The topic of harmonics is interesting because of the harmful effects they have on power system devices. What makes harmonics so insidious is that very often the effects of harmonics are not known until failure occurs. Insight into how harmonics can interact within a power system and how they can affect power system components is important for preventing failures. In this article, we will look at the effect of harmonics on some common power system devices.

1. Effect of Harmonics on Transformers:

Harmonics can affect transformers primarily in two ways:

1. Voltage harmonics produce additional losses in the transformer core as the higher frequency harmonic voltages set up hysteresis loops, which superimpose on the fundamental loop. Each loop represents higher magnetization power requirements and higher core losses.

2. A second and a more serious effect of harmonics is due to harmonic frequency currents in the transformer windings. The harmonic currents increase the net RMS current flowing in the transformer windings which results in additional I2R losses. Winding eddy current losses are also increased. Winding eddy currents are circulating currents induced in the conductors by the leakage magnetic flux. Eddy current concentrations are higher at the ends of the windings due to the crowding effect of the leakage magnetic field at the coil extremities. The winding eddy current losses increase as the square of the harmonic current and the square of the frequency of the current.


Thus, the eddy loss (EC) is proportional to Ih2 x h2, where Ih is the RMS value of the harmonic current of order h, and h is the harmonic frequency order or number. Eddy currents due to harmonics can significantly increase the transformer winding temperature. Transformers that are required to supply large nonlinear loads must be derated to handle the harmonics. This derating factor is based on the percentage of the harmonic currents in the load and the rated winding eddy current losses. One method by which transformers may be rated for suitability to handle harmonic loads is by k factor ratings. The k factor is equal to the sum of the square of the harmonic frequency currents (expressed as a ratio of the total RMS current) multiplied by the square of the harmonic frequency numbers-

k = I12 (1)2 + I22 (2)2 + I32 (3)2 + I42 (4)2 +… + In2 (n)2 ….(4.23)


I1 is the ratio between the fundamental current and the total RMS current.


I2 is the ratio between the second harmonic current and the total RMS current.

I3 is the ratio between the third harmonic current and the total RMS current.

Equation (4.23) can be rewritten as-

There are three effects that result in increased transformer heating when the load current includes harmonic components:


1. RMS Current:

If the transformer is sized only for the kVA requirements of the load, harmonic currents may result in the transformer rms current being higher than its capacity. The increased total rms current results in increased conductor losses.

2. Eddy Current Losses:


These are induced currents in a transformer caused by the magnetic fluxes. These induced currents flow in the windings, in the core, and in other conducting bodies subjected to the magnetic field of the transformer and cause additional heating. This component of the transformer losses increases with the square of the frequency of the current causing the eddy currents. Therefore, this becomes a very important component of transformer losses for harmonic heating.

3. Core Losses:

The increase in core losses in the presence of harmonics will be dependent on the effect of the harmonics on the applied voltage and the design of the transformer core. Increasing the voltage distortion may increase the eddy currents in the core laminations.

The net impact that this will have depends on the thickness of the core laminations and the quality of the core steel. The increase in these losses due to harmonics is generally not as critical as the previous two.

2. Effect of Harmonics on AC Motors:


Application of distorted voltage to a motor results in additional losses in the magnetic core of the motor. Hysteresis and eddy current losses in the core increase as higher frequency harmonic voltages are impressed on the motor windings. Hysteresis losses increase with frequency and eddy current losses increase as the square of the frequency. Also, harmonic currents produce additional I2R losses in the motor windings which must be accounted for.

Another effect, and perhaps a more serious one, is torsional oscillations due to harmonics. Two of the more prominent harmonics found in a typical power system are the fifth and seventh harmonics. The fifth harmonic is a negative sequence harmonic, and the resulting magnetic field revolves in a direction opposite to that of the fundamental field at a speed five times the fundamental. The seventh harmonic is a positive sequence harmonic with a resulting magnetic field revolving in the same direction as the fundamental field at a speed seven times the fundamental.

