distortion and ultimately to equipment failure or
damage.
Characteristic voltage waveform of a non-PFC electronic HMI ballast on grid power (left),
on power generated by a conventional AVR generator (middle),
and power generated by an inverter generator (right)
This is clearly evident in the oscilloscope shots (reproduced above) of what results from the operation of a 1200W HMI with non-power
factor corrected ballast on grid power (left), on a conventional AVR generator (Honda EX5500) (middle), and inverter generator (Honda
EU6500is)(right.) The adverse effects of the harmonic noise generated by non-PFC electronic ballasts and exhibited here in the middle shot,
can take the form of overheating and failing equipment, circuit breaker trips, excessive current on the neutral wire, and instability of the
generators voltage and frequency. Harmonic noise of this magnitude can also damage HD digital cinema production equipment, create
ground loops, and possibly create radio frequency (RF) interference.
Characteristic voltage waveform of a 1200W magnetic HMI ballast on grid power (left),
on power generated by a conventional AVR generator (middle),
and power generated by an inverter generator (right)
As is evident in the oscilloscope shots (reproduced above) of a 1200W magnetic HMI ballasts on grid power (left), on power generated by a
conventional AVR generator (middle), and power generated by an inverter generator (right), the lagging power factor caused by the
inductive reactance of magnetic ballasts has by comparison only a moderately adverse effect on the power waveform. Outside of causing a
voltage spike in the inverter power, magnetic ballasts actually show a positive effect on the already distorted power waveform of the Honda
EX5500 conventional generator. For this reason magnetic ballasts work better on conventional generators with frequency governors than do
non-PFC electronic square wave HMI ballasts. These oscilloscope shots show that if you dont have access to the newest PFC electronic
ballasts, the older magnetic ballasts are in fact cleaner running on portable gas generators than non-PFC electronic ballasts. And, where
inverter generators like the Honda EU6500is do not require crystal governors to run at precisely 60Hz, you can operate magnetic HMI
ballasts reliably on them.
Of course there are downsides to using magnetic ballasts. One down side is that you are restricted to using only the safe frame rates and
shutter angles. But, when you consider that every film made up to the early 1990s were made with magnetic HMI ballasts you can see that
being limited to the safe frame rates is not all that restrictive. Another downside to magnetic ballasts is that you cant load the generator to
full capacity because you must leave head room for their higher front end striking load. When choosing HMIs to run off portable
generators, bear in mind that magnetic ballasts draw more current during the striking phase and then they settle down and require less
power to maintain the HMI Arc. By contrast, an electronic ballasts ramps up. That is, its current draw gradually builds until it tops off.
For example, even though a 2.5 magnetic ballast draws approximately 26 amps you will not be able to run it reliably on the 30A/120V
twist-lock receptacle of either a 6500W Inverter or AVR generator. As mentioned above, magnetic ballasts have a high front end striking
load. So, you must leave head room on the generator to accommodate the strike. And, even though the twist-lock receptacle is rated for 30
Amps, 6500W generators are only capable of sustaining a peak load of 27.5 Amps on a single leg of the generator for a short period of time.
Their continuous load capacity (more than 30 minutes) is 23 Amps per leg. And, if there is any line loss from a long cable run the draw of a
2.5 magnetic ballast will climb to upward of 30 Amps. To make matters worse, as we saw in the oscilloscope shots above, the lagging
power factor caused by the inductive reactance of the magnetic ballast causes a spike in the supply voltage that can cause erratic tripping of
the breakers on the generator or ballast. In my experience the load of a 2.5kw magnetic ballast is too near the operating threshold of an
unmodified 6500W generator for it to operate reliably.
Honda EU6500i Inverter Generator with 60A Full Power Transformer/Distro
The only sure way to power a 120V 2.5kw (or even a 4kw) HMI magnetic ballast on a portable gas generator is from its' 240V circuit
through a 240v-to-120v step down transformer like the one we manufacture for the Honda EU6500is (pictured above.) A transformer will
step down the 240V output of the Honda EU6500is generator to a single 120V circuit that is capable of accommodating the high front end
striking load, and even the voltage spikes, of either a 2.5kw or 4kw magnetic ballast at 120V (see below for additional benefits to using step-
down transformers with portable gas generators.)
Since magnetic HMI ballasts will operate flicker free at all standard frame rates on them (without the need for a crystal governor), inverter
generators give new production life to older 120V magnetic HMI ballasts.
__________________________________________________________________
For all their benefits true sine wave inverter generators had limited applications in motion picture production because they had limited
output. It was not until the introduction of the Honda EU6500is inverter generator in the fall of 2007 that the benefits of inverter technology
became available in a generator with output comparable, if not greater, to the conventional AVR generators commonly used in motion
picture production. The benefits of inverter technology discussed above mean that inverter generators can put out 20% more power than
conventional AVR generators using the same engines. For instance, it is possible to get 7500W of continuous power in a single 120V circuit
out of a Honda EU6500is generator. That is enough power to run a lighting package consisting of a 2.5kw, 1200, & 800 HMI Pars (with
PFC ballasts), a couple of Kino Flo ParaBeam 400s, a couple of ParaBeam 200s, and a Flat Head 80. Given the light sensitivity of
electronic imaging systems, this is just about all the light needed to light a large night exterior.
In order to understand how it is possible to get 7500W of continuous power in a single 120V circuit out of a Honda EU6500is generator,
one must first appreciate two things about the continuous load ratings given for generators. First, the factors generator manufacturers use to
derive load ratings include not only the mechanical components (engine & alternator), and the electrical components (circuitry & wiring),
but also the market for which it is intended (how it will be used) and the brand image of the manufacturer (life expectancy of the product.)
A quick survey of the wide range of continuous load ratings (5000W-7000W) of generators, by manufacturers other than Honda, using the
same Honda GX390 engine as the EU6500is supports this fact. Second, when Honda engineered the EU6500is it was not only for the North
American market. Like a car, Honda engineered a base model for the world market that they then customize for the different national
markets. The difference between the various national models is primarily in the power output panel, which is configured according to the
electrical system and prevailing standards used in the national market in which the generator will be used. For these reasons, the true power
generating capacity of the Honda EU6500is is open to speculation.
When you compare how Honda outfits the base model of the EU6500is generator for the European and UK markets, where the standard
circuit for domestic power is 230/240 Volts and 16 Amps (3680/3840 Watts), to how Honda outfits the same generator for the North
American Market, where the standard circuit is 120 Volts and 20 Amps (2400 Watts), one realizes that the continuous power rating of
5500w for the North American Model of the generator is under-rated. Where England and Ireland have not entirely conformed to the
European Union Standard of 230 Volts, but still generate 240V power, Honda has engineered the base model to support a version of this
generator for the UK market (the EU65i) with two 240V/16A circuits (3840 Watts/circuit). To support the UK market, the base model must
be designed to generate at least 7680 Watts (2x3840W/circuit =7680W).
To empirically test how much generating capacity the base model is capable of, we tapped an EU6500is in a similar fashion to the UK
model, the EU65is, and used a step-down transformer to convert the 240 Volt output to a single 120 Volt circuit. We then used the
generators overload sensor to empirically test its capacity with a load bank following the parameters as set forth in the manual:
If the generator is overloaded, or if the inverter is overheated, the red overload indicator will go ON. When an electric motor is started,
the red overload indicator may come on. This is normal if the red overload indicator goes off after about five seconds. When the generator
is operating overloaded, the red overload indicator will stay ON and, after about five seconds, current . will shut off
What we discovered about our modified EU6500is was startling. We found that we could power a continuous load (more than 30 minutes) of
up to 7650 Watts without the overload indicator coming on. When we exceeded 7650 Watts, the red indicator blinked intermittently. When
we exceeded 7800 Watts the red indicator came on continuously and power was cut off to the receptacles. Since, according to the Honda
Manuel it is normal for the overload indicator to come on for short front-end loads, like electric motors starting, our results suggest that the
continuous load capacity of the base model, or the EU6500is after our modification, is actually 7650 watts. And, when you consider that
electric motors require up to three times more power to start than is required to keep them running, it suggests that the peak rating is
actually well above 7650W.
Suspecting that it was not just coincidental that the actual continuous load capacity of 7650 Watts is the equivalent of two standard
household circuits in the UK, we confirmed with Honda Motors USA that in fact the base model of the EU6500is generator is engineered to
generate the equivalent of two UK circuits and has a continuous load capacity of 7650Watts. And, that when Honda configures the base
model for the North American market with 120V circuits, it is not fully utilizing the power generating capacity they have built into the
machine for the worldwide market.
Even though our test demonstrates that the inverter module of the EU6500is can support continuous loads of 7650W does not necessarily
mean that the generators engine can. Quite often, when you find yourself in the situation with a conventional AVR generator, where lights
that have been running fine, suddenly fail when another light is turned on, it is because the generator engine bogs down because it is over
loaded. As the engine RPMs drop, frequency and voltage drop as well, causing the HMI lights to cut out from low voltage. For this reason
it is important to factor engine capacity whenever sizing a generator for a predominantly HMI load.
The power behind the EU6500is is Hondas workhorse GX390 engine. According to Honda literature, the GX390 is a 13HP Twin Cylinder,
Overhead Cam (OHV), Liquid Cooled gas engine with a Displacement ( Bore X Stroke ) of 389cc / 23.7 cu. inches and a Gross Torque of
20 ft-lb at 2,500 rpm. This same engine is used worldwide by manufacturers of all kinds of power tools, from pumps to roto-tillers, and is
rated with a maximum output of 9600 Watts (13ps, 13bhp) at 3,600 RPM.
Surveying the continuous load capacity ratings of 5000W-7000W of generators by manufacturers other than Honda that use the GX390, one
quickly realizes that the factors generator manufacturers use to derive these ratings include not only the mechanical components (engine &
alternator), or the electrical components (circuitry & wiring), but also the market for which it is intended (how it will be used) and the brand
image of the manufacturer (life expectancy of the product.) For these reasons we can only speculate as to the true power generating capacity
of the GX390 engine.
To get an idea of the true power generating capacity of this engine we need look no further than the Coleman Model PM0497000 Generator.
