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Measurement 41 (2008) 121–129

Measuring electric power quality: Problems and perspectives

Alessandro Ferrero *

Dipartimento di Elettrotecnica, Politecnico di Milano, Piazza Leonardo da Vinci 32, 20133 Milano, Italy

Received 21 January 2006; accepted 6 March 2006

Available online 18 March 2006


The proliferation of non-linear and time-variant loads is causing a number of disturbances on the electric network, from
a more and more significant distortion of both currents and voltages, to transient disturbances on the supply voltage. In
this respect the electric network behaves as an ‘‘healthy carrier’’ of disturbances, so that a disturbance generated by one
customer can be distributed to other customers, causing possible damage to their equipment. The measurement of the qual-
ity of the electric power in a network section is therefore becoming an impelling need, especially in a deregulated electricity
market, where each actor can be responsible for the injection of disturbances. However, there are still some respects of
power-quality measurement, from both the methodological and instrumental point of views, that are still unsolved and
require to be carefully analyzed. The paper gives a survey of these problems and some indications about the present trends
of the research work in this field.
 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Electric power quality; Non-sinusoidal systems; Measurement of distorted quantities

1. Introduction of power factors were introduced in order to quan-

tify this phenomenon: the first ‘‘quality index’’ was
The ‘‘power-quality problem’’ has been known defined.
since the beginning of the ac energy transmission As far as the sinusoidal conditions are kept and
and distribution, although this term is relatively the supply is considered ideal, the power-quality
recent. It was soon clear that, for a given supply concept is confined to a ‘‘loading-quality’’ concept,
voltage and a given active power, the current might since the responsibility for decreasing the power fac-
be higher than the value associated with that voltage tor is fully assigned to the load. However, as soon as
and power and, consequently, voltage drops on the the electric energy has been employed to feed the
source equivalent impedance might be higher than great industrial applications, a different phenome-
expected and even outside the allowed limits. The non called for attention, as the power of some loads
concepts of apparent and reactive power and that became comparable with the power of the supplying
system: changes in the load consumption reflected
into voltage drops on the equivalent source imped-
Tel.: +39 0223993751; fax: +39 0223993703. ance that were no longer negligible with respect to
E-mail address: the supply voltage.

0263-2241/$ - see front matter  2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
122 A. Ferrero / Measurement 41 (2008) 121–129

If the loads are slowly variable, the supply volt-

age variations can be easily controlled with the volt-
age regulators. On the contrary, when the loads
become rapidly variable (arc furnaces, soldering
plants, . . .) new phenomena arise on the supply volt-
age, such as sags, swells, notches, flicker. The prob-
lem is no longer a ‘‘loading-quality’’ problem, but
turns into a ‘‘supply-quality’’ problem.
Until the loads injecting disturbances were few,
known, generally large-power loads, it was possible
to filter out the disturbances at the load site, and
prevent them to travel along the network.
In more recent years, the development of high-
Fig. 2. Basic representation of the way a disturbance injected by
quality, low-cost power electronic components has a load is distributed to all other loads. L2 is the disturbing load
led to a very rapid diffusion of non-linear, time-var- and draws a distorted current (dashed line). When these current
iant loads, spreading from low-power domestic components reach the source equivalent impedance (dotted line)
appliances to low and high-power industrial appli- are converted in voltage disturbances and distributed to all loads
cations. New steady-state disturbances, such as har- connected to the PCC (dash-dotted line).
monic and inter-harmonic components, and
transient disturbances appeared on the line-current,
causing several phenomena, ranging from an by one load are distributed to all other loads by
increase in the losses and voltage drops to EMI both the disturbances that arise on the supply voltage,
on the other loads and the communication systems. as schematically shown in Fig. 2. A linear, time-
The overall power of such distorting loads con- invariant load may be forced to consume a distorted
nected to the supply network may be once again current, some flicker may appear on the lighting sys-
comparable with the power of the supply system tem, interference may appear on the electronic con-
(that does not generally show a source equivalent trol apparatus and so on. The electric network is
impedance constant with frequency) and therefore now behaving as an ‘‘healthy carrier’’ of load-gener-
the supply voltage is distorted too by harmonic ated disturbances: the ‘‘loading-quality’’ problems,
and inter-harmonic components, and disturbed by together with the ‘‘supply-quality’’ problems, are
sags, swells, notches. Again, a ‘‘loading-quality’’ now causing ‘‘power-quality’’ problems.
problem becomes a ‘‘supply-quality’’ problem. As far as the ‘‘loading quality’’ and the ‘‘supply
In a typical network structure like the one shown quality’’ are concerned, recommendations have
in Fig. 1, where different loads, belonging to differ- been issued by the Standard Organizations both to
ent customers are connected to the same point of limit the injection of harmonics [1–4] and to define
common coupling (PCC), the disturbances injected the characteristics of the voltage supplied by public
networks [5–7]. Definitions of power-quality related
terms are also given [8]. However, these recommen-
dations appear to be still insufficient to ensure the
solution of the ‘‘power-quality’’ problems. In fact,
it should be considered that, when the supply volt-
age is distorted (and possibly unbalanced, in three-
phase systems), a customer may not be totally
responsible for the harmonic and unbalance current
components flowing in its loads. Ethical and legal
issues, other than technical ones, are involved, when
setting allowable limits [9], since the source respon-
sible for injecting the disturbances should be first of
all detected.
Fig. 1. Single-phase representation of a power system with Moreover, the same amount of disturbances
multiple loads connected to the same point of common coupling injected by a load may have different impact on
(PCC) fed by a sinusoidal non-ideal generator. the power quality, according to the short-circuit
A. Ferrero / Measurement 41 (2008) 121–129 123

