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Concept# Harmonics (electrical power)

Summary

In an electric power system, a harmonic of a voltage or current waveform is a sinusoidal wave whose frequency is an integer multiple of the fundamental frequency. Harmonic frequencies are produced by the action of non-linear loads such as rectifiers, discharge lighting, or saturated electric machines. They are a frequent cause of power quality problems and can result in increased equipment and conductor heating, misfiring in variable speed drives, and torque pulsations in motors and generators.
Harmonics are usually classified by two different criteria: the type of signal (voltage or current), and the order of the harmonic (even, odd, triplen, or non-triplen odd); in a three-phase system, they can be further classified according to their phase sequence (positive, negative, zero).
In a normal alternating current power system, the current varies sinusoidally at a specific frequency, usually 50 or 60 hertz. When a linear time-invariant electrical load is connected to the system, it draws a sinusoidal current at the same frequency as the voltage (though usually not in phase with the voltage).
Current harmonics are caused by non-linear loads. When a non-linear load, such as a rectifier is connected to the system, it draws a current that is not necessarily sinusoidal. The current waveform distortion can be quite complex, depending on the type of load and its interaction with other components of the system. Regardless of how complex the current waveform becomes, the Fourier series transform makes it possible to deconstruct the complex waveform into a series of simple sinusoids, which start at the power system fundamental frequency and occur at integer multiples of the fundamental frequency.
In power systems, harmonics are defined as positive integer multiples of the fundamental frequency. Thus, the third harmonic is the third multiple of the fundamental frequency.
Harmonics in power systems are generated by non-linear loads. Semiconductor devices like transistors, IGBTs, MOSFETS, diodes etc are all non-linear loads.

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