Coleman uses the Honda GX390 engine in this conventional AVR generator it manufactures for the construction market. Colman rates the
Model PM0497000 Generator at 7000W continuous and 8750W peak load capacity. Where the Model PM0497000 Generator is
manufactured by Coleman for the construction trades to run power equipment with high front end loads it is probably safe to bet that
Coleman is under-rating the PM0497000 generator at 7000W continuous and 8750W peak load capacity.
Using Colemans rating of the Model PM0497000 Generator as a conservative bench mark of the engines true capacity, and taking into
account that an inverter generator draws 20% more power from each revolution of the generator core (thanks to its multiple coils and
multiple magnets generating several hundred overlapping sine waves per revolution), it is probably safe to assume that the GX390 engine in
an inverter generator is capable of generating at least 8400W of continuous and 10500W of peak power. Where Honda does not make this
information public, there is no way of knowing for certain what the actual generating capacity of the GX390 engine is in an inverter
generator like the EU6500is. We can, however, safely conclude that the GX390 provides a quiet and efficient power plant that more than
compliments the 7650W continuous power output of the EU6500is inverter power module.
One can only speculate why Honda under-rates the EU6500is generator. It probably has to do with maintaining the Honda brand image of
manufacturing a product that will last forever under the most demanding loads. In other words, the reason that the same engine and generator
components (the gen-set) marketed to the construction trades (the Coleman Model PM0497000) carries a higher continuous load rating than
that marketed for RV Power or Home Standby Power (the Honda EX5500, ES6500, EU6500is, & EM7000is) is that the load that the
construction trades put on generators is a "resistive load" - motors, heaters, incandescent lights, etc - that does not create harmonic currents.
Where as, the same gen-set marketed for RV Power or Home Standby Power will carry lower load ratings because the typical load put on it
is a "reactive load" - computers, fluorescent lights, microwaves, etc. - that creates harmonic currents and distortion of the power waveform
that can have severe adverse effects on both the generator and the equipment operating on it.
Why manufacturers de-rate the load capacity of generators intended for markets that use non-linear reactive loads is graphically illustrated
in the You-Tube Video Compact Fluorescent verses The Generator" discussed previously. In our discussion above, we covered a number of
adverse effects that harmonic noise can have on a generator. To review they include over heating, voltage regulation and speed regulation
problems. Kevan Shaw's You-Tube Video Compact Fluorescent verses The Generator" demonstrates that the result of these effects on the
operation of a generator can be so severe that they can not possibly be ignored when determining the "Continuous Load" rating of a
generator.
If you will recall, when Kevan intentionally "overloads" his 850W two stroke gas generator with a purely reactive load consisting of 30-
18W CFL bulbs, he is in fact (because of the CFL's poor Power Factor of .5) loading the generator with 1120W of Apparent Power. But,
because this apparent power load is drawn in short amplitude bursts, it never trips the breaker on his 850W generator. Instead, the generator
simply goes berserk. Where the average user of a portable generator can not distinguish between Resistive and Reactive Loads,
manufacturers routinely de-rate the Peak Load capacity of a gen-set for safety reasons when it will likely operate a predominantly Reactive
Load. When, in his demonstration, Kevan turns off the 18W CFL bulbs one at a time until the generator stabilizes with a Leading Power
Factor load of 270 Watts (15 18WCFL bulbs), he is in effect doing what generator manufacturers do to determine the Peak Load rating of
a generator for the RV & Home Standby markets: they determine the maximum Leading Power Factor load, as compared to Unity Power
Factor loads, that a gen-set can reliably operate. What Kevan Shaw finds is that it is not possible to load his generator beyond roughly 65%
of it's rated capacity when the load consists entirely of lights with a poor Leading Power Factor (Max Apparent Power of 540W/850W
Generator =.64.)
Reliable operation is only one criterion that manufacturers use to determine a gen-sets maximum Leading Power Factor load. Another
criterion is the effect that continuous exposure to harmonic currents will have on a gen-set. The overheating of a generators wiring and
windings as a result of sustained exposure to high Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) levels is an effect of harmonics on generators that
manufacturers take into account in the Continuous Load Ratings (longer than 30 minutes) that they give to generators. As discussed above,
harmonic currents produce heat in several ways. First, harmonic currents can stack on top of one another, creating very high currents
returning to the power source on the neutral wire. If the neutral of the generator has not been oversized to accommodate the additional
current, these high currents can cause excessive heat on the neutral bus of the generator. Second, harmonic currents produce high frequency
flux change in the Alternator's Stator core which can lead to them overheating. Higher core temperatures, in turn, result in higher winding
temperatures. Winding heating is, in fact, proportional to effective or RMS current squared. Rotor loss can also occur because harmonic
currents in the Stator will induce currents in the pole faces and windings of the Rotor. And, of course, harmonic currents cause increased
resistive losses everywhere in the generator's electrical distribution, resulting in increased temperatures everywhere, not only in the
Alternator windings.
For these reasons, if a gen-set is intended for a market whose typical load is Reactive (the computers, microwaves, & fluorescent lighting
loads of RVs or Homes), as opposed to Resistive (the motors, heaters, and incandescent lighting loads of construction sites), the
manufacturer de-rates the inherent generating capacity - i.e. lowers the continuous load rating - for that gen-set for that market in order to
reduce flux in the Stator core that leads to heat build up, and eventually to the windings burning out under "normal load." In other words,
the lower Continuous Load rating builds in a safety margin that allows for the harmonic distortion generated by Reactive Loads (both
inductive and capacitive.)
Where, the typical load placed on portable generators in motion picture lighting applications today consists predominantly of Reactive Loads
like HMI & fluorescent ballasts that generate harmonics, the conventional wisdom among Gaffers is to further de-rate the Continuous Load
capacity over and above what the generator manufacturer has already de-rated the generator set for the RV or Home Standby Power
applications. The conventional wisdom is to further de-rate the continuous load capacity of portable generators because the means by which
the industry has successfully dealt with harmonics has, in the past, not been available to the user of portable gas generators.
The means by which the motion picture industry has more or less successfully dealt with harmonics - namely the over-sizing of generators,
the over-sizing of neutrals, the incorporation of power factor correction circuitry in large HMI ballasts, and finally the use of generators with
2/3 pitch windings (Crawford Studio Generators) are generally not available to users of small portable generators as their primary source of
power. That is because, productions using portable gas generators are using them by necessity. For budgetary or logistical reasons, it is
simply not an option to upscale their generator and customize their distribution package to accommodate a heavily harmonic load. The only
alternative is to de-rate the continuous load capacity of the generator and distribution equipment.
Where the severe harmonic noise of a typical lighting package exhibited above can cause overheating and failing equipment, efficiency
losses, circuit breaker trips, excessive current on the neutral return, and instability of the generator's voltage and frequency, the conventional
wisdom in the past has been to not load a generator beyond 65% for more than a short period (the maximum recommend continuous load on
a 6500W generator, with a continuous load rating of 5500W, would be roughly 4200 watts.) Like the generator manufacturer, by de-rating
the load capacity, the Gaffer minimizes the adverse effects of high THD so that the generator will operate more reliably.
The New Math of Low Line Noise
This conventional wisdom, however, no longer holds true of inverter generators when used with Power Factor Corrected (PFC) HMI &
Kino ballasts. For example, the power waveform above on the right, is the same 2500W load but with power factor correction operating on
our modified Honda EU6500is Inverter Generator. As you can see, the difference between the resulting waveforms is startling. Even though
the load is the same, the fact that it is power factor corrected and the power is being generated by an inverter generator, results in virtually
no power waveform distortion. What this means is that an inverter generator can be loaded to capacity with PFC HMI and Kino Flo ballasts
without its' stator core overheating from high frequency flux change, its electrical wiring overheating from excessive resistance, and its
distribution panel overheating from a high neutral return. The substantial reduction in line noise that results from using PFC ballasts on the
nearly pure power waveform of an inverter generator creates a new math when it comes to calculating the continuous load you can put on a
portable gas generator.
According to this new math, it is possible to maximize the continuous load that can run off of an inverter generator, by using HMI and Kino
Flo lights with Power Factor Corrected ballasts. Where, in the past we had to de-rate portable generators because of the inherent short
comings of conventional generators when dealing with the harmonic noise generated by non-PFC electronic ballasts; now an inverter
generator can be loaded to capacity. According to this new math, when you add up the incremental savings in power to be gained by using
only PFC HMI ballasts, add to it energy efficient sources like the Kino Flo Parabeam fixtures, and combine it with the pure waveform of
inverter generators, you can run more HMI lights on a portable gas generator than has been possible before. For example, the 7500W
capacity of our modified Honda EU6500is Inverter Generator can power a lighting package that consists of a PFC 2.5kw HMI Par, PFC
1200, & 800 HMI Pars, a couple of Kino Flo ParaBeam 400s, a couple of ParaBeam 200s, and a Flat Head 80. Given the light sensitivity of
HD cameras, this is pretty much all the light you will need to light even night exteriors.
__________________________________________________________________
A Production System for a New Age
As we have seen, the primary factors limiting the use of HMIs on portable generators has been their inefficient use of power and the
harmonic noise they throw back into the power stream. The power waveform below left is typical of what results from the operation of a
couple of 1200W HMIs with non power factor corrected ballasts on a conventional portable generator. The adverse effects of the harmonic
noise exhibited here, can take the form of overheating and failing equipment, efficiency losses, circuit breaker trips, excessive current on the
neutral wire, and instability of the generator voltage and frequency. For these reasons it has never been possible to operate more than a
couple of 1200W HMIs on a conventional 6500W portable gas generator. Harmonic noise of this magnitude can also damage HD digital
cinema production equipment, create ground loops, and possibly create radio frequency (RF) interference.
Left: Distorted power waveform created by Non-PFC 1200W HMI ballasts on conventional generator.
Right: Near perfect power waveform created by the same lights with PFC ballasts on inverter generator.