power granted by the Utility at the PCC: the higher Authors [12,13,20–31], so that these phenomena are
is the short-circuit power, the lower is the impact of now more clearly described than in the past,
the injected disturbances. although a generally accepted, comprehensive the-
The main issue, when dealing with ‘‘power qual- ory of the power phenomena under non-sinusoidal
ity’’, is therefore not only that of limiting the conditions is not yet available. A good, extensive
amount of injected disturbances, but also that of survey of the scientific work done in this field is rep-
detecting the source, or the sources, injecting the resented by the issues of the ETEP and L’Energia
disturbances and quantifying the effect of such dis- Elettrica journals [32–37] dedicated to the contribu-
turbances on the power quality. The next sections tions presented during six ‘‘International Workshops
will discuss the technical respects of this problem, on Power Definitions and Measurements under Non-
both from the methodological point of view and Sinusoidal Conditions’’ (Como, Italy, 1991, Stresa,
that of the measuring equipment. Italy, 1993, Milano, Italy, 1995, 1997, 2000 and
2. Theoretical background A second critical point that must be considered
when discussing about power-quality measurement
The power theory of the ac electric systems and is concerned with the evaluation of the measure-
circuits has developed, during the last century, under ment uncertainty in the presence of heavily distorted
the strong constraint of sinusoidal waveforms. When signals. Up to a recent past, only the behaviour of
disturbances are superimposed to the sinusoidal volt- the active and reactive energy meters in the presence
age and current waveforms, and particularly when of distorted waveform conditions was widely dis-
such disturbances are steady-state disturbances, that cussed [38–40]. However, the power-quality indices
constraint cannot be considered any longer. Conse- that have been more recently proposed require com-
quently, all conventional quantities and factors usu- plex measuring systems for their measurement. The
ally employed to analyze the energy flow in the evaluation of the measurement uncertainty, accord-
electric systems under sinusoidal conditions, such ing to the recommendation of the ISO Guide [41], is
as the reactive and apparent powers and the power still an open problem.
factor, lose most of the properties they have under All above referenced contributions represent a
sinusoidal conditions. This leads to a dramatic and theoretical background wide enough, if properly
misleading loss of information [10] when they are applied, to allow a correct approach to power-qual-
used in power-quality assessment. ity definition and measurement.
In order to avoid these problems, the non-sinu-
soidal conditions should be theoretically reconsid- 3. Power-quality indices
ered, starting from the mathematical bases of the
electromagnetism and circuit theory, in order to The first, obvious, though not easy step toward
describe the physical behaviour of an electric system power-quality measurement is the definition of
under non-sinusoidal conditions in terms of a suit- power-quality indices able to quantify the deviation
able set of equations and mathematical relation- from an ideal reference situation, quantify the detri-
ships that relate voltages, currents and physical mental effects of this deviation and identify the
properties of the system elements. At the Author’s source generating these detrimental effects.
knowledge, very few attempts have been published A quite natural way seems to be the extension to
that try to give a general answer to this basic prob- the non-sinusoidal conditions of the indices
lem [11–13]. employed under sinusoidal conditions, such as the
Nevertheless, several attempts were made, in the power factor and the total distortion factor (THD),
past, to extend to the non-sinusoidal systems con- together with a discussion of their limits when the
cepts and definitions typical of the sinusoidal systems sinusoidal conditions are left.
[14–18]. These attempts were mainly concerned with In order to extend the definition of the power fac-
the solution of particular problems, typically the tor, the apparent power must be considered too. Its
compensation of non-active current components extension to the non-sinusoidal conditions is quite
and, in some cases, have been proved to be not totally immediate for single-phase systems; on the con-
correct from the physical point of view [19]. trary, several different definitions are available in
More recently, a more in-depth investigation into the literature [42] when three-phase systems are con-
the power phenomena has been proposed by several sidered. The following one, due to Buchholz [43], is
124 A. Ferrero / Measurement 41 (2008) 121–129

