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What is Voltage Optimisation

Author: John Hinds
by John Hinds
Posted: Jul 11, 2019

The basics

Throughout the UK energy companies do not accurately match their supply to the optimal level for the majority of electrical goods and equipment. Voltage optimisation is the means for reducing the amount of mains voltage given out in order to save on energy, money and at the same time to maximise the efficiency of equipment using the electricity. Some equipment can gain incredibly from voltage optimisation, notably fluorescent lighting, air conditioning and cooling machinery and refrigeration equipment, all of which will benefit from reduced energy consumption and lead to excellent savings.

By optimisation voltage you are also likely to substantially increase the life of your electrical equipment as it was designed to run at a specific voltage, not to be overloaded by an inaccurate and over-zealous supply. Most equipment is designed to be perfectly optimised at a supply of 220-230v, whereas in the UK the supply often reaches 245v.

When considering voltage optimisation you are actually dealing with basic electrical law. This dictates that power required by certain loads is proportional to the square of the voltage, whilst a supply voltage in excess of the nominal harmonized 230v could potentially result in an electrical device that consumes more energy than it needs and is optimal.

A complex situation

In order to simplify the market, the EU introduced the Low Voltage Directive in 2006 to regulate the operating voltage in Europe. Such regulated equipment bears the CE mark and is designed to operate within harmonized voltage levels.

But in reality, this has not really changed much as in the UK voltage levels (supply) remain at around 242v on average, as changing this is prohibitively expensive and as a country this remains within the harmonized limits. Essentially the directive ensures safety, but not optimisation, hence the need for voltage optimisation methods.

As most devices are manufactured for the wider EU market, as opposed to pandering to the unique challenge of the UK market, the need for voltage optimisation here is greater than in mainland Europe. A good example of this is LED lighting – a huge growth industry and in the UK supply of electricity nearly always exceeds optimal levels, leading to a higher risk of premature driver circuit failure.

Step up and step down transformers

While Step down transformers are often mentioned in the same breath as voltage optimisation, they actually fulfil a different demand. They can correct a voltage say from 230v to 120v, for instance satisfying the demands of equipment brought over from the US. In essence, step down transformers are less flexible than voltage optimisation units, but very good at their primary job.

Step up transformers are responsible for increasing the voltage of the supply to specific equipment. For instance, inside each microwave oven is a step up transformer, which is necessary to increase the output to about 5000v. They are also implemented in power plants to transform the several thousand voltages produced by alternators into several hundreds of thousands of volts for high voltage networks.

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Author: John Hinds
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John Hinds

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