The increasing use of personal computers, hard drives, and microprocessor-controlled recording equipment in production has created an
unprecedented demand for clean, reliable power on set. At the same time, the trend in set lighting is toward the use of more and more non-
linear light sources that dump harmonic noise into the power stream. Taking advantage of recent technological advances in electronic ballast
design and power generation it is possible to design a new production system that will generate clean stable set power capable of operating
larger lights (HMIs up to 6kw or Quartz lights up to 5kw), or more smaller lights, off of portable gas generators than has ever been possible
before. For example, the power waveform above on the right, is the same package of HMI lights but with power factor corrected electronic
HMI and Fluorescent ballasts operating on our an Inverter Generator. As you can see, the difference between the resulting waveforms is
startling. Even though we are running the same overall load, the fact that the ballasts are power factor corrected and the power is being
generated by our an Inverter Generator, results in virtually no power waveform distortion.
Our 60A Full Power Transformer/Distro provides 7500 Watts of power in a single 120v circuit
from the new Honda EU6500is Generator
For this reason, sensitive electronic production equipment will operate reliably and without damage. And, the generator is capable of
operating larger, or more smaller, lights than has ever been possible before on a portable gas generator.
__________________________________________________________________
Full Power
Transformer/Distros
A Transformer doubling as a distro box can be used to step down the 240V output from an inverter generator to a single 120V circuit that is
capable of powering a big light like a 5k Quartz light or 4kw HMI Day Lite Par - thus eliminating the need for the diesel generator typically
required to power these lights. And, where with the right lights (pfc electronic HMI ballasts) you can utilize the full capacity of a inverter
generator, a transformer/distro will enable you to power more smaller lights off of the generator than you can without it because it provides
you access to the full continuous rated power capacity of the generator in a single circuit.
60A Full Power Transformer/Distro on location
How do they do it? Since you can use the full continuous rated power capacity of an inverter generator, a Transformer/Distro enables you to
fully utilize that capacity by providing it to you in one 120V circuit. Now that the power is available in one circuit, you can load the
generator more fully. Without a transformer you can never fully utilize the available power of a portable generator because the load of a light
has to go on one circuit/leg of the generator or the other. For example, when plugging lights into the power outlet panel of a Honda
EU6500is Inverter Generator, you reach a point where you can't power an additional 1kw light because there is not 8.4 amps available on
either one of the factory installed 20A outlets/leg of the generator. With a Transformer/Distro you can still add that 1kw light because the
Transformer/Distro not only accesses power through a higher rated circuit (the 30A/240V Twistlock), but it also splits the load evenly over
the two legs (4.2A/leg) of the generator on that circuit.
A Honda EU6500is & our 60A Full Power Transformer/Distro powering
PFC 2.5 & 1.2 HMI Pars, PFC 800w Joker HMI,
Kino Flo Flat Head 80, 2 ParaBeam 400s, and a ParaBeam 200
And, because the Transformer/Distro perfectly balances the load of what ever you plug into it, the generator is capable of handling the larger
load more easily because it is perfectly balanced. The best part about using a Transformer/Distro is that it splits the load of what ever you
plug into it automatically. The iMonitor display on the EU6500igenerator control panel makes it especially easy to load our modified Honda
EU6500is inverter generator to the max. Simply plug in lights. When the load wattage displayed on the iMonitor reaches 7500 Watts you
are fully utilizing the power capacity of the generator.
An overload alarm on the iMonitor display will tell you if you inadvertently overload the Transformer/Distro. You no longer have to
carefully balance the load over the generator's two 20A/120 circuits/legs as you plug in lights because the Transfomer/Distro does it for you
automatically. Now that you are able to fully utilize the generator's available power, you are able to power larger lights, or more smaller
lights, than you could without a Transformer.
Night exterior scene lit with HD P&P Pkg.
For example, our modified Honda EU6500is Inverter Generator with our 60A Full Power Transformer/Distro is capable of powering a
2.5kw Par along with 1200, 800, & 400 Pars with PFC ballasts, plus a couple of Parabeam 400s and Parabeam 200s. Given the light
sensitivity of HD Camcorders, this can constitute a complete location lighting package for a low budget HD Digital Cinema production.
Night exterior Two Shot lit with HD P&P Pkg.
If configured with the industry standard 60A Bates outlet, a Transformer/Distro will not only enable you to get more useable power out of
the generator, but it will also greatly facilitate the distribution of power on your set. A 60A Bates outlet will enable you to power a 5kw
Quartz, 2.5kw HMI Par, or even a Power Factor Corrected 4kw HMI Par.
Distro System consisting of 60A Full Power Transformer/Distro, 2-60A GPC (Bates) Splitters, 2-60A Woodhead Box.
Even though the generator is 100' away to reduce noise, plug-in points remain conveniently close to set.
With additional 60A Bates extension cables, 60-to-60 Splitters, and fused 60A GPC-to-Edison Breakouts (snack boxes), a 60A Bates outlet
on the Transformer/Distro will enable you to run power around your set - breaking out to 20A Edison outlets at convenient points. The best
part is that no matter where in the distribution system you plug in, the Transformer/Distro automatically balances the additional load, so that
you don't have to. If you are using our modified Honda EU6500is generator, you simply plug in lights until the load wattage displayed on
the iMonitor of the generator control panel reaches 7500Watts. An overload alarm on the iMonitor display will tell you if you inadvertently
overload the 60A Transformer/Distro.
60A GPC (Bates) Splitters and Woodhead Box
60A Woodhead Box running Power to Light PFC 800W ballast (left) and PFC 1200W ballast (right.)
To record sync sound without picking up any generator noise, you can add 100' of heavy duty 250V twist-lock cable between the generator
and the transformer/distro. This way the generator can be further away, while your plug-in points remain conveniently close to set. You also
eliminate multiple cable runs to the generator and the subsequent drop in voltage from line-loss from using standard electrical cords.
__________________________________________________________________
Electrical Hazard Protection
Portable generators are quite often used to provide power in situations where it is not possible to get a large tow plant. Since, many of these
situations also include working in, on, and around water (to provide power on boats, beaches, and around remote lakes and streams) we have
designed our HD Plug & Play Pkg. Gen-set to operate safely in wet environments. The danger of water is that it greatly reduces the
resistance between you and ground. In wet grass, moist soil, standing water, or a swimming pool, water is a conductor. Salt water (which is
essentially what the human body is made of) is a better conductor than fresh water. Neither is a very good conductor, but both can still pose
a threat to life if a ground fault exists. To get a shock a person must become part of a closed circuit. When working in rain (real or
manufactured) everything and everyone tends to get wet, and wet hands, gloves, and feet pose little resistance should you come into contact
with a fault. A similar hazard exists any time the ground is thoroughly wet. In fact, water is a better conductor when it is mixed with
mineral of soil. A muddy field is more conductive than a freshwater pool. To protect people from electrical hazard in wet locations certain
precautions must be taken. Light fixtures must be properly grounded and GFCI protection should be used on all circuits that are in proximity
to water.
The requirement to ground portable generators, and the effectiveness of GFCIs used in connection with them, have been debated in the
industry. Some technicians believe that, like larger studio units, portable gas generators do not require grounding and that GFCIs will
function regardless of the grounding arrangement. What fuels the debate is a general ignorance that there are two distinct types of portable
generators those with Floating Neutrals and those with Bonded Neutrals. Which type of generator you are using determines whether it
should be earth grounded with a ground electrode and what grounding arrangement is required to make GFCIs operational.
To understand what it means to properly ground requires a basic understanding of the principles of electrical distribution and of the parlance
of the electrical trade. For example, the word ground is used in four totally different ways by electricians.
1) Equipment Grounding: The U-shaped prong on an Edison plug is for the equipment grounding wire. Grounding wires
are not meant to carry current under normal circumstances. They carry current only when there is a fault inside a piece of
equipment causing the metal housing to become electrified.
2) Grounded Neutral: The neutral wire is sometimes called a grounded neutral. The reason for this will become clear in
a moment. Grounded neutral wires are not to be confused with grounding wires.
3) System Grounding: The neutral buss of an electrical service is grounded to the earth by use of a grounding electrode
(ground rod) sunk into the earth. The grounding electrode conductor is the wire that makes this connection.
4) Ground Fault: The unintentional grounding that occurs when a live conductor accidentally comes into contact with a
metal surface. This type of ground fault is usually arcing and is extremely destructive. When a ground fault occurs in a
grounded system the safety device (fuse or circuit breaker) will activate which opens the circuit and current will not
continue to flow
Grounding falls into two categories: Systems Grounding and Equipment Grounding.
Systems Grounding is accomplished by attaching one current carrying conductor of an electrical system to ground at the source of power
(as illustrated below). This is called the neutral or common leg. The ground can be the earth or in the case of portable generators, the frame
of the generator which will serve as a large conducting body that serves in place of the earth.
Equipment Grounding is accomplished by attaching all of the non-current carrying metal parts of a system together and connecting them
to the same systems ground as the neutral at the source of power (a bonded neutral system). The equipment ground is a safety loop that
works in conjunction with the over-current protection to protect people against shock from a faulty piece of equipment that has developed a
short (contact with housing.) If no grounding wire were connected anyone who touched the fixture would, as illustrated below, complete the
circuit to ground through his or her body and would receive a shock.
With a grounding wire connected to the housing, electricity seeks the path of least resistance, and the bulk of electricity completes the path
to ground through the grounding wire instead. If the neutral wire of the circuit is also bonded to the generator frame (a bonded neutral
system), when a fault occurs, the grounding wire (as illustrated below) provides a path for the short current back to the neutral bus. Normally
this causes an over-current situation, which trips the breaker and removes the fault from the circuit.
One way to think of equipment grounding is that it is the intentional connecting of all metal parts of a system together through a ground
wire so that all exposed conducting surfaces have the same potential. That way if someone touches any two metal surfaces they will not
receive a shock because they will not experience any difference in potential To be clear, the other intentionally grounded conductor, the
Neutral, is a circuit conductor, not an equipment ground, and it is grounded to keep it at the some potential as earth, or ground. It should be
grounded at the power source and nowhere else.