receiving increasing acceptance in the scientific com- [28], the factors defined in (4) can be modified, in
munity, though it is not endorsed by several order to keep into account the effects of the unbal-
standards: ance components too, as
sffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffi sffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffi
SR ¼ U RI R ð1Þ U 2R I 2R
þ þ
GTHDU ¼  1 and GTHD I ¼  1;
where UR and IR are the voltage and current collec- U 2Rþ1 I 2Rþ1
tive rms values, respectively and are defined as
vffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffi vffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffi ð5Þ
uX uX
u n u n 2 where U Rþ1 and I Rþ1 are the collective rms values of
UR ¼ t U 2Lj and I R ¼ t I Lj
j¼1 j¼1
the fundamental frequency, positive sequence com-
ponents of the line voltages and currents, respec-
U Lj and I Lj being the rms values of the zero-sum line tively. It can be readily checked that the factors
voltages and the line currents, respectively, n the defined in (5) act as non-conformity indices of the
number of wires of the system. line voltage and current waveforms to positive se-
If the total active power is defined as quence sinewaves.
Z X n The comparison between the values assumed by
PR ¼ uLj ðtÞiLj ðtÞ dt ð2Þ (4) and (5) allows to establish whether the responsibil-
T j¼1 ity for the electrical pollution is mostly due to the
presence of distortion or to the presence of unbalance.
where T is the period of the voltage and current
All above quantities, however, are not useful in
waveforms, the power factor can be still defined as
establishing whether the load or the supply are
the ratio between the active power and the apparent
responsible for the power-quality deterioration,
power (1):
since they can only provide an estimate of confor-
PR mity to given reference conditions, where, according
k¼ ð3Þ
SR to [1–9], the term ‘‘conformity’’ denotes ‘‘the fulfill-
The power factor (3) can be still considered a ment of specified requirements’’.
power-quality index, though it loses the property An attempt to find more useful indices has been
of fully qualifying the load. Under non-sinusoidal proposed by the IEEE Working Group on Non-
conditions it only represents an index of conformity sinusoidal Situations [40] with the following resolu-
of the line current waveforms to the line voltage tion for the apparent power (1):
waveforms. It can be easily proven that also the dis- S 2R ¼ ðU R I R Þ2
tortion factors only show the conformity of the line
voltages and currents to sinewaves. In fact, for the ¼ ðU R1 I R1 Þ2 þ ðU R1 I RH Þ2 þ ðU RH I R1 Þ2 þ ðU RH I RH Þ2
three-phase systems, the global voltage and current ð6Þ
THD factors can be defined as
sffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffi sffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffiffi where U RH and I RH are the collective rms values of
U 2R I 2R the harmonic components of voltage and current,
GTHDU ¼  1 and GTHD I ¼ 1 respectively.
U 2R1 I 2R1
Although the quantities:
S 2R1 ¼ ðU R1 I R1 Þ2
where U R1 and I R1 are the collective rms values of
the fundamental frequency components of the line and
voltages and currents, respectively. According to
the given definition, factors (4) act as non-confor- S 2RN ¼ ðU R1 I RH Þ2 þ ðU RH I R1 Þ2 þ ðU RH I RH Þ2
mity indices of the line voltage and current wave- are introduced, it can be immediately checked that:
forms to sinewaves, no matter if these sinewaves  2
are balanced or not. S RN 2 2
Since it has been proven that the harmonic com- S R1
ponents and the sequence components, in three- 2
phase systems, have similar effects from the power-
quality point of view and can be considered as the This approach, therefore, does not provide any
components of a generalized Fourier decomposition additional information to the one associated with
A. Ferrero / Measurement 41 (2008) 121–129 125

