Increasing Efficiency with Volt/VAR Technologies

Increasing Efficiency with Volt/VAR Technologies

This piece was originally published in the April 2017 issue of electroindustry.

Steve Griffith, PMP, Industry Director, NEMA

The world consumes an enormous amount of electricity, some of which is lost on its way from where it is generated (e.g., power plants and wind farms) to where it is used (e.g., homes and businesses). The United States Energy Information Administration (EIA), a division of the Department of Energy, estimates that every year in the U.S. about five percent of the electricity that is transmitted and distributed is lost.

The EIA further estimates that increased energy efficiency could reduce national energy use by as much as 20 percent by 2020, resulting in net economic benefits for consumers and businesses.

Losses of electrical energy and demands on electric distribution systems can be reduced through a number of proven technology methods. Traditional volt/VAR (volt ampere reactive) management technologies have been used by the power industry for more than 30 years to reduce electric line losses and increase grid efficiency.

Unlike the traditional approach that uses uncoordinated local controls, volt/VAR optimization (also known as VVO) uses real-time information and online system modeling to provide optimized and coordinated control for unbalanced distribution networks with discrete controls.

As the number of renewable intermittent sources (e.g., solar and wind) increases, however, so does the complexity of the controls. VVO and other power electronics–based technologies can mitigate rapid and large voltage fluctuations that result from high penetration of distributed generation.

Benefits for electric utilities to adopt these technologies include effective capacity utilization, photovoltaic generation support, avoidance of VAR penalties, and line loss reduction. Utilities that purchase power from transmission companies or independent power producers usually have financial incentives, including steep penalties for operating outside of specified power factor limits. The ability to optimize power factor is a key driver in a utility’s ability to minimize these penalties.

Learn more

ReadThe Value of Volt/VAR Technologies” on NEMA Currents, the blog of the electroindustry, and “Volt/VAR Optimization Improves Grid Efficiency” on the NEMA website.

Listen to the differences between traditional volt/VAR management technologies and newer VVO technologies at

Buy ANSI C84.1 American National Standard for Electric Power Systems and Equipment—Voltage Ratings (60 Hz) is available for purchase on the NEMA standards store.

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