Portable Generator Types:
There are two types of portable gas generators - one has the Neutral Floating and so is called a Floating Neutral Generator. It requires the
frame of the generator to be bonded to ground (earth) for reasons we will explore shortly. In this case, grounding to earth involves putting a
rod into the earth and attaching a ground cable from the rod to the generator frame. The other type of portable generator has the Neutral
Bonded to the frame of the generator and so is called a Neutral Bonded generator. Since Neutral Bonded generators offer a high degree of
protection against ground faults (if there was a fault to the frame, the generators circuit breaker would trip eliminating the fault) whether
they require an earth ground is up to the AHJ (Authority Having J urisdiction.) The AHJ , depending on where the work is taking place, may
be the local city electrical inspector, the fire marshal, or the studios safety officer. The AHJ is the ultimate authority for what practices will
be allowed on set.
Bonded Neutral Generators:
It might seem odd to bond the equipment grounding wires to the neutral, because the neutral carries current. It might seem like this would
make the entire equipment grounding system live. It does quite the opposite. Lets look at why this is.
When a source of electrical power is isolated from ground, the only fixed quantity is the voltage potential created between the wires coming
out of the alternator. The voltage potential from any part of the circuit to ground is not defined. With no reference to ground, it is as if the
phases are floating. To use an analogy: it is like a ship floating on a gentle sea even though the ship rises and falls with the swells of the
ocean, the relationship of the keel (the phase leg) to the deck (the neutral) doesnt change. In such an arrangement, we know the phase
potential is 120V higher, but we dont really know higher than what? Like the ship, the relation to the ground is floating (called a floating
ground), changing slightly as the waves gently ungulate up and down. This arrangement (an isolated power source) can function just fine, as
long as nothing comes along to make a connection to earth ground.
Generators mounted on trucks or trailers shall be completely insulated from earth by means of rubber tires, rubber
mats around metal stairways and rubber mats under any type of lift gate or jacking device. Metal supports for trailers
shall be insulated by means of wooden blocks. Safety tow chains shall be secured so as to not touch the ground. If
complete insulation is not possible, a grounding electrode system shall be installed per the National Electrical Code,
Article 250.52.
In fact, it is the preferred set up for power that is distributed from a generator according to the guidelines (see excert from safety bulletin #23
above) established by the Safety Committee of the Contract Service Administration Trust Fund (CSATF), an industry wide administrative
body (governed by the collective bargaining agreement by and between the Producers, The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage
Employees ("I.A.T.S.E."), the Moving Picture Technicians Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, its Territories, and Canada
("M.P.T.A.A.C."); as well as the collective bargaining agreements by and between the Producers and the Basic Crafts Locals (Article 18)).
But as specified in the OSHA Guidelines for Grounding of Portable Generators (above), isolating the generator from ground is only
permissible when the non-current carrying metal parts of equipment and the equipment grounding conductor terminals of the receptacles are
bonded to the generator frame and the Neutral conductor is also bonded to the frame. If the generator is mounted on a vehicle, the frame of
the generator must also be bonded to the frame of the vehicle. When this is the case, the figure below, illustrates how a floating ground
arrangement offers protection against ground faults.
1) A fault in a metal fixture energizes the entire housing as soon as the circuit is turned on.
2) Since, electricity seeks the path of least resistance back to its source, the bulk of the
fault current will travel through the grounding wire, instead of the individual making contact
with the housing, because it is of a much lower resistance than the individual.
3) Because the ground wire and the neutral wire are bonded at the generator bus with a grounding
jumper, the current carried by the ground wire back to the generator bus creates a dead short
(over-current situation).
4) If enough current flows through the ground wire, the fuse or circuit breaker pops in response.
Even with their ground floating, Bonded Neutral generators offer a high degree of protection. With the generator winding connected to the
equipment grounding conductor, a low resistance path is established to carry fault current back to the generator winding to create an over-
current situation and trip the breaker. Since, electricity seeks the path of least resistance back to its source, the bulk of the fault current will
travel through the grounding wire, instead of the individual making contact with the housing.
While a floating ground arrangement offers a high degree of protection against ground faults in equipment, it is less than ideal. For instance,
if someone were to touch a grounded part of the equipment housing while making good contact to ground (while holding a metal railing),
then they could receive a slight shock equal to the difference in potential between the arbitrary floating power source and ground. For this
reason, the AHJ (Authority Having J urisdiction) may none-the-less require the neutral bus of the generator be earth grounded via a
grounding electrode (ground rod.) Connecting a grounding electrode to the neutral bus of a power source gives the source a relation to
ground it establishes zero-potential between neutral and ground. The phase and neutral wires are not just 120V from one another, the phase
is now 120V above ground. It is like draining the ocean, with the boat resting on the bottom the relationship between the keel and deck are
fixed relative to the ground. With the difference in potential between the arbitrary floating power source and ground eliminated there is no
potential difference between the lamp housing and hand railing to cause a shock. No appreciable current needs to flow through the
grounding electrode conductor to establish this relationship, but once it is established, all equipment connected to the power source has the
same zero-potential relation to ground. Whether a generator may be run as an isolated system without grounding electrode, or may be
required to be grounded via a grounding electrode, depends ultimately on the AHJ (Authority Having J urisdiction).
Floating Neutral Generators:
There is no question that a generator system with a Floating Neutral requires grounding with a grounding electrode. Remember that
according to OSHA guidelines for the grounding of portable generators only allows for isolating the generator from ground when the Neutral
conductor is bonded to the frame along with the non-current carrying metal parts of equipment and the equipment grounding conductor
terminals of the receptacles are also bonded to the generator frame. Since the Neutral of Floating Neutral generators is not bonded to the
equipment grounding system, over-current breakers offer no protection in a floating ground arrangement. The figure below, illustrates why
that is the case.
1) A fault in a metal fixture energizes the entire housing as soon as the circuit is turned on.
2) Since, electricity seeks the path of least resistance back to its source, the bulk of
the fault current will travel through the grounding wire, instead of the individual making
contact with the housing, because it is of a much lower resistance than the individual.
3) But since the ground wire and the neutral wire are not bonded at the generator bus, and
the generator is not grounded to earth by an grounding electrode, the current carried by the
ground wire does not create an over-current situation and so the breaker does not trip.
4) The current seeks an alternate route to ground and instead flows through the individual
making contact with the energized metal housing delivering a potentially fatal shock.
Floating Neutral generators are deceptive because they give the appearance of a safely grounded systems when, in fact, they are not. The
receptacle accepts a 3-pin plug, including the grounding pin, but the grounding pin is connected only to the generator frame and not to the
generator winding (neutral). When a 3-pin grounded light or ballast is plugged into a 3-hole receptacle, the user expects it to be grounded
like any other receptacle, giving a false sense of security. Grounding Floating Neutral generators to earth with a grounding electrode offers
some degree of protection from electrical shock and for this reason it is mandated by OSHA. But it is by no means full proof as illustrated
in the figure below.
1)Current goes out on the hot (black conductor) to the light housing fault.
2) Current travels through the worker's body into the earth.
3) The current travels through the earth and enters the generator frame. Since electricity
must return to its source, it creates a second fault in order to get back to the generator
windings. If enough current flows through the second fault to create an over-current situation,
the circuit breaker will trip in response.
4) The worker, however, is exposed to electrical shock until the breaker operates because no GFCI
is present.
5) Current also travels on the ground wire, if it is in good condition. Note that the worker is
connected in parallel to the grounding conductor.
The inherent risk in using Floating Neutral generators lies in the fact that the neutral of the generator winding is neither grounded to the
generator frame nor to the grounding pin of the receptacle. This deficiency makes operation of the protective device (breaker or fuse)
unreliable because fault current has no definite path as it does in a Bonded Neutral generator. For example, a fault current that, under these
circumstances, is too low to trip a breaker or blow a fuse will also travel through an individual making contact with the energized housing
and deliver a potentially life threatening shock. If the surface a person is standing on is wet it greatly increases the likelihood of a severe
shock.
How dangerous are shocks? Most people think that high voltage causes fatal shocks, this is not necessarily so. The amount of current
flowing through the body determines the effect of a shock. A mili-ampere (1 mA) is 1/1000th of an amp; a current of 1 mA through the
body is just barely perceptible. Up to 8 mA causes mild to strong surprise. Current from 8 to 15 mA are unpleasant, but usually the victim
is able to free himself or to let-go of the object that is causing the shock. Currents over 15 mA are likely to lead to muscular freeze
which prevents the victim from letting go and often leads to death. Currents over 75 mA are almost always fatal; much depends on the
individual involved; how much muscle mass, body condition and condition of the heart.
If the fault is high resistance (making only loose contact with the housing) the current will create a lot of heat, but it may not be high
enough to open an over-current breaker. And, if the grounding conductor is faulty (the grounding pin broken or bad connection) the current
may be high enough to cause cardiac arrest.
It is a common misconception that a circuit breaker is there to protect you. A circuit breaker is there to prevent fire created by heat from an
over-current or short-circuit and protect the equipment. The amount of current it takes to electrocute a person is much smaller than the
amount needed to trip a circuit breaker. An electrical shock current of one hundred milliamps (100mA or 0.1A) is a very serious shock
capable of causing paralysis of the lungs and heart muscle. The smallest circuit breaker we use is 20A thats about two hundred times more
current than is needed to kill you.
To protect against serious harm from electrical shock, the circuit must be monitored by a Class A GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter).
This type of device will interrupt the circuit if it detects current leakage that is greater than 6 mA. At 6 mA, almost all adults and children
can let go of the source of the shock. At higher currents, people are progressively less able to overcome muscle contractions caused by the
shock, and therefore less able to disconnect themselves from the fault source. A GFCI will de-energize the circuit in less time than it takes
to receive a harmful amount of current.
A GFCI works by monitoring the current between the hot conductor and the neutral conductor. When it senses a very small difference in
current between the two, typically three to six milliamps (0.003+/-mA - 0.006mA), it trips by opening internal current conducting contacts.
It will typically perform this function in the event of either a hot-to-ground fault where current takes a path to ground other than through the
neutral or in the event of a grounded neutral fault caused by the neutral and the equipment grounding conductors being electrically connected
by a low resistance path between them somewhere downstream of the GFCI device. When a grounded neutral fault condition exists, the
GFCI device will trip the instant current is introduced on the circuit whether or not anything is connected to the GFCI device.