the THD factors and is useless in identifying the kIRL k
sources producing distortion. nHGI ¼ 2
kIRS k
Some information about the location of the
source producing distortion is provided by the ratio: where IRL is the vector of the collective rms values of
GTHDþ the harmonic and sequence components associated
gþ ¼ I
; ð7Þ with active powers reflected backward from the load
U to the source, and IRS is the vector of the collective
since a linear, balanced load is expected not to am- rms values of the harmonic and sequence compo-
plify the distortion of the current, with respect to nents associated with active powers flowing from
that of the voltage, whilst a non-linear or unbal- the source towards the load. The higher is the value
anced load is expected to. However index (7) is sen- assumed by (10), the higher is the load contribution
sitive to resonance too, so it cannot discriminate to distortion. Both indices (9) and (10) may provide
between distortion and resonance effects. incorrect information under practical conditions
The search for more effective approaches has led, [47] when compensation effects arise between the
recently, to focus on the analysis of the energy flow- harmonic power components injected by the supply
ing in a network section [22,44]. This analysis shows and those reflected by the load and when the har-
that, under distorted conditions, active power com- monic active powers are close to zero, due to a
ponents associated with the harmonic and negative phase shift close to p/2 between the harmonic com-
sequence components of voltages and currents arise ponents of voltage and current, despite the presence
that flow backward from the load to the generator, of large harmonic current components. Providing
and dissipate in the generator source impedance. incorrect indications is a common flaw of all syn-
This phenomenon can be explained by considering thetic indices obtained from measurements done in
that the non-linear loads behave as ‘‘converters’’, a single metering section. These indices are some-
which draw active power at the fundamental fre- how doomed to fail, since an electric system under
quency and positive sequence, and return part of non-sinusoidal conditions has a theoretically infinite
it back at different frequencies and sequences. number of freedom degrees [11], and therefore its
According to the above considerations, the active state cannot be fully determined by means of a sin-
power PR, in the metering section of a three-phase gle index or quantity.
circuit can be resolved as In order to overcome this problem, new methods
X and indices have been recently proposed in the liter-
P R ¼ P Rþ1 þ P R1 þ P Rk ð8Þ ature, based on the measurement of suitable quanti-
ties and indices in different metering sections of the
P Rþ1 is the active power generated by the sinusoidal, network.
balanced ideal supply. The other terms in (8) repre- In particular, a first index has been proposed in
sent active powers delivered to the load and gener- [48,49], based on multi-point measurements of indi-
ally dissipated if the supply is distorted and/or ces (7), (9) and (10). For each line k leaving a PCC,
unbalanced, or reflected backward and dissipated this index can be defined as
in the equivalent source impedance if the load is !
non-linear, time-variant and/or unbalanced. A first 1 nslqk nHGIk gþ k
tk ¼ þ þ ð11Þ
supply- and loading-quality index can be hence de- 3 n1slq
nHGIs gþs
fined as [45]
PR where subscript k refers to a line leaving the PCC
nslq ¼ ð9Þ and subscript s refers to the line supplying the PCC.
P Rþ1
This index is based on the consideration that, when
It can be readily checked that, when the distortion indices nHGI and g+ are evaluated for each line con-
and/or unbalance of the supply prevail over the load nected to the same PCC, the ratio of one index mea-
distorting and unbalancing effects, nslq > 1. On the sured on one of the lines leaving the PCC with the
contrary, when the load distorting and/or unbalanc- same index measured on the line supplying the PCC
ing effects prevail over the supply voltage distortion increases if the disturbances are injected by the load
and/or unbalance, nslq < 1. connected to the line, while it decreases if the distur-
A second power-quality index has been proposed bances are injected by the supply. The opposite
[46]: occurs when the ratio of indices nslq is considered.
126 A. Ferrero / Measurement 41 (2008) 121–129

