I've always been fascinated and a little perplexed with the market forces that drive power quality. It seems there's always a missing ingredient or two that keeps the market from developing a consistent approach to tackling power quality problems.

These thoughts recently resurfaced when I read an IEEE paper titled, “The Development of Power Quality Markets.” The paper, which was presented at the Power Engineering Society's 2002 winter meeting in New York, recommends a new approach to resolving power quality concerns. The authors compare the power supply system to an open-access resource like clean air or water. They consider PQ disturbances a pollutant to the system. The authors discuss power quality in the context of environmental economics, and they propose the creation of an incentive-based market where end users trade power quality emission permits. According to the paper, “The sum of these permits must be such that the worst-case allowed emission is not harmful (‘just clean enough’).” Of course, this market would require a controlling authority to check emission levels.

Although I credit the paper for its “out of the box” thinking, I feel compelled to challenge its rationale. Fundamentally, I don't understand the value of permits in light of load flow on a utility system. PQ mitigation methods or emissions at one location rarely compensate adjacent loads. Radial designs and nonuniform spatial distribution make it difficult for beneficial load interaction to occur and even more difficult to substantiate.

Even before the paper recommends the permit option, however, it expounds on the need for effective policy implementation and follow-up. “Perhaps the most important condition for a good policy is its enforceability,” the authors write. “It is always possible to design a sophisticated set of rules, but when an incredible technological effort, e.g. complicated measuring devices are required, the enforcement costs may be far too high.” This statement seems to defeat the whole point of their subsequent recommendation because the permit option would require all of these things — rules, technological effort, and high costs.

As I continued to mull over the article, I realized that there were two additional issues that bothered me. The first pertains to the same basic mistake that was made in the early days of electric deregulation — oversimplifying the complexity and capacity of the grid. Back in the early 1990s, retail energy proponents thought power delivery was as easy as a customer tapping into a grid. The idea of PQ credits has the same feel. It sounds good in concept, but it's not reality. The system interaction of power quality events involves a more complicated process, which makes it more difficult to assess.

The second part of the idea that bothered me was the creation of a controlling authority. What current deregulation efforts don't need is another entity added to the process that has to account for power quality emission impacts of one customer on another.

In keeping with the drive to unbundle the power industry, the push should continue for PQ remediation to be the responsibility of the source facility (customer or utility). The IEEE and IEC should continue to develop standards that require mitigation at the source or equipment. As for the rest of the market, I believe that technology solutions are still the best answer for the future. We have seen products expand to meet customer's needs in new applications. The market for sensitive electronics continues to grow, and with it, the need for more protection. Customer awareness of the need for power quality is increasing, but it still has a ways to go. I don't know for a fact that we're headed down the right path, but I like the general direction; we just need to be patient and let the market develop naturally.

pmusser@primediabusiness.com