Normally, the difference in potential between the hot and neutral conductors is zero. The component in a GFCI device that monitors current
and senses an imbalance or difference between the current flowing out on the hot conductor and the current flowing back to ground on the
neutral conductor is referred to as a differential current transformer. In the event that some of the current returning to ground is passing
through you instead of the neutral conductor, the transformer will sense the imbalance and open the internal contacts to stop the flow of
current through the GFCI device and through you.
A GFCI will not prevent a person who is part of a ground fault circuit from receiving a shock, but it will open the circuit so quickly that the
shock will be below levels which will inhibit breathing or heart action, or the ability to let-go of the circuit. A GFCI will not protect
against short circuits or overloads. The circuit breaker or circuit protector in the control panel, which supplies power to the circuit, provides
that protection. A GFCI is not a substitute for grounding or over-current protection it should be considered a supplemental part of the
circuit.
Simply using a GFCI on a Floating Neutral generator will not ensure a safe system, and can in fact lead to unnecessary and costly
production delays. A GFCI will not operate reliably if one side of the winding is not grounded to the generator frame because fault current
has no path back to the winding to complete the circuit. GFCI test circuits can also be misleading when they are used on Floating Neutral
generators. On a Floating Neutral generator, the test button will draw power from the Hot through the toroid and back to the neutral without
going through the toroid again and the sensor will initiate the GFCI to trip. The false positive received by GFCI test circuits on ungrounded
Floating Neutral generators does nothing to eliminate faulty equipment and only causes unnecessary and costly production delays.
Tests recently conducted by The Construction Safety Association of Ontario (CSAO) uncovered significant problems in using GFCIs on
ungrounded portable generators with Floating Neutrals. While the CSAO conducted their tests to determine the effectiveness of GFCIs used
on portable generators in typical construction scenarios, their findings are equally applicable to motion picture production applications.
The GFCIs used in the CSAO tests were of both the extension cord and receptacle type (pictured above.) A rheostat was used to simulate
the current leak to ground (ground fault). Generators connected to GFCIs were tested on wet ground, dry surfaces, and an isolated surface
(the back of a pickup truck). In addition, tests covered variable grounding conditions: proper ground, ground with some resistance, no
ground.
Based upon their tests, the CSAO report drew the following conclusions:
1) GFCIs failed to trip when used on ungrounded generators located on dry surfaces in dry environments. Not enough
electricity leaked to ground to constitute a hazard.
2) When grounding was established, GFCI's performed effectively.
3) GFCI test buttons functioned regardless of the generator's grounding property. The buttons cannot be used to test the
effectiveness of GFCIs or grounding. The test button should only be used to test GFCIs after grounding has been
established.
4) Grounding can vary from one place to another, even when both are relatively close. In one test the GFCI tripped when
the generator was grounded in wet earth but failed to trip when the generator was grounded 1OO feet away in soil that was
drier and better drained.
5) Placement of the GFCI in the circuit is critical with a floating neutral system where the neutral or negative side is not
bonded or grounded but "floating." A GFCI plugged directly into the generator failed to detect any ground fault and didn't
trip even when the current leak reached higher than acceptable levels. The GFCI did trip, however, when it was placed at
the tool.
The results of the CSAOs test support what we determined earlier, that simply grounding one side of the winding of a generator without
also adding GFCI protection is inadequate. Although grounding the winding would increase the probability that the circuit breaker would
trip on a ground fault, current levels would still be too high to protect personnel. A combination of grounding the generator winding and
adding a GFCI is necessary. For this reason OSHA requires both on worksites.
Before we explore the implications of OSHAs Guidelines for the use of portable generators in motion picture production, I would first like
to highlight one other problem inherent in Floating Neutral Generators. As illustrated in figure below, the accidental reversing of Ground
Conductor and Neutral Conductor in an extension cord or lamp cord can lead to a potential hazardous condition when used on a generator
with a Floating Neutral and no GFCI protection.
1. Current goes out on the hot conductor (black) to light. Note: The grounding conductor
is not connected to the winding of the generator (no connection between the neutral and ground)
and a GFCI is not used.
2. Current returns on the neutral (white) (shown in red) to the cord connector.
3. Current transfers to the grounding conductor from the receptacle and goes to the generator
frame and into the earth.
4. Current goes through the earth, through the victim, to the light housing, to the light ground wire.
5. Current goes through to the cord connector and transfers to the neutral, and from the receptacle
back to the generator winding.
6. Worker is connected across the generator winding and so receives a potentially fatal shock.
The implications of OSHAs Guidelines for the use of portable generators in motion picture production:
For the reason illustrated here and above, OSHA requires that all portable generators on work sites have their Neutral bonded to the
equipment grounding system and be equipped with GFCI protection. So that they can provide an industrial generator that will pass OSHA
job site inspections, manufacturers like Honda provide special industrial generator lines that meet these requirements. The EB generators are
Hondas Industrial Generators. The EB3800, EB5000, and EB6500 generators are neutral bonded and GFCI protected to meet OSHA
jobsite regulations.
The Honda EB6500 meets OSHA requirements, but is too loud and too prone to voltage waveform distortion
to be practical in motion picture production applications.
Unfortunately the Honda EB generators are AVR type (prone to voltage waveform distortion from dirty loads) and quite load because of
their open frame design. For example the Honda EB6500 is twice as load (72 dBA sound level) as the comparable Honda EU6500is (60
dBA) under full load. Since the Honda EU6500is is an Inverter type, it is less susceptible to voltage waveform distortion, and quite a bit
quieter than the EB6500 under less than full load because its speed is load dependent.
While Hondas EB generators meet OSHA requirements, they are too loud and too susceptible to voltage waveform distortion to be used in
motion picture production. Unfortunately, Hondas generator line that meets the noise and power quality requirements for motion picture
production, the EU series of Inverter generators, are not Neutral Bonded and do not offer GFCI protection and so do not meet OSHA
guidelines for use on work sites. Honda doesnt even make an Inverter generator that meets OSHA guidelines (the EM5000is is not Neutral
Bonded and does not offer GFCI protection.) So what recommendation should a film electrician make when filming will take place in wet
hazardous conditions?
Before I explain how you can use the Honda EU6500is generators in a fashion that meets OSHA requirements, it is necessary to understand
why Honda makes most of their generators, the EU series included, with Floating Neutrals. Most of Hondas generator product lines are
designed to serve as standby power for homes and recreational vehicles. As long as these generators are under 7000 watts, the circuit
conductors are insulated from the generator frame, and all other grounded surfaces (a Floating Neutral), they are exempted from the National
Electric Code (NEC) Section 305-6 requiring 125 volt 15- and 20-ampere receptacles to have GFCI protection. The reason they are
exempted is because they can not serve in this capacity and have a Bonded Neutral and GFCIs. The reason for this is that, the NEC also
requires the main breaker boxes of homes to also have Neutral bonded to ground. Where that is the case, if the generator Neutral is also
bonded to ground, two parallel paths back to the generator are created, one using the neutral wire and one using the ground wire. The neutral
current will then flow through both the Neutral and Ground conductors. Since the Hot and Neutral wires pass through the ground fault sensor
but the Ground wire does not, a GFCI will sense current imbalance and trip. In the case of home standby power, bonding the Neutral in the
generator defeats GFCIs when the Neutral is bonded in the main service panel. This is why most of Hondas generators are designed with
Floating Neutrals. None of the inverter generators (the EU series and EM5000is) have their neutrals bonded, and they are not equipped with
GFCIs, which means that they do not meet OSHA requirements for use on work sites as a Separately Derived System. So what is a film
electrician to do when they have to operate a portable generator in wet hazardous conditions?
A 100 GFCI with our 60A Transformer/Distro meets OSHA requirements
for use of a Honda EU6500is generator on work sites.
One approach that meets OSHA requirements is to use a Floating Neutral generator with a grounded Transformer like our 60A Full Power
Transformer/Distro. In addition to the other benefits (discussed previously) of using a transformer to distribute power from a generator, our
60A Full Power Transformer/Distro bonds the Neutral to ground on its secondary or load side. Our HD Plug & Play Gen-set set-up is in
fact identical to that of a bonded building service head fed by a home standby generator. With Neutral and Ground bonded only in our
Transformer/Distro and not in our modified Honda EU6500is, you have a complete circuit on the load side of the Transform/Distro that
creates a low resistance path (illustrated below) for fault current back to the transformer windings and a breaker that will trip from the over-
current situation. And, to assure safe distribution of power from the generator in the wettest conditions, our 60A Full Power
Transformer/Distro uses an Epoxy Encapsulated Core with a Nema 3R all weather rated housing. With the transformer windings, core, and
lead connections sealed in epoxy inside a tough, waterproof casing, our 60A Full Power Transformer/Distro will withstand the harshest
outdoor conditions.
1) A fault in a metal fixture energizes the entire housing.
2) Since, electricity seeks the path of least resistance back to its source, the
bulk of the fault current will travel through the grounding wire, instead of the
individual making contact with the housing, because it is of a much lower resistance
than the individual.
3)Because the ground wire and the neutral wire are bonded on the secondary side of the
transformer, the current carried by the ground wire back to the transformer creates a dead
short (over-current situation).
4)If enough current flows through the ground wire, the circuit breaker on the transformer
pops in response shutting off power to the distribution system.
Even Floating Neutral Generators like the Honda EU6500is, offer a high degree of protection when used with Bonded Neutral transformers
like our 60A Full Power Transformer Distro. With the secondary winding of our transformer connected to the equipment grounding
conductor, a low resistance path is established to carry fault current back to the transformer winding, where it creates an over-current
situation that will trip the breaker we wire into our 60A Transformer/Distro for your protection. Where we provide a low resistance path for
it, the bulk of the fault current will travel through the grounding wire to our transformer, instead of the individual making contact with the
housing. Where this is the case, to completely comply with the OSHA requirements for the use of a EU6500is on work sites all you need to
do is use 20-Amp GFCI protected cords on our 60A Full Power Transformer/Distro. With the Neutral and Ground bonded in our 60A
Transformer/Distro, GFCIs will operate reliably even when the power is being generated by a Floating Neutral generator like the EU6500is.