Index (11) averages the above ratios, and is The two above approaches, based on multi-point
expected to compensate the different reasons that measurements, have been tested by means of simu-
cause each single index to fail in assessing the lations on the IEEE industrial test system and their
responsibility for the injection of disturbances. performance have been compared in [51]. Both
When tk > 1, the load connected to line k is injecting methods provided satisfactory results, and appear
disturbances in the network. When tk < 1, line k is to deserve further, in-field evaluation.
A different approach has been proposed in [50], 4. The measurement problems
based on an estimate of a cost function v of the
effects of the harmonic current components as Up to the present days, the discussion about
" # power quality in the electric systems under non-sinu-
X 2 soidal conditions has dealt mainly with the definition
v¼F ðwn I n Þ
of suitable theoretical approaches and indices.
When the practical issues of measuring the
where wn are suitable weights that depend on the defined quantities and indices began to be consid-
harmonic order n and the characteristics of the ered, it was soon clear that the traditional instru-
source impedance. ments (mainly active and reactive energy meters)
In the approach proposed by [50], the considered used under sinusoidal conditions to evaluate the
cost function considers the loss on the source equiv- energy consumption, both from a quantitative and
alent impedance. In order to evaluate this loss, each ‘‘qualitative’’ point of view, were inadequate
harmonic component I sn of the current flowing in [38,39]. This inadequacy involves also the traditional
the source equivalent impedance is obtained by electromagnetic current and voltage transformers, as
composing the corresponding harmonic compo- well as the capacitive voltage transformers, used in
nents of all currents drawn from the PCC. These High Voltage systems, whose bandwidth is too nar-
current components are then divided into the two row to allow a correct transduction of the distorted
subsets P and N. Subset P contains all harmonic signals.
components I þ ðkÞ;n of the current flowing in load k This problem can be overcome, if the electronic
that cause an increment in current I sn , while subset transducers are used, based on zero-flux current
N contains all harmonic components I  ðkÞ;n of the transformers for the current transducers, and elec-
current flowing in load k that cause a decrement tro-optical techniques for the voltage transducers
in current I sn . A graphical example of this classifica- [52–54]. Several solutions have been proposed and
tion of the current components is reported in Fig. 3. are already commercially available.
The evaluation, for each single load k connected As far as the measurement method is concerned,
to the PCC, of the contribution given by each har- most of the newly defined indices, such as (7), (9),
monic component of current to the loss in the (10) and (11), require an extensive processing of
source impedance allows to state whether that load the input signals to be determined: index (10), for
is increasing or mitigating the disturbances. instance, requires a Fourier Transform of both volt-
ages and currents, and the evaluation of the active
Im power associated with each voltage and current
component. This kind of processing can be obtained
I +(1),n only if the new, modern, DSP-based instruments are
IS,n employed.
From a mere technical point of view, this is not a
I -(2),n problem, since the available DSP-based structures
perform the Analog-to-Digital conversion and the
I +(k),n Re subsequent digital processing fast enough to allow
a real-time evaluation of all above mentioned indi-
I -( j),n ces with the required resolution. Distributed mea-
surement systems can be also implemented in a
Fig. 3. Load harmonic current components contributing to the
relatively simple way, so that the evaluation of indi-
harmonic components of the current flowing in the source ces based on multi-point measurements, such as
equivalent impedance. (11), can be obtained [48].
A. Ferrero / Measurement 41 (2008) 121–129 127

The most critical problem, with the DSP-based, • The theoretical background is wide enough to
distributed systems that process complex measure- allow a good analysis of the power quality in
ment algorithms, is the uncertainty estimation. At the presence of non-sinusoidal conditions,
this stage of the research on the electric systems although a generally accepted approach for
under non-sinusoidal conditions, this is not only a describing the behaviour of the electric systems
mere metrological problem, but has also a large under non-sinusoidal conditions has not yet been
implication on the theoretical analysis. In fact, it developed.
should be always kept into account that no informa- • Several indices have been proposed to detect the
tion can be obtained about the practical utility of deviations from the reference ideal conditions
any proposed theory until the defined quantities that lead to power-quality problems.
can be measured and the measurement uncertainty • The analysis of the direction of the active power
is known. In other words, the validity of any theo- components associated with the harmonic and
retical approach that is aimed at identifying a phys- sequence components of voltages and currents
ical phenomenon and providing quantitative has been proposed as the most effective tool for
information about it is limited by the uncertainty the identification of the sources producing distor-
with which the quantities employed to describe that tion and unbalance.
phenomenon can be measured. • The use of a single index was proved to be not
The reference document for expressing the uncer- sufficient for power-quality assessment. The most
tainty in measurement is the well known ISO Guide recent developments of the research activity are
[41]. The Guide follows a probabilistic approach to oriented towards the use of indices obtained from
uncertainty, where uncertainty itself is expressed multi-point measurements performed in different
as a standard deviation. In the recent years, this metering sections of the electric system.
approach has been more and more questioned, since • The presently available digital instrumentation,
its application may become quite troublesome when including the new generation of electronic volt-
the uncertainty of measurement based on complex age and current transducers, is suitable for mea-
DSP algorithms has to be estimated. suring the newly defined quantities and indices
Several proposals are available in the recent liter- with good accuracy and at a reasonable cost.
ature to overcome this kind of problems. Some of • The true present challenge is making the mea-
them are still based on a probabilistic approach surement uncertainty evaluation of the DSP-
[55–58], while some others are looking for different, based instrument less troublesome than it pres-
innovative mathematical approaches, such as the ently appears if the recommendations of the
theory of evidence and the fuzzy mathematics [59– ISO Guide [41] are strictly applied.
Moreover, the use of distributed measurement References
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