Power Fluctuations and Flickers – How to Avoid Them and Manage Risk

Power fluctuation is a common problem for households and businesses. For the former, it can lead to inconveniences, costly repairs, and even replacements. While for the latter, the consequences can be even more severe, leading to days of lost productivity and inflated equipment costs. According to the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), power interruptions have a national cost of $119 billion per year. This figure includes losses caused by power quality issues such as power fluctuations, voltage fluctuations, flickers, and an unstable electricity supply.

Since the problem is so widespread, it is imperative businesses and households alike assess their level of risk and take the necessary steps to prevent costly setbacks. 

What Are Power Fluctuations and What Causes Them?

Power fluctuations are caused by oscillations in voltage supply. These sudden changes occur for a multitude of reasons, including power outages, surges, and increased demand for energy that puts a strain on the electricity supply system. 

These fluxes are typified by either a sudden increase or decrease in voltage which lasts a few seconds. While these fluctuations are generally innocuous and typically result in only small drops in voltage, they can damage appliances and other devices connected to the power supply.

These voltage supply changes can be identified by flickering lights. 

While the causes of random voltage fluctuations are largely out of one’s control, there are actionable steps that can be taken to manage risk and mitigate the detrimental effects that they cause. 

How to Protect Your Appliances and Devices From Power Surges

  • Install an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) system. A UPS system is capable of providing sensitive electronic equipment with a steady, alternative voltage supply that is independent of the pre-existing power supply. A UPS is powered by a battery and replaces utility-based power with no time delay. While it is difficult to pinpoint the invention of the first uninterruptible power supply, it was patented in the United States by John Hanley in 1934 under the title “An Apparatus for Maintaining An Unfailing and Uninterrupted Supply of Electrical Energy.” Today, the global UPS market is estimated to grow to $14.7 billion globally by 2027, with the US market currently evaluated at $2.1 billion.
  • Invest in a voltage stabilizer. These devices ensure that appliances receive the correct voltage in spite of power fluctuations. This is done through the use of ‘boost’ and ‘buck’ operations. When there is an undersupply of voltage, then the boost operation raises supply levels, and when there is an oversupply of voltage, buck operations reduce supply levels. Bob Wildlar, an early Silicon Valley pioneer, created the world’s first-ever high-voltage regulator in 1970.
  • Use a surge protector. When there is a sudden increase in voltage supply (a surge), a surge protector disperses the excess supply, thereby protecting appliances and devices that are connected to it. The downside of this option is that surge protectors need to be replaced if they blow due to an immense surge. Harold P. Kopp filed a patent for one of the first surge protectors in 1941, named the Zap Trap, and successfully sued Radio Shack for copying his design. General Electric first manufactured surge protectors in the 1950s while a similar device was being developed independently and simultaneously in Japan.
  • If you are severely afflicted by power stability issues, it might be worth exploring alternative energy sources. Diesel-run generators convert fuel to energy through an engine, while inverters store electricity that can be used when the power is off. 

Choosing Between a UPS and Voltage Stabilizer

Deciding on a voltage fluctuation solution to choose for your home or business can be intimidating and tricky. 

We’ve outlined what you need to consider when choosing between these two solutions. 

If the problem you primarily experience is a total loss of power, then a UPS would serve you best. If there is a power supply disruption, a UPS will keep your appliances and electronics on for a limited time or until you can turn them off safely. The latter is increasingly important in a world where data is so valuable to businesses and individuals alike. The United States experiences more blackouts than any other developed nation, so a UPS might be a useful addition to your home or workplace. 

Conversely, if your main problem is voltage fluctuations without a loss of power, then a voltage stabilizer would be the most appropriate choice for you. If there are power surges that are potentially harmful to your electronics, then a voltage stabilizer will offer protection. Furthermore, voltage stabilizers can even reduce your electricity bill by providing your appliances with an optimal voltage load. 

It is important to note certain UPS systems do have a voltage regulation function, which means some of them can double as voltage stabilizers. However, UPS systems that offer this dual functionality are far larger and more expensive than standard uninterruptible power supply devices. 

The prospect of investing in either of these solutions might make your wallet flinch, but these contingencies have the potential to save you (at least) thousands of dollars in repairs and replacements, especially if you’re a business owner. 

According to a 2021 survey of industrial companies published in the peer-reviewed Energies journal, a single voltage sag had an average economic cost of $7364.75 per incident. The maximum recorded cost of an incident was $13,049.00.

Setting Up Protection for Your Home and Business

Power surges cause real and lasting damage to people’s lives. A Chicago woman recently lost the contents of her home due to a severe electrical surge, causing up to $25,000 worth of damage. Similarly, a massive power surge in England caused an area-wide appliance blow-out,  leaving a neighborhood covered in smog. 

Outside of financial repercussions, power fluctuations and outages bear substantial health risks too. According to a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine, incidences of carbon monoxide poisoning (including cases that lead to death) increase when the power supply is disrupted. Likewise, an analysis of mortality in New York found the chance of accidental death rises by 125% during a power disruption while the likelihood of non-accidental death increases by 25%. 

This proves that ensuring a steady and stable supply of electricity to your home or business is well worth the investment. The good news is that you don’t have to face the threat of voltage fluctuation alone. 

Here at Lakeview Electric, we have over 30 years of experience servicing homeowners, manufacturers, industrialists, building managers, business owners, and more across Nevada. 

Please do not hesitate to reach out to us for your electrical needs; we have a team of licensed professionals who are focused on long-term solutions that would love to help you! Before starting any work, we will provide you with a fee estimate to ensure our process is transparent and fair. 

We are a full-scale electrical company, meaning we can assist you across the spectrum of your utility power needs. We also offer emergency electrical services for situations that can’t wait until business hours resume!

Whether you’re in Reno, Sparks, Carson City, Incline Village, or anywhere in between, we can advise you on what options are the most appropriate for your needs, and we can assist with any installations that you might need.

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