The ability to use GFCI protection in wet conditions or locations has got to be one of the greatest benefits to using our 60A Full Power
Transformer/Distro with the Honda EU6500is Generator. Not only can you use a generator that is quiet and produces clean power, but it
also makes it possible to use GFCI technology, like our 100A GFCI, that is specifically designed for motion picture applications.
100A GFCI provides ground fault protection on wet locations
Designed for underwater, outdoor, and wet-location filming, our 100A GFCI provides UL943 Class A protection. Featuring a 6mA trip
level, it assures protection for people and equipment from ground faults. To prevent the nuisance tripping that electronic Kino & HMI
ballasts can cause with standard GFCIs, our 100A GFCI senses on an "Inverse Time Curve." Adapted with 60A Bates connectors, our 100A
GFCI is easy to install inline after our 60A Full Power Transformer/Distro and will provide safe and secure ground fault interruption for the
entire distribution system eliminating the need for finicky individual 20A GFCI outlets. Used in-line with our 60A Full Power
Transformer/Distro, our 100A GFCI also provides a larger GFCI protected circuit than is available on any other portable generator (by
comparison the largest GFCI circuit available on a Honda EB6500 is only 30Amps.) In fact, it enables the operation of even 4k HMIs with
GFCI protection. Specifically tailored to the type and size loads used in motion picture production, our 100A GFCI, when used on our
modified Honda EU6500is with our 60A Full Power Transformer/Distro, provides reliable ground fault protection for larger lights, or more
smaller lights, than has ever been possible on a portable gas generator.
A 100 GFCI with our 60A Transformer/Distro can offer OSHA approved ground fault protection for
PFC 2.5 & 1.8 HMI Pars, PFC 400w HMI, Kino Flo Flat Head 80, 2 ParaBeam 400s, and 2 ParaBeam 200s
powered from a Honda EU6500is generator.
Our 100A GFCI also incorporates diagnostic features necessary for trouble free ground fault protection on movie sets. To help you avoid
unnecessary tripping, our 100A GFCI features a chain of five LED lights that display the level of leakage at any given moment. This feature
is beneficial in a number of ways. Since almost all electrical devices leak some current, and these small amounts of leakage can add up to a
trip level, it is a good idea to test electrical equipment for leakage current before being used. This includes stingers, lights, cables, or any
other equipment that is expected to be used on set. By monitoring the LEDs while plugging and unplugging equipment, an electrician can
discover the amount of current leakage due to a particular load. This way, if a particular load is leaking badly it can be eliminated before the
set-up. The LED display on tour 100A GFCI will also tell the lighting technician when the total leakage is approaching the maximum
allowed by the GFCI. This way the technician can avoid overloading the GFCI and causing an unnecessary trip that will delay production.
Finally, to assure the technician that it is operating properly, our 100A GFCI includes a test function to confirm it will work in the event of
a ground fault. Given its sophistication, our 100A GFCI, when used in conjunction with our 60A Full Power Transformer/Distro, provides
an unprecedented level of ground fault protection for Floating Neutral generators like the Honda EU6500is Inverter generators.
__________________________________________________________________
While transformers can offer many benefits, certain features are required in a transformer to make it suitable for motion picture production.
If the transformer is going work close to set as a load bus (distribution panel), a principle requirement is that it operate silently. Traditional
air cooled Open-Core Design Transformers in Nema 1 enclosures, like the one pictured below, are ill suited for production work for a
number of reasons the noise they generate primary among them. Like all transformers it consists of two coils called windings wrapped
around a core. A transformer works when a source of AC voltage is connected to one of the windings and a load device is connected to the
other. The winding connected to the source is called the Primary. The other winding, which is connected to the load, is called the
Secondary. In a step down transformer, the Primary is wound in layers directly on a rectangular form. The wire is coated with varnish so
that each turn of the winding is insulated from every other turn. When the primary winding is completely wound, it is wrapped with
insulating paper. The secondary winding is then wound on top of the primary winding. After the secondary winding is done, it too is
covered with insulating paper.
Open-Core Transformer Design
If you look at the transformer in our HD Plug & Play package (pictured below) you will notice it looks quite different from the Open-Core
Design pictured above. For our HD Plug & Play package we use an Epoxy Encapsulated-Core Design Transformer. Epoxy encapsulated
transformers use a mixture of silica sand resin and epoxy to completely encapsulate the transformer in a heavy gauge steel casing. Their steel
cases are welded and treated with conversion coating before priming and painting to withstand the harshest elements. Encapsulated
transformers offer a number of advantages over open-core designs. The most obvious benefit arises from the physical protection that the
encapsulate and outer steel casing provide to the windings, core, and lead connections. With these fragile components sealed in epoxy inside
a tough, waterproof casing, encapsulated transformers will withstand the harshest indoor and outdoor applications - making them the clear
choice for exterior location production.
Encapsulated-Core Transformer
However, physical toughness and environmental ruggedness are not the only advantages. Constructed of a welded heavy gauge steel casing
filled with epoxy, an Encapsulated Transformer forms a single solid mass with no moving or loose parts that can vibrate. Encapsulating the
transformer significantly reduces its audible noise an important feature in motion picture production. The most important benefit to
encapsulation, however, is the improvement to the thermal and electrical performance of the transformer that results. Encapsulation greatly
improves the transformers K-Rating. What is a K-Rating? It is a value used to determine how much harmonic current a transformer can
handle without exceeding its maximum temperature rise level. Encapsulation is a design element K-rated transformers use to deal with the
heat that harmonic generating loads create an increasing problem in motion picture production today.
As discussed previously, there has been dramatic growth in the use of production equipment that generates harmonic distortion over the last
several years. Examples are the AC power supplies of video cameras, lap top computers, video display terminals, battery chargers, and
electronic lighting ballasts (HMI & Kino.) These electronic devices contribute to the distortion of the current waveform and the generation
of harmonics because they use switching power supplies called SMPSs (an abbreviation for Switch-mode Power Supplies.) SMPSs generate
harmonics when they rectify AC line current to DC, and back again in supplying current to the load. In the process, a capacitor is charged
then discharged in each half-cycle of the AC line current. This process is repeated 120 times a second. This action of recharging capacitors
causes AC current to flow only during the peak portion of the AC voltage wave, in abrupt pulses. These abrupt pulses distort the
fundamental wave shape and create harmonic currents, which in turn generate heat in distribution equipment and neutral conductors.
Harmonics can cause distribution transformers to heat up considerably because the harmonics cycle in their Primary windings. The heat
harmonics generate can cause non-K-rated transformers to overheat - possibly causing electrical insulation failure and electrical arcing. K-
rated transformers are designed to handle this additional heat and are tested to rigid UL standards. Design features K-rated transformers use
to handle the adverse effects of harmonics is double sized neutral conductors, multiple conductors for the coils, more core and coil material,
different designs, and different construction techniques like epoxy encapsulation.
Encapsulation is used in K-rated transformers because it greatly improves thermal and electrical performance and consequently the
transformers K-rating. The mixture of silica sand resin and epoxy compound used for potting has a high coefficient-of-thermal conductivity
and is very effective at dissipating heat away from the windings and core; while the heavy gauge steel casing serves as a heat sink. This
thermal management reduces winding temperature differentials and allows for the generation of more heat without exceeding allowable
temperatures for the insulation class.
Besides causing equipment to overheat, Harmonics can cause device malfunctions, breaker tripping, and excessive vibration. Harmonic
currents cycling inside the primary of the transformer can cause Open-Core transformers to vibrate and hum loudly. Epoxy encapsulation
dampens the vibration and significantly reduces the hum created by cycling harmonic currents. Encapsulation also increases electrical
insulation reliability when compared to tape or paper insulation. Potting is done under vacuum to eliminate air gaps around the windings.
With no air around the windings, there is reduced potential for corona and electrical arcing under surge conditions. Even though, K-rating is
a heat survival rating, not a treatment of associated power quality issues like voltage distortion, encapsulation can reduce harmonic losses to
a slight degree as well.
Finally, in motion picture production it is beneficial to have the transformer compensate for line loss by slightly boosting the voltage output
on the secondary side. To assure full line level (120V) on set, our 60A Full Power Transformer/Distro is designed to compensate for the
slight line loss you will have over an extended cable run. That is, it is designed to slightly boost the voltage on the load side (secondary) so
that if you were to feed the supply side (primary) of the transformer 240 volts from the generator, 127 volts would come out on the
secondary side where you plug in the lights. This slight boost enables you to place the generator further from set where you won't hear it,
yet assure that the supply voltage on set does not drop too low. This boost enables you to add up 200' of heavy duty 250V twist-lock cable
between the generator and the transformer/distro. This way the generator can be further away, while your plug-in points remain conveniently
close to set. And since our 60A Full Power Transformer/Distro features a fully encapsulated core, you wont pick up hum from the
transformer in your audio tracks.
Transformer/Distros verses Splitter Boxes
Since Honda manufactures their super quiet generators primarily for the RV/Home Standby Power markets, and not the film lighting market,
lighting rental houses have had to find ways to work around the limited power distribution panel that Honda puts on their generators. For
years rental houses have wired custom distribution panels, called Splitter Boxes, in order to access more 120V power from the 240V
twist-lock receptacle on the generators. While this approach worked well enough when the lighting load placed on generators consisted
predominantly of incandescent lights (a linear load), Splitter Boxes are inherently unsuitable to carry a non-linear loads consisting
predominantly of non-Power Factor Corrected HMI, Fluorescent, & LED Lights. To understand why this is the case, we must first
appreciate why 240V circuits are provided on the generators in the first place (it is not to power our lights) and how they work.
