Why do power companies never bother residential customers about power factors?


The power factor of residential premises is already pretty good.

From a 2002 report on power factor correction, we get the following snippet about power factor correction in the tenant spaces (offices, apartments) of a commercial building, vs. the utility parts (elevator lifts, HVAC):

If we were to take an example of a typical commercial building, the main switchboard is split into two separate sections; a house services section and a tenant section... [snip]

The house section normally houses the circuit breakers for the central air conditioning plant, lifts, house lighting and power. As will be highlighted in Section 7, motors account for a decrease in power quality and thus a reduction in power factor. In this particular instance it would be a valid exercise to consider the benefits of power factor on this section of the installation. In most instances power factor correction is installed providing immediate cost savings to the base building owner.

As the tenant power is on a separate bus, they also have the opportunity to consider power factor correction. In most instances the tenant supply usually consists of general lighting and power with some supplementary air conditioning. The power factor for these installations is generally greater than 0.90 and as such there is no significant benefit in installation PFC units. In addition, these tenants are usually metered at a kWh rate that does not consider the power factor of the installation for billing purposes.

The bulk of electricity in houses is used to either heat things up (space heaters, ovens, cooktops, water heaters) or cool things down (air conditioners, refrigerators.) These either have intrinsically good power factor (heating elements are resistive, i.e. p.f. 1.00) or they come with power factor correction in-built (air conditioners.)

The things you measured are mostly electronic devices, so they have poor power factor, but they also don't draw much power compared to the heating/cooling devices listed above.


Contrast this with industrial sites, where a large part of the load is AC induction motors with rated power factors between 0.80 to 0.90 (and less than that if they're less than fully loaded.) There can be 10 MW worth of induction motors in a decent size plant - I know of ore crushing and grinding mills which are driven by a 10 MW induction motor each.

It is much more cost effective to target such induction motor installations before targeting consumers.

In response to Lord Loh.'s comments:

Consumers (and small businesses) generally have no incentive to improve power factor. In Australia, at least, billing is by kilowatt-hours (real power) and the power factor is not considered in the bill.

However, Ergon Energy (the distribution authority in Queensland, Australia) is trying to drive power factor correction in small businesses. They are doing this by offering incentive payments for businesses who want to participate.

The reason for pushing PFC to small businesses is not to increase efficiency, in the sense of saving a few dollars on the power bill, but rather to mitigate the exorbitant price of power at peak demand. To wit:

The aim of the Queensland Government funded project is to use incentive payments to reduce peak demand by a total 4.7 MVA, with subsequent customer savings and carbon emissions reduction.

Because of the way the electricity market works, at peak period the marginal price of electricity (the price for Ergon to buy "one additional kilowatt") can be in the range of $1,000/kWh. So by shaving 4.7 MVA off the peak demand, they are actually saving thousands of dollars ($10,000? $100,000? $1,000,000?) per day.

With savings like that, offering businesses an incentive to voluntarily install PFC is a no-brainer.

There is also the nice effect of decreasing the MVA loading on infrastructure like transmission lines and transformers, so that Ergon can get the most capacity out of those assets before they need to be upgraded. Simplistically, deferring a $1M project by one year allows you to earn 5% interest on that $1M, so this is another significant saving.

Utilities do care about power factor to residential buildings, but hassling them about it is more trouble than it's worth due to the relatively light load compared to serious industrial customers.

Instead, the utilities hassle your legislators. It is logistically easier and much more cost effective for them to get laws passed to require certain power factors from devices commonly used by residential customers than to try to enforce or charge for low power factors from those customers directly. In the EU, for example, any electronic device drawing more than some specified amount of power (used to be around 70 W if I remember right, but I think the threshold has been lowered recently) must have a power factor above some limit to get CE certification. More and more electronic devices start with switching power supplies that do active power factor control, partially as a result of such laws emerging worldwide.