Capacitor Bank: Definition, Uses and Benefits

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Key learnings:
  • Capacitor Bank Definition: A capacitor bank is a collection of multiple capacitors used to store electrical energy and enhance the functionality of electrical power systems.
  • Power Factor Correction: Power factor correction involves adjusting the capacitor bank to optimize the use of electricity, thereby improving the efficiency and reducing costs.
  • Shunt and Series Capacitor Banks: Shunt capacitor banks help reduce inductive load impacts, while series capacitor banks manage capacitive loads to stabilize power flow and voltage.
  • Benefits of Using Capacitor Banks: Employing capacitor banks leads to improved power efficiency, reduced utility charges, and enhanced voltage regulation.
  • Practical Applications: Capacitor banks are integral in applications requiring stable and efficient power supply, such as in industrial settings and electrical substations.

A capacitor bank is a group of several capacitors of the same rating that are connected in series or parallel to store electrical energy in an electric power system. Capacitors are devices that can store electric charge by creating an electric field between two metal plates separated by an insulating material. Capacitor banks are used for various purposes, such as power factor correction, voltage regulation, harmonic filtering, and transient suppression.

What is Power Factor?

Power factor is a measure of how efficiently an AC (alternating current) power system uses the supplied power. It is defined as the ratio of real power (P) to apparent power (S), where the real power is the power that performs useful work in the load, and apparent power is the product of voltage (V) and current (I) in the circuit. Power factor can also be expressed as the cosine of the angle (θ) between voltage and current.

Power factor = P/S = VI cos θ

The ideal power factor is 1, which means that all the supplied power is converted into useful work, and there is no reactive power (Q) in the circuit. Reactive power is the power that flows back and forth between the source and the load due to the presence of inductive or capacitive elements, such as motors, transformers, capacitors, etc. Reactive power does not perform any work, but it causes extra losses and reduces the efficiency of the system.

Reactive power = Q = VI sin θ

The power factor of a system can range from 0 to 1, depending on the type and amount of load connected to it. A low power factor indicates a high reactive power demand and a poor utilization of the supplied power. A high power factor indicates a low reactive power demand and better utilization of the supplied power.

Why is Power Factor Correction Important?

Power factor correction is the process of improving the power factor of a system by adding or removing reactive power sources, such as capacitor banks or synchronous condensers. Power factor correction has several benefits for both the utility and the consumer, such as:

  • Reducing line losses and improving system efficiency: A low power factor means a high current flow in the system, which increases the resistive losses (I2R) and reduces the voltage level at the load end. By increasing the power factor, the current flow is reduced, and the losses are minimized, resulting in a higher voltage level and better system performance.
  • Increasing system capacity and reliability: A low power factor means a high apparent power demand from the source, which limits the amount of real power that can be delivered to the load. By increasing the power factor, the apparent power demand is reduced, and more real power can be supplied to the load, resulting in a higher system capacity and reliability.
  • Reducing utility charges and penalties: Many utilities charge extra fees or impose penalties for consumers who have a low power factor, as they cause more burden on the transmission and distribution network and increase their operational costs. By increasing the power factor, these charges or penalties can be avoided or reduced, resulting in lower electricity bills for consumers.

How Does a Capacitor Bank Work?

A capacitor bank works by providing or absorbing reactive power to or from the system, depending on its connection mode and location. There are two main types of capacitor banks: shunt capacitor banks and series capacitor banks.

Shunt Capacitor Banks

Shunt capacitor banks are connected in parallel with the load or at specific points in the system, such as substations or feeders. They provide leading reactive power (positive Q) to cancel out or reduce the lagging reactive power (negative Q) caused by inductive loads, such as motors, transformers, etc. This improves the power factor of the system and reduces line losses.

Shunt Capacitor Bank

Shunt capacitor banks have several advantages over other types of reactive power compensation devices, such as:

  • They are relatively simple, cheap, and easy to install and maintain.
  • They can be switched on or off according to the load variation or system requirement.
  • They can be divided into smaller units or steps to provide more flexibility and accuracy in reactive power control.
  • They can improve voltage stability and quality at the load end by providing local reactive support.

However, shunt capacitor banks also have some disadvantages or limitations, such as:

  • They may cause overvoltage or resonance problems if not properly designed or coordinated with other devices in the system.
  • They may introduce harmonics or distortions into the system if not properly filtered or protected.
  • They may not be effective for long transmission lines or distributed loads.

Series Capacitor Banks

Series capacitor banks are placed in series with loads, lowering circuit impedance and providing negative reactive power to balance positive reactive power from capacitive components, thereby stabilizing voltage regulation.

Series Capacitor Bank

Series capacitor banks have some advantages over shunt capacitor banks, such as:

  • They can increase the power transfer capability and efficiency of long transmission lines by reducing line losses and voltage drop.
  • They can reduce the short-circuit current and fault level of the system by increasing the impedance of the fault path.
  • They can improve the transient response and damping of the system by reducing the natural frequency and oscillations.

However, series capacitor banks also have some disadvantages or limitations, such as:

  • They may cause overvoltage or resonance problems if not properly designed or protected. For example, during a fault condition, the voltage across the capacitor may rise up to 15 times its rated value, which can damage the capacitor or other equipment in the system.
  • They may introduce harmonics or distortions into the system if not properly filtered or compensated.
  • They may not be effective for low voltage or distributed loads.

How to Calculate Capacitor Bank Size?

The size of a capacitor bank depends on several factors, such as:

  • The desired power factor improvement or reactive power compensation
  • The voltage level and frequency of the system
  • The type and location of the capacitor bank (shunt or series)
  • The load characteristics and variation
  • The cost and availability of the capacitor units

The basic formula for calculating the size of a shunt capacitor bank is:

C = Q/V2f

Where,

C is the capacitance in farads (F)

Q is the reactive power in vars (VAR)

V is the voltage in volts (V)

f is the frequency in hertz (Hz)

The basic formula for calculating the size of a series capacitor bank is:

C = 1/(2πfX)

Where,

C is the capacitance in farads (F)

f is the frequency in hertz (Hz)

X is the reactance in ohms (Ω)

However, these formulas are only approximate and do not account for other factors, such as losses, harmonics, temperature, etc. Therefore, more detailed calculations and simulations are required to determine the optimal size and configuration of a capacitor bank for a specific application.

Conclusion

Capacitor banks are useful devices that can store electrical energy and condition the flow of that energy in an electric power system. They can improve the power factor, voltage regulation, system efficiency, capacity, reliability, and stability of the system by providing or absorbing reactive power as needed. Capacitor banks can be connected in series or parallel with the load or at specific points in the system, depending on their purpose and design. Capacitor banks require proper sizing, installation, protection, and maintenance to ensure their optimal performance and safety.

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