240V outlets are on generators to power common residential or industrial single-phase 240V loads. The most common are air conditioners,
dryers, ranges, heaters, large motors, and compressors. If you look at the breaker of a 240V circuit on a building service panel that serves
these loads, you will notice that they use two pole breakers - either 30A or 50A. Each pole of the breaker is in a sense an independent 30A
or 50A 120V circuit. That is, if you measure the voltage from each pole of the breaker to ground it will be 120 volts, and if you measure the
voltage between the two poles of the breaker you will notice that it is 240 volts. The 120 volts of the two poles adds up to 240V because the
120V circuits are on opposing legs of a single phase service and 180 degrees out of phase with each other. In residential settings, this is how
higher voltages are supplied to household appliances like Dryers, Electric Ranges, Air Conditioners, as well as Motors, etc. that require more
power than can be reasonably supplied by a single 120V circuit.
Many of these household 240V receptacles, in fact, use a three-wire system (hot, hot, ground, but no neutral) because they are designed to
power single phase loads (compressors or heating elements) that draw a perfectly balanced load and hence return no current. As you may
recall from our previous discussion, the current drawn on the two legs of a perfectly balanced single-phase 240V circuit cancel each other
out because they are 180 out of phase. Other 240V circuits use a 4 wire system (hot, hot, ground, neutral.) They include a single neutral wire
to provide a safe return for small 120V accessories in stoves and dryers like oven lights, clocks, and timers that throw out the balance. There
need be only one neutral wire for the two hot wires because under normal applications the current on the neutral is the difference between
the hot legs because of the phase cancellation. Since oven lights, clocks, and timers dont draw much power, there is minimal current to
return on the neutral under normal applications. For this reason, the neutral wire is typically the same size as that of the hot legs (remember
the heating element of the stove/dryer operates a perfectly balanced single phase load and hence there is no return for the wire to carry from
it). To service these same residential and industrial 240V loads, the 240V receptacles of portable gas generators are wired in a similar
fashion with just one neutral of the same size as the two hot legs (see wiring schematic below).
Generator Wiring Schematic
A "Splitter Box" works around the limitations of the generator power output panel, and provides additional 120V circuits, by splitting out
the two 120V circuits that make up the 240V outlet. For the purpose of this discussion, it is important to understand that Splitter Boxes are
wired so that their 120V circuits share in the single ground and neutral of the 240V circuit. Splitter boxes worked well enough back when
the load on the 240V circuit consisted of only incandescent lights. As long as you roughly balanced your load between the two legs of the
generator, phase cancellation between the legs resulted in the neutral return being the difference between the legs. As we have seen, things
get a bit more complicated with inductive (magnetic HMI ballasts) and capacitive (electronic HMI, Kino, & CFL ballasts) non-linear
lighting loads.
Since non-linear loads cause current and voltage to be out of sync, the phase currents no longer entirely cancel when they return on the
neutral. In addition to pulling the voltage and current out of phase, the Switch Mode Power Supplies of electronic lighting ballasts create
harmonic currents that stack on top of one another, creating very high currents returning to the power source on the neutral wire. As
discussed previously, the triplens harmonics (i.e. 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, etc.) are particularly troublesome because when the triplens of each
phase of the distribution system are dumped into the neutral return, they are all in phase with each other. For this reason, rather than cancel
each other out on the neutral conductor, as the out of phase fundamentals do, they instead add up. If the lighting package consists entirely of
non-linear light sources without power factor correction, as much as 80 percent of the current will not cancel out between legs, resulting in
very high current on the neutral return even when the legs are evenly loaded. For this reason, on their website Kino Flo cautions users that
some of their lights will draw double the current on the neutral from what is being drawn on the two hot legs... it may be necessary to
double your neutral run so as not to exceed your cable capacity. ( FAQ Why is the neutral drawing more than the hot leg.)
It is important to appreciate the potential hazard that the harmonic currents generated by SMPS stacking on the neutral can pose. If you will
recall from the study cited above (illustrated below), the combined effect of the phase shift and harmonics generated by substituting
incandescent lamps with an equivalent wattage of CFLs resulted in more than a doubling of the current on the system neutral.
Substituting a linear load with a equivalent non-linear load
in a small single phase distribution system substantially increases the current on the system neutral.
Since there is no over-current protection on the neutral of a 240V circuit, these currents can lead to overloading of the neutral and a fire like
the one that occurred in Vice President Dick Cheney's suite of offices in the historic Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the
White House on December 19, 2007. The cause of the fire that started in an electrical closet on the building's second floor, was found to be
caused by an over-loaded neutral wire that resulted from uninformed staff replacing all the incandescent bulbs in the complex with CFLs.
There is no question that we find ourselves in an analogous situation, since light sources that use Switch Mode Power (HMI, Fluorescent, &
LED) have almost entirely replaced incandescent lights as the prevalent lighting source in HD Digital Cinema production packages. To make
matters worse, the video cameras, field monitors, hard-drives, lap-tops, and battery chargers that make up the typical location production
package also use Switch Mode Power Supplies and hence generator their own harmonics. Where just about every piece of production
equipment used on set today generates harmonics, the current returned on the neutral system can be quite high. For example, if say a 6500W
generator is loaded to its continuous load rating of 5500 Watts with a typical digital cinema production package (consisting predominantly
of non-linear loads like video cameras, field monitors, battery chargers, lap tops, hard drives, non-PFC HMI, LED, and Fluorescent lighting
fixtures), as much as 37 Amps can be returned on the neutral wire (Apparent Power Load of 5500W/120V=46A x.8 =37A) even when the
legs are perfectly balanced. And, where it is nearly impossible to perfectly balance a load on a splitter box (it requires meticulous attention
to loads as you plug in) the return of the neutral is likely to be even higher because of an unbalanced load. Since there is no over-current
protection on the neutral of a 240V single phase circuit of a generator (see schematic above), and the wire used in the 240V receptacle of a
Honda Generator is only rated for 30A, these currents can likewise lead to overloading of the neutral.
In this new world of Switch Mode Power, older power generation and distribution systems, like AVR generators and Splitter Boxes, are
simply no longer capable of managing the adverse effects of the harmonics that SMPS generate. The 240V circuits they use were designed,
not for harmonic generating non-linear loads, but for single phase linear loads like dryers, ranges, heaters, large motors, and compressors,
that draw a perfectly balanced load and return no current on the system neutral. Because under normal application there is no situation where
you would draw more amperage than could be supplied by one leg of the circuit, the neutrals of 240V circuits are sized to carry no more
than the return current of just one of the individual 120V hot legs of the circuit. The neutral wires of 240V receptacles on portable gas
generators like Hondas are simply not sized to handle the higher return current generated by loads that stack on the neutral rather than cancel
out. Splitting a 240V circuit designed to power primarily heating elements and compressors, to instead power field production equipment
and motion picture lights is an application for which these circuits were simply not designed.
In this discussion it is important to understand that harmonic currents will stack on the neutral return regardless whether power is being
generated by an AVR or Inverter generator. The nearly pure power waveform and low impedance of Inverter generators results only in
harmonic currents not distorting the voltage waveform. It does not mean that harmonics will not be generated. The harmonic currents
generated by Switch Mode Power Supplies will stack equally on the neutrals of AVR generators and Inverter generators and have the same
adverse effect over heating of their neutral bus.
Overheating of neutrals as a result of high harmonic lighting loads happens on all levels of production. There was a case recently reported on
a Cinematography.com where the neutral of a distribution system burned up even though the load (which consisted of 2-18ks, 2-12ks, & 2-
4ks) was perfectly balanced. For this reason, it is a standard practice on large film sets when powering large numbers of electronic ballasts
to size the neutral feeder of the distribution system to carry the sum of the currents of the phase legs times the 80 percent (.8). If power is
coming from a generator, the generator is likewise oversized to handle the higher return current without its neutral bus overheating. Where
these are not options on small film sets using portable gas generators like the Honda EU6500is, other measures must be taken. When using a
splitter box, the only option is to de-rate the generator so that you never load it to more than 60% of its Continuous Load Rating. A
better option is to use a step-down transformer as a distro in place of a Splitter Box.
Since a transformer, like a generator, serves as an Impedance in a power system, it in effect separates the power generation system (the
primary side) from the power distribution system (the secondary side.) In our HD Plug-n-Play system, we take advantage of this fact and use
a transformer to isolate the generator from the high neutral returns generated by SMPS. To mitigate the adverse effects of harmonics on the
secondary side, we use K rated transformers and beef up the neutral in the distribution system.
To beef up the neutral in the distribution system, we outfit our 60A Transformer/Distro with the industry standard 60 Bates receptacle, so
that you can use standard 60A GPC extension cables, 60-to-60 Splitters, and fused 60A GPC-to-Edison Breakouts (snack boxes) to run
power around set - breaking out to 20A Edison outlets at convenient points (rather than one central point.) In this secondary distribution
system the neutral has the same current carrying capacity as the now single current carrying wire. Since the current carrying capacity of the
neutral is now 60 Amps verses the 30 amps of the generator 240V twist-lock receptacle, harmonic currents stacking on the neutral will not
overload it.
What happens to the harmonic currents returned on the neutral of the secondary distribution system? They cycle inside the transformer. For
that reason, in addition to using a beefed up neutral return in our distribution system, we use transformers that are K-rated. As you may
recall from our discussion above, K-rated transformers are designed to handle the additional heat generated by harmonic currents. Through
such design features as double sized neutral conductors, multiple conductors for the coils, more core and coil material, epoxy encapsulation,
and vacuum construction, K-rated transformers, unlike Splitter Boxes, effectively manage the heat generated by harmonic currents and
therefore allow for the generation of more heat without exceeding allowable temperatures for the insulation class.
Effective management of the heat generated by harmonic currents on the secondary side, is only half the story of how transformers mitigate
the adverse effects of harmonics in a power generation and distribution system. The other half of the story is that, in their design and
construction, transformers separate the power generation system (the primary side) from the power distribution system (the secondary side)
so that harmonic currents returning on the neutral conductor of the secondary distribution system are isolated from the generator they
simply do not make it back to the generator neutral bus. If you recall from our discussion above, the primary windings are physically
separated from the secondary windings in the construction of the transformer. The load placed on the secondary windings is transferred
through electro-magnetic induction to the primary windings, but not the neutral return current it cycles inside the transformer (hence the
need for effective heat management on the secondary side.)
