Power Electronics

Voltage Fluctuations Can Be More Problematic Than Blackouts

Although blackouts seem to get all the attention, major power problems can be attributed to voltage fluctuations such as sags, surges and impulses. Thus, it is not surprising that users tend to overlook this issue and do not pay much attention to protection against invisible voltage fluctuations. The majority of users believe uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems are a universal remedy for all power-related problems. The end result is a modest market for voltage regulators used to regulate the ac from the outlet. A recent study conducted by research firm Frost & Sullivan reveals this market generated worldwide revenue of only $203.3 million in 2003, and is expected to grow at an average annual growth rate of 4.5% over next few years. At this rate, it is estimated to reach $277.7 million by 2010.

By comparison, UPS is expected to grow from $4.7 billion in 2003 to $6.3 billion, according to Venture Development Corp. Although, this market has also suffered because of recent economic conditions and cuts in spending, the global awareness of the benefits of power protection and recovery in the market is expected to improve revenues in the coming years.

According to Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst G.V.Suryanarayana Raju, “To boost voltage regulator usage, suppliers must conduct consumer awareness campaigns and educate the users about the damages caused by voltage fluctuation frequency to the end equipment connected to the supply.” He adds that 95% of power problems can be attributed to voltage fluctuations such as sags, surges and impulses and only 5% to blackouts. Although UPS systems offer some sort of regulation, it is not sufficient. Hence, users must combine UPS with precise voltage regulators to effectively tackle blackouts and voltage fluctuations on the supply line, recommends Raju.

Furthermore, the report indicates that of the three major technologies—tap switching, ferro resonant and buck-boost—tap switching offers growth potential. In 2003, tap switching-based solutions accounted for nearly 63% of the market revenues. Due to its faster response and ease of manufacturing, it is also finding new uses in contemporary high-speed electronic applications. Tap switching products are becoming popular for mining and petroleum exploration activities in Africa and South America.

While ferro resonant and buck-boost technologies have several drawbacks, they offer some good properties. Ferro resonant, for instance, has improved isolation and noise attenuation properties. Most notably, buck-boost provides stability and efficiency in high-power applications.

The study shows that the growth for these products will come from developing nations where the main power supply is highly unstable. “The highly unstable main power supply in Asia and the rest-of-world necessitates installation of additional external protection in the form of voltage regulators,” notes Raju. Developing nations need to improve power quality and, in turn, increase demand for voltage regulator products. In 2003, Asia, including Japan, accounted for 25% of the world voltage regulator market. Much higher figures are projected for next few years.

Meanwhile, new voltage regulating products are being created using IGBT technology for its improved stability and protection properties against voltage fluctuations in high-power electronic devices. Once consumers are convinced of IGBT’s ability to shield equipment with isolation and fast response features, this market is expected to drive upward.

For more information, visit www.powersupplies.frost.com.

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