The power factor of an AC electric power system is defined as the ratio of the real power to the apparent power, and is a number between 0 and 1 (frequently expressed as a percentage, e.g. 0.5 pf = 50% pf). Real power is the capacity of the circuit for performing work in a particular time. Apparent power is the product of the current and voltage of the circuit. Due to energy stored in the load and returned to the source, or due to a non-linear load that distorts the wave shape of the current drawn from the source, the apparent power can be greater than the real power. Low-power-factor loads increase losses in a power distribution system and result in increased energy costs.
Power factor in linear circuit
Instantaneous and average power calculated from AC voltage and current with a unity power factor (Ï†=0, cosÏ†=1)
Instantaneous and average power calculated from AC voltage and current with a zero power factor (Ï†=90, cosÏ†=0)
Instantaneous and average power calculated from AC voltage and current with a lagging power factor (Ï†=45, cosÏ†=0.71)In a purely resistive AC circuit, voltage and current waveforms are in step (or in phase), changing polarity at the same instant in each cycle. Where reactive loads are present, such as with capacitors or inductors, energy storage in the loads result in a time difference between the current and voltage waveforms. This stored energy returns to the source and is not available to do work at the load. Thus, a circuit with a low power factor will have higher currents to transfer a given quantity of real power than a circuit with a high power factor.
Circuits containing purely resistive heating elements (filament lamps, strip heaters, cooking stoves, etc.) have a power factor of 1.0. Circuits containing inductive or capacitive elements (lamp ballasts, motors, etc.) often have a power factor below 1.0. For example, in electric lighting circuits, normal power factor ballasts (NPF) typically have a value of (0.4 – 0.6). Ballasts with a power factor greater than (0.9) are considered high power factor ballasts (HPF).
The significance of power factor lies in the fact that utility companies supply customers with volt-amperes, but bill them for watts. Power factors below 1.0 require a utility to generate more than the minimum volt-amperes necessary to supply the real power (watts). This increases generation and transmission costs. For example, if the load power factor were as low as 0.7, the apparent power would be 1.4 times the real power used by the load. Line current in the circuit would also be 1.4 times the current required at 1.0 power factor, so the losses in the circuit would be doubled (since they are proportional to the square of the current). Alternatively all components of the system such as generators, conductors, transformers, and switchgear would be increased in size (and cost) to carry the extra current.
Utilities typically charge additional costs to customers who have a power factor below some limit, which is typically 0.9 to 0.95. Engineers are often interested in the power factor of a load as one of the factors that affect the efficiency of power transmission.
 Definition and calculation
AC power flow has the three components: real power (P), measured in watts (W); apparent power (S), measured in volt-amperes (VA); and reactive power (Q), measured in reactive volt-amperes (VAr).
The power factor is defined as:
In the case of a perfectly sinusoidal waveform, P, Q and S can be expressed as vectors that form a vector triangle such that:
If is the phase angle between the current and voltage, then the power factor is equal to , and:
Since the units are consistent, the power factor is by definition a dimensionless number between 0 and 1. When power factor is equal to 0, the energy flow is entirely reactive, and stored energy in the load returns to the source on each cycle. When the power factor is 1, all the energy supplied by the source is consumed by the load. Power factors are usually stated as “leading” or “lagging” to show the sign of the phase angle, where leading indicates a negative sign.
If a purely resistive load is connected to a power supply, current and voltage will change polarity in step, the power factor will be unity (1), and the electrical energy flows in a single direction across the network in each cycle. Inductive loads such as transformers and motors (any type of wound coil) consume reactive power with current waveform lagging the voltage. Capacitive loads such as capacitor banks or buried cable generate reactive power with current phase leading the voltage. Both types of loads will absorb energy during part of the AC cycle, which is stored in the device’s magnetic or electric field, only to return this energy back to the source during the rest of the cycle.
For example, to get 1 kW of real power, if the power factor is unity, 1 kVA of apparent power needs to be transferred (1 kW Ã· 1 = 1 kVA). At low values of power factor, more apparent power needs to be transferred to get the same real power. To get 1 kW of real power at 0.2 power factor, 5 kVA of apparent power needs to be transferred (1 kW Ã· 0.2 = 5 kVA). This apparent power must be produced and transmitted to the load in the conventional fashion, and is subject to the usual distributed losses in the production and transmission processes.