But, that is not the whole story. With a two to one ratio between the number of wire turns in the primary windings verses the secondary
windings, a step-down transformer evenly splits the load placed on the secondary between the two 120V single phase legs of the transformer
s primary or power generation system. Where the two 120V legs of a single phase generator are 180 degrees out of phase, the perfectly
balanced load cancels out on the primary side and there is no neutral return on the primary side or power generation system. In fact, the high
voltage three conductor wire that we use between the generator and the transformer has no neutral conductor. Since, there is 100% phase
cancellation between the two perfectly balanced legs on the primary side, there is simply no need for a neutral return in the power generation
system (as opposed to the power distribution system on the secondary side.)
It is important that you understand that a conventional transformer only isolates harmonic currents returning on the neutral wire from
returning to the generators neutral bus. Harmonic currents will still travel from the secondary windings of the transformer to the primary
windings, through electromagnetic induction, and on to the generator where it can cause voltage waveform distortion (as opposed to high
neutral currents.) For this reason, unless the transformer is specifically designed with an electrostatic shield to filter harmonics, it is
important to use a low impedance inverter generator to minimize the voltage waveform distortion that harmonic currents will create when
they feed back up the line and encounter the generator as an impedance.
Besides providing effective management of the higher neutral return currents generated by SMPS, a transformer/distro system offers a
number of other benefits (covered above) that Splitter Boxes do not. Unlike a 240V "Splitter Box," where you have to meticulously balance
your load, a transformer greatly simplifies your set electrics by automatically splitting the load evenly. The best part about using a
transformer as a distro is that no matter where in the secondary distribution system you plug in, the transformer automatically balances the
additional load. Part of the reason the generator in our HD Plug-n-Play Pkg. is capable of handling a larger load is because it is a perfectly
balanced load. Another benefit discussed previously, but worth highlighting here, is that a transformer/distro converts the 240 volts supplied
by the generator back to 120 volts in a single circuit that is the sum of the two single phase legs of 30 amps each. This new 60A/120V
circuit not only makes the generator capable of powering bigger lights but also more small luminaries than it could otherwise. Since the
transformer automatically splits the load of whatever you plug into it evenly over the two legs of the 240V circuit, you can stack the
generator more fully. Finally, by adjusting the ratio of the primary to secondary windings, our Transformer/Distro slightly boosts the output
on the secondary side, which compensates for line loss over long cable runs. This means that you can operate our Transformer/Distro
substantially further from the generator than you could a Splitter Box. The greater distance possible between the generator and the
Transformer/Distro makes it more likely that you will be able to operate the generator from around the corner of a building, or out of the
back of a truck, where you will not pick it up in your audio tracks. These are just a few of the many benefits our 60A Transformer/Distro
offers that Splitter Boxes do not.
Transformer/Distros on Wall Outlets
A transformer/distro offers the same benefits when used on dryer and range outlets on location. That is, you can also access more power on
location, by using a transformer/distro to step down the 240V power available from these common 240V household receptacles to a large
120V circuit capable of powering larger lights or more smaller lights than you could otherwise. Like it does with our modified Honda
EU6500is Generator, our 60A Full Power Transformer/Distro can convert the 240 Volts supplied by industrial and household receptacles
back to 120 Volts in a single circuit that is the sum of the two single phase legs, while effectively managing the adverse effects of
harmonics.
Master shot of an iRobot commercial lit with a 4kw HMI Par (outside) & 1.8kw HMI Par (inside)
powered from a 30A/240V dryer outlet through a step-down transformer/distro.
Note: Sunny feel created by 4k Par on an overcast day.
In fact, a step-down transformer is the only means of using a single phase 3-wire 240V circuit to power 120V lights that meets with the
National Electrical Code (NEC). While some gaffers advocate the use of Splitter Boxes to split 3-wire 240V circuits into two separate 120V
circuits, these boxes do not meet the requirements of the NEC when the 240V receptacle is a 3-wire system (H,H,G, & no N.) That is
because three wire systems require the bonding of the ground and neutral in the Splitter Box which is in direct violation of NEC [250-23(a),
250-24(a)(5)] according to Mike Holt, of Mike Holt Enterprises, Inc. (A Leading Electrician Training Program in FL). To quote from the
Mike Holt Enterprises website: "The National Electrical Code requires a neutral-to-ground connection to be made at service equipment only
and there shall not be any neutral-to-ground connection on the load side of service equipment [250-23(a), 250-24(a)(5)]" (full excerpt is
available online.)
Left: Transformer/Distro plugged into a 30A/240V dryer outlet. Right: 4K HMI Par under rain protection powered by Transformer/Distro
The NEC does however permit bonding of the ground and neutral on the secondary side of a step-down transformer. That is because, as we
learned above, a transformer splits the load of the lights evenly over the two legs of the single phase circuit, drawing a perfectly balanced
load just like the heating elements in the dryer or range for which the circuit was designed. Not only is it permitted by the NEC, it also has
the distinct advantage over a Splitter Box of being able to run larger 120V loads like 5ks, or 2.5 & 4k HMIs with older 120V ballasts.
Left: Arri AS18 1800W Par powered from Transformer/Distro. Right: 4Kw and 1800W HMI ballasts powered from Transformer/Distro.
Our 60A Full Power Transformer/Distro not only enables you to run larger 120V loads off single phase 240V circuits, but it also enables
you to more fully utilize the capacity of the 240V circuit by enabling you to load it more fully. The 20A branch circuits of a Splitter Box
don't allow you to fully utilize the power available in a 30A/240V circuit because the load of a light has to go on one leg of the single phase
circuit or the other. For example, when plugging lights into a Splitter Box, you reach a point where you can't power an additional 1kw light
because there is not 8.4 amps available on either one of the box's legs. With a transformer you will likely be able to add that 1kw light
because it splits the load of the light evenly over the two legs (4.2A/leg) of the 30A/240V circuit.
4k & 1.2ks HMI Pars powered from 30A/240V dryer outlet through step-down transformer/distro for Bose still shoot.
J ust like it does with a generator, our 60A Full Power Transformer/Distro also greatly simplifies balancing your load on the 240V circuit.
Plugging in through a transformer you don't have to carefully balance the load over the receptacles' two 120V legs as you would with a
Splitter Box because the transformer does it for you automatically. Now that you are able to fully load a 240V circuit in a perfectly safe
balanced fashion with our 60A Full Power Transformer/Distro, you are able to not only power larger lights off of "house power", but also
more smaller lights - thus eliminating the need for expensive tow generators or dangerous tie-ins.
Power for the "Unsolved History" Episode Presidential Assassins
filmed at the Ames Estate was drawn from a 50A/240V outlet
through a step-down transformer/distro
Transformer/distros are particularly helpful in situations where a tie-in is not an option and the budget doesnt permit for a tow generator.
Where the production budget is particularly tight, I use a package consisting of two transformers and one of our modified Honda EU6500is
generators. I use one transformer to access more power through a 240V circuit on location to run lights inside; while the other I use to bring
larger HMIs in the windows from outside. This approach eliminates the need for a dangerous tie-in or expensive tow generators, it also
greatly reduces the amount of cable that has to be run. Over the years, I have used this combination on many historical documentaries I have
gaffed.
For example, I have used this same package repeatedly at a historical mansion in Easton MA called the Ames Estate. A popular state fee
free location, the Ames Estate, like many historical house/museums, does not permit tie-ins and the electrical wiring in the house is so
antiquated that it is unusable. Fortunately, they have a 50A/240 Volt circuit in the carriage house for a welder they use to repair the mowers
they use at the park.
The Ames Estate doubled as a summer house in wealthy Oyster Bay, Long Island
where a mysterious typhoid fever outbreak occurred in August 1906.
For PBS American Experience biography of Typhoid Mary, The Most Dangerous Women in America, we ran 250V extension cable from
the welding receptacle in the carriage house to a 60A Full Power Transformer/Distro placed in the entry hall of the house. Using a 60A
Siamese at the Transformer/Distro, we then run 60A 6/3 Bates extensions, down to the library, to the second floor, and back to the maid's
pantry. At the end of each run we put another 60A Siamese. A 60A Woodhead on one side of the Siamese gives us 20A branch circuits. The
other side we leave open for a large HMI or Tungsten Light. Now we can safely plug 1200 & 2500W HMIs, or even a 5k Quartz, into our
own distribution anywhere in the house.
Typhoid Mary in quarantine on an island in New York's East River. Note the view out the window of the East River shoreline at the turn of the century
To maintain continuity between shots on these dramatic historical recreations, we usually bring a 4kw HMI Par in the windows on one side
of the room as a sun source and a 1200 par through a window on the other side as a northern light source. We usually power both heads off
of a Honda EU6500is through a second 60A Full Power Transformer/Distro. Since the Honda EU6500is can be placed right on the lawn, we
are saved from running hundreds of feet of feeder cable back to a tow generator in the drive.
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About the Author
Guy Holt presenting to the Electrical Department of IATSE Local 481 as part of the
Advanced Power and Generation for Set Lighting Technicians Seminar
Guy Holt has served as a Gaffer, Set Electrician, and Generator Operator on numerous features and television productions (for a partial list
of credits see his imdb listing). Guy Holt presented on Harmonics to the Electrical Department of IATSE Local 481 as part of the
Advanced Power and Generation for Set Lighting Technicians Seminar offered by Russ Saunders of Saunders Electric (the provider of
power generation services for the Academy Awards since 1952 and a recipient of a technical Emmy). Here is what industry leaders have to
say:
Guy Holt is "among the 1% of film technicians world wide that truly understand the dynamics
of power generation and Harmonics." - Russ Saunders, Saunders Electric
"Great work!... this is the kind of thing I think very few technician's ever get to see, and as a result
many people have absolutely no idea why things stop working." - Harry Box, Author "Set Lighting Technician's Handbook"
"Following the prescriptions contained in this article enables the operation of bigger lights, or more smaller lights, on portable
generators than has ever been possible before." - Harry Box, Author "Set Lighting Technician's Handbook"
This article is cited in the 4th Edition of Harry Box's "Set Lighting Technician's Handbook" and featured on the companion website "Box
Book Extras" (click on link below for more details.)

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