The net effect is a magnetic field that revolves at a relative speed of six times the speed of the rotor. This induces currents in the rotor bars at a frequency of six times the fundamental frequency. The resulting interaction between the magnetic fields and the rotor-induced currents produces torsional oscillations of the motor shaft. If the frequency of the oscillation coincides with the natural frequency of the motor rotating members, severe damage to the motor can result. Excessive vibration and noise in a motor operating in a harmonic environment should be investigated to prevent failures.

Motors intended for operation in a severe harmonic environment must be specially designed for the application. Motor manufacturers provide motors for operation with ASD units. If the harmonic levels become excessive, filters may be applied at the motor terminals to keep the harmonic currents from the motor windings. Large motors supplied from ASDs are usually provided with harmonic filters to prevent motor damage due to harmonics.

3. Effect of Harmonics on Capacitor Banks:

Capacitor banks are commonly found in commercial and industrial power systems to correct for low power factor conditions. Capacitor banks are designed to operate at a maximum voltage of 110% of their rated voltages and at 135% of their rated kVARS.

1. When large levels of voltage and current harmonics are present, the ratings are quite often exceeded, resulting in failures. Because the reactance of a capacitor bank is inversely proportional to frequency, harmonic currents can find their way into a capacitor bank.

2. The capacitor bank acts as a sink, absorbing stray harmonic currents and causing overloads and subsequent failure of the bank.

3. A more serious condition with potential for substantial damage occurs due to a phenomenon called harmonic resonance. Resonance conditions are created when the inductive and capacitive reactance become equal at one of the harmonic frequencies.

The two types of resonances are series and parallel. In general, series resonance produces voltage amplification and parallel resonance results in current multiplication.

In a harmonic-rich environment, both series and parallel resonance may be present. If a high level of harmonic voltage or current corresponding to the resonance frequency exists in a power system, considerable damage to the capacitor bank as well as other power system devices can result.

4. Effect of Harmonics on Cables:

Current flowing in a cable produces I2R losses. When the load current contains harmonic content, additional losses are introduced. To compound the problem, the effective resistance of the cable increases with frequency because of the phenomenon known as skin effect. Skin effect is due to unequal flux linkage across the cross section of the conductor which causes AC currents to flow only on the outer periphery of the conductor.

This has the effect of increasing the resistance of the conductor for AC currents. The higher the frequency of the current, the greater the tendency of the current to crowd at the outer periphery of the conductor and the greater the effective resistance for that frequency.

The capacity of a cable to carry nonlinear loads may be determined as follows. The skin effect factor is calculated first. The skin effect factor depends on the skin depth, which is an indicator of the penetration of the current in a conductor. Skin depth (δ) is inversely proportional to the square root of the frequency: δ = SI√f, where S is a proportionality constant based on the physical characteristics of the cable and its magnetic permeability and f is the frequency of the current.

If Rdc is the DC resistance of the cable, then the AC resistance at frequency f, (Rf) = K x Rdc.

The value of K is determined from Table according to the value of X which is calculated as-

X = 0.0636 …(4.25)

Where, 0.0636 is a constant for copper conductors, f is the frequency, µ is the magnetic permeability of the conductor material, and Rdc is the DC resistance per mile of the conductor. The magnetic permeability of a nonmagnetic material such as copper is approximately equal to 1.0.

5. Effect of Harmonics on Protective Devices:

Harmonic currents influence the operation of protective devices. Fuses and motor thermal overload devices are prone to nuisance operation when subjected to nonlinear currents. This factor should be given due consideration when sizing protective devices for use in a harmonic environment. Electromechanical relays are also affected by harmonics. Depending on the design, an electromechanical relay may operate faster or slower than the expected times for operation at the fundamental frequency alone.

Such factors should be carefully considered prior to placing the relays in service.