It is often possible to adjust the power factor of a system to very near unity. This practice is known as power factor correction and is achieved by switching in or out banks of inductors or capacitors. For example the inductive effect of motor loads may be offset by locally connected capacitors. When reactive elements supply or absorb reactive power near the point of reactive loading, the apparent power draw as seen by the source is reduced and efficiency is increased. The reactive elements can create voltage fluctuations and harmonic noise during connection and disconnection procedures, and they will supply or sink reactive power regardless of whether there is a corresponding load operating nearby, increasing the system’s no-load losses. In a worst case, reactive elements can interact with the system and with each other to create resonant conditions, resulting in system instability and severe overvoltage fluctuations. As such, reactive elements cannot simply be applied at will, and power factor correction is normally subject to engineering analysis.
 Non-sinusoidal components
In circuits having only sinusoidal currents and voltages, the power factor effect arises only from the difference in phase between the current and voltage. This is narrowly known as “displacement power factor”. The concept can be generalized to a total, distortion, or true power factor where the apparent power includes all harmonic components. This is of importance in practical power systems which contain non-linear loads such as rectifiers, some forms of electric lighting, electric arc furnaces, welding equipment, switched-mode power supplies and other devices.
A particularly important example is the millions of personal computers that typically incorporate switched-mode power supplies (SMPS) with rated output power ranging from 250 W to 750 W. Historically, these very-low-cost power supplies incorporated a simple full-wave rectifier that conducted only when the mains instantaneous voltage exceeded the voltage on the input capacitors. This leads to very high ratios of peak-to-average input current, which also lead to a low distortion power factor and potentially serious phase and neutral loading concerns.
Regulatory agencies such as the EU have set harmonic limits as a method of improving power factor. Declining component cost has hastened acceptance and implementation of two different methods. Normally, this is done by either adding a series inductor (so-called passive PFC) or adding a boost converter that forces a sinusoidal input (so-called active PFC). For example, SMPS with passive PFC can achieve power factor of about 0.7–0.75, SMPS with active PFC, up to 0.99 power factor, while a SMPS without any power factor correction has a power factor of only about 0.55–0.65.
To comply with current EU standard EN61000-3-2, all switched-mode power supplies with output power more than 75 W must include passive PFC, at least. 80 PLUS power supply certification requires a power factor of 0.9 or more.
A typical multimeter will give incorrect results when attempting to measure the AC current drawn by a non-sinusoidal load and then calculate the power factor. A true RMS multimeter must be used to measure the actual RMS currents and voltages (and therefore apparent power). To measure the real power or reactive power, a wattmeter designed to properly work with non-sinusoidal currents must be used.
 Measuring power factor
Power factor in a single-phase circuit (or balanced three-phase circuit) can be measured with the wattmeter-ammeter-voltmeter method, where the power in watts is divided by the product of measured voltage and current. The power factor of a balanced polyphase circuit is the same as that of any phase. The power factor of an unbalanced polyphase circuit is not uniquely defined.
A direct reading power factor meter can be made with a moving coil meter of the electrodynamic type, carrying two perpendicular coils on the moving part of the instrument. The field of the instrument is energized by the circuit current flow. The two moving coils, A and B, are connected in parallel with the circuit load. One coil, A, will be connected through a resistor and the second coil, B, through an inductor, so that the current in coil B is delayed with respect to current in A. At unity power factor, the current in A is in phase with the circuit current, and coil A provides maximum torque,driving the instrument pointer toward the 1.0 mark on the scale. At zero power factor, the current in coil B is in phase with circuit current, and coil B provides torque to drive the pointer towards 0. At intermediate values of power factor, the torques provided by the two coils add and the pointer takes up intermediate positions.
Another electromechanical instrument is the polarized-vane type.  In this instrument a stationary field coil produces a rotating magnetic field (connected either directly to polyphase voltage sources or to a phase-shifting reactor if a single-phase application). A second stationary field coil carries a current proportional to current in the circuit. The moving system of the instrument consists of two vanes which are magnetized by the current coil. In operation the moving vanes take up a physical angle equivalent to the electrical angle between the voltage source and the current source. This type of instrument can be made to register for currents in both directions, givng a 4-quadrant display of power factor or phase angle.
Digital instruments can be made that either directly measure the time lag between voltage and current waveforms and so calculate the power factor, or by measuring both true and apparent power in the circuit and calculating the quotient. The first method is only accurate if voltage and current are sinusoidal; loads such as rectifiers distort the waveforms from the sinusoidal shape.
compiled From Wikipedia