What are non-linear loads and why are they a concern today?

A load is considered non-linear if its impedance changes with the applied voltage. The changing impedance means that the current drawn by the non-linear load will not be sinusoidal even when it is connected to a sinusoidal voltage. These non-sinusoidal currents contain harmonic currents that interact with the impedance of the power distribution system to create voltage distortion that can affect both the distribution system equipment and the loads connected to it.

In the past, non-linear loads were primarily found in heavy industrial applications such as arc furnaces, large variable speed drives, heavy rectifiers for electrolytic refining, etc. The harmonics they generated were typically localized and often addressed by knowledgeable experts.

Times have changed. Harmonic problems are now common in not only industrial applications but in commercial buildings as well. This is due primarily to new power conversion technologies, such as the Switch-Mode Power Supply (SMPS), which can be found in virtually every power electronic device (computers, servers, monitors, printers, photocopiers, telecom systems, broadcasting equipment, electric vehicle chargers, etc.). The SMPS is an excellent power supply, but it is also a highly non-linear load. Their proliferation has made them a substantial portion of the total load in most commercial buildings.

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