Audit Customer Questions

Today's electric equipment has become a blend of sophisticated machine and appliance which is either based on, or controlled by, a computer or computer component. This equipment is electrically far more sophisticated and sensitive than most customers know. Due to this sensitivity, virtually any disturbance in the supply and/or end-use of electricity can cause some problems for the customer.

While very large commercial and industrial customers often have personnel who are knowledgeable and capable of diagnosing and resolving power quality problems, this is not true for smaller business customers and individuals. More than 95 percent of all customers in the United States do not have access to such specialized help. In these cases, it is frequently a frustrating, time consuming, and expensive process to obtain solutions to power quality problems. The power quality auditing process is intended to determine and resolve these problems.

Utilities are generally blamed for power quality problems. They are not necessarily responsible. There are four sources for most customer-encountered problems:

  1. Natural phenomena, like inclement weather;
  2. Normal utility operations, such as automatic protection system operations;
  3. Neighboring customers, such as welding equipment next door to an accounting office;
  4. And the customer's own equipment and facilities.

While most problems have nothing to do with the utility, customers often blame the utility for causing or contributing to the problem. In fact, eighty percent of all power quality-related problems in commercial and industrial facilities are caused on the customer side of the meter. In residential facilities, eighty percent of the problems are due to weather and weather-related actions.

Some of the most common symptoms are:

  • Equipment damage,
  • Blinking digital displays,
  • Data or information loss,
  • Loss of instructional programming and controller timing,
  • An abnormal number of service calls on sensitive equipment,
  • Disk drive problems,
  • Visible flicker on VDTs,
  • Computers re-booting,
  • Software glitches, and
  • Static shock.

While business operators generally notice the symptoms mentioned above, it is the business problems that develop from these that most impact the customer. These problems can range from minor inconveniences, such as the need to reset flashing digital displays, to very costly business interruptions, such as equipment shut-downs. Frequently, business customers report that power interruptions can cost them more than $10,000 per minute in lost facility or machinery use.

Typical business and home problems caused by power quality disturbances are:

  • Damage to sensitive equipment, which costs customers money for repairs and loss of use;
  • Loss of data, where a brief interruption in the power supply causes the information to be lost and substantial time is required to re-enter the information;
  • Erratic data, which is a difficult problem to identify, where computers interpret power problems erroneously as information;
  • Business downtime, where the loss of equipment operation causes idle employees, and customers to do business elsewhere;
  • Loss of communications, since most phone systems today are electronic, they can fall prey to power quality problems, or provide a pathway for those problems to occur.