Power factor in solar systems

Solar power systems benefit from power factor correction too.

Can power factor correction solutions work hand in hand with solar systems? What is the difference? Are there added benefits to the combination?

When one hears the energy crisis news so often, it starts to seem like an endless battle that might be too big to win. Equally, the news of electricity costs and growing energy demands forces people and businesses to galvanize and find solutions that will aid their continued productivity and competitiveness.

Due to growing energy demands, it is necessary for businesses to interrogate the utility bills they receive each month and understand the implications of power factor on their bills. Once an understanding of PF and the eventual solution, power factor correction has been grasped, it might be a good idea to consider the other available alternative energy supply options, like solar power.

With the rapid growth of solar systems in residential as well as industrial and commercial applications, several opportunities and challenges have surfaced, which must be taken into consideration to avoid unnecessary production stoppages, failures in the operations of devices, equipment or product lines, and to optimise the return on investment of these systems.

One question that comes up in that instance is whether power factor correction can be applied in conjunction with a solar power system?

Solar power, the chemical electrons released from the sunlight after it strikes a solar cell to generate electric current, is an energy generation solution. PFC on the other hand, assists in reducing the total amount of energy drawn by an electrical installation. Given that understanding, we can give a confident YES, Power factor correction can work with solar power systems.

Residential solar systems

The power factor of these installations is generally above 0.94 and installing a PFC system won’t necessarily lower the household’s solar system costs.

Remember, the purpose of installing a power factor correction unit is to ensure that your power factor score stays as close as possible to 1. (1 being a perfect score) so in this instance, especially if the inverter installed is of high quality and has a certain amount of power factor correction capability, the technology won’t provide optimal value.

Industrial and commercial solar systems

For off-grid industrial and commercial installations with a poor power factor (less than 0.8), these businesses can benefit from a power factor correction system.
Additionally, factors that influence this opportunity are maximum apparent load and maximum reactive load. As stated before, good quality inverters (part of the solar system) can do a fair amount of power factor correction, but this is limited and therefore insufficient in installations with a poor power factor.

Installing a PFC panel can then reduce the size of the solar system required, as the reactive power generated by the PFC system results in a reduction in kVA drawn from the solar system.

For grid tied solar systems in industrial and commercial installations, PFC can also be beneficial.
However, extra care is required when installing PFC systems in such installations, especially if there is a possibility of the solar system feeding back into the grid. If the current feedback devices required by the PFC controller are installed incorrectly or if the PFC controller is unable to operate in all 4 power quadrants, the PFC system will not operate correctly and will not offer the best ROI.

Lastly, a final aspect that must be taken into consideration when installing a PV (solar) system in an industrial and commercial application with a poor power factor, is that the power factor is likely to worsen when the PV system is operational.

The reason for this is that; while the PV system can generate (part of) the active power drawn by the plant, it cannot reduce the reactive power drawn, to the same extent. In other words, the PV system, when operational, significantly reduces the active power drawn from the grid but it does not reduce the reactive power drawn from the grid to the same extent. As a result, the power factor being emitted in the solar system worsens significantly, if no PFC system has been installed.

This phenomenon is especially relevant where utility companies levy penalties for poor power factor. It is continually important to know the available options and optimise to the best benefits of your business.

To find out more about your business’ power factor, or for expert advice on implementing a long-term, cost-effective solution, contact our team at Alpha Power Solutions.

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