10:07 AM

Profs plug into pressing power problem

Energy efficient appliances and electronics like LED lights and smart fridges are good for our power bills. But those gadgets and appliances meant to save energy can be hard on our hydro-electric infrastructure.

It turns out they cause distortions called harmonics that tax wiring in transformers and lead to brownouts or blackouts. The result is expensive repairs or upgrades to our electric power system that cost everyone who plugs in.

Fortunately, two electrical engineering technology professors are determined to find a way to reduce harmonics caused by modern household loads. Laith Al-Musawi and Majlinda Qarri say the answer may lie in how electronics and appliances are wired in our homes.

The duo are studying power load profiles and cycles for each appliance currently installed at Mohawk’s Smart House on the Stoney Creek campus to determine whether they can arrange them differently on a home’s circuit panel to create fewer harmonics.

“Transformers can currently handle some of the harmonics but with all these modern loads, (harmonics) every day,” Qarri said.

“You’re talking about a problem that will be more apparent in the future,” Al-Musawi said. “But we’re looking at it now because we have the system (in the Smart House). We’re trying to create a model that could possibly help utilities in setting harmonic mitigation guidelines for residential wiring.”

They’re doing it with the support if IDEAWORKS and an Applied Research and Innovation in Education (ARIE) grant. The funding enabled Al-Musawi and Qarri to upgrade Smart House infrastructure for the project and hire a co-op student to collect data on power consumption there. Once that’s in hand, they’ll measure the harmonics generated, and use their findings to glean the best wiring and circuit board configuration.

“Utility companies can use this research to tell electricians ‘You can adopt this wiring system to reduce harmonics on the neutral, given certain appliances and loads present in a house’ … so they don’t have to worry about maintaining transformers as often,” Al-Musawi said.

IDEAWORKS is Mohawk’s hub for applied research and innovation. Learn more about how you can get involved in research through IDEAWORKS at www.mohawkcollege.ca/ideaworks