Think of the biggest electric motor you can—a motor large enough to run a conveyor system at a manufacturing plant or the air-conditioning system in a multi-story building. You’d use the term “horsepower” to describe how strong the motor is and how much work it can do.
But engineers also think in terms of a motor’s efficiency. A motor’s “power factor” is a measure of how effectively electric current is being converted into useful work.
Engineers describe the perfect match between the power coming in and the power that operates a motor as a power factor of 1.0.
But the physical properties of electric current mean that although a certain amount of electricity arrives at a site, not all of that electricity makes the motor operate. In other words, some of the electricity is wasted. A poor power factor, perhaps 0.5 or 0.6, means the motor is not as efficient as it could be.
Several American companies offer power correction devices. One of the newest is Titon Energy of Floyds Knobs, Indiana. Vice President of Engineering and Technical Training Daniel Spurlock says, “Several features make our service and product, the patented Utilisaver device, different from others in the marketplace. First, when we go to a motor’s site we have a patented product that gathers data about the motor to accurately evaluate its power factor. Second, we custom-build the Utilisaver unit for that particular motor. Third, we install the Utilisaver right at the motor, which gives the customer optimal savings.”
Making large motors more energy efficient is important because it saves money. Many electric utilities add an additional cost to customers whose motors have poor power factors. Designed to cover the gap between the real power flowing through the electric meter and the apparent power that’s really operating the motor, these fees often show up on customer bills as a “KVAR charge” or “power factor penalty.” When power factor correction devices are installed on motors, it lowers the gap between real and apparent power use—and there’s no need for the utility company to add those extra charges.
Titon Energy’s 10 office staff and 20 energy consultant technicians are getting inquiries about their technological innovations from as far away as Bangladesh. But company President Lee Baugher says, “We prefer to work regionally right now. We offer a 30-day trial period to our customers so we can demonstrate that our product really does perform as promised.”
At a chemical manufacturing plant in western Louisville, a senior electrical engineer says, “We’re in the initial testing phase on four motors that range from 100 to 350 horsepower that are in continuous operation 24 hours every day. With custom-designed Utilisaver devices on these motors, our power factor went from .78 to .97—that’s a big potential energy costs savings over a full year—well over $10,000. If the testing over a 30-day period proves the projected cost, then we will be talking about installing the device on another 100 motors.”
Engineers value the Utilisaver not just for what it saves on energy costs, but because it can also make motors last longer. One engineer says, “It’s not just that you’re being billed for wasted energy when a motor has a poor power factor. The energy that isn’t being used to run the motor is lost as heat—and that heat damages the equipment and causes it to wear out faster.”
Improving the power factor of a motor can also save money in maintenance costs, as well as extending the useful life of expensive equipment.
To find out more about the Utilisaver power factor correction device, visit this Web site:www.titonenergy.com.
Next month: A language for co-op computers