Can improving Power Factor help your Energy Bill?

***Update - 4/21/09: An Electrical Engineer friend of mine just send me the most detailed technical and economic analysis I've seen on the topic of residential power factor correction devices.  Check it out after you read the blog below if you are really interested:  NLCPR: Power Factor correction

Part of our goal with the Mapawatt Blog is to review the best products that can save energy and water in your home.  Product developers know that as energy costs rise, consumer's budgets get tightened, and people start to care more about their environment (the trifecta of sustainable drivers), those consumers are going to want products that help them save energy.  But do all these products live up to their claims?

One of these products is a power factor correction device and can be seen here.  This product claims:

Residential customers throughout North America could see a realized savings of 8% - 10% typically and as much as 25% on their electrical usage (and thus power bills).

However, I'm not buying it.  There are two great resources on-line that address this same issue.  One is from the National Institute of Standards and the other is a blogger I've been reading for 4 years and has a great section on electricity, Michael Bluejay. Both of these resources say power factor correction really wont help on your residential bill.  It can make a difference for certain industrial users who may be billed by the Utility for peak demand, but this is another story (and it is addressed in the Bluejay article).

To go a little deeper, the formula for Power Factor (PF) is below:

PF = Real Power (Watts) ÷ Apparent Power (VA)

- or -

Watts = PF*Amps*Voltage = PF * Apparent Power

The power factor correction devices are said to improve the second half of the above equation, the Apparent Power.  However you don't pay your utility for Apparent Power.  You pay them for Real Power (Watts).  Apparent Power is defined as the total power in an AC circuit, both dissipated AND returned! (scroll to the bottom of this link to view the power triangle and description of Apparent, Real and Reactive power).  This means that if you currently have a poor power factor, your  Apparent Power is higher, but all this means is that you are returning more unused electrons to the utility!  But since they only charge you for used electrons (dissipated electrons = Real Power = Watts) you don't give a hoot about your Apparent Power!

Let's take an example of 2 completely identical motors sitting side by side.  Both of these motors have the exact same efficiency and operate at 1.2 kW. The first motor doesn't have a power correcting device.  The second motors does have PF correcting device.

  • Motor 1: 1.2 kW motor, connected to a 120 V circuit, PF = .7
  • Motor 2: 1.2 kW motor, connected to a 120 V circuit, PF = .999 (this has the Power Factor correction device, thus the excellent PF!)

Using the equation above we can show the amps (current) that will be dissipated in motor 1:

1.2 kW = .7 *120V * A → A= 14.29

And we can do the same thing for motor 2:

1.2 kW = .999*120V*A → A=10.01

But this doesn't mean you'll pay less to the utility!  All this shows as that your power factor increases (gets better) your amperage decreases, but the Real Power (Watts =  what the utility charges you) stays the same!  Therefore no matter your power factor, in residential settings the utility is still going to show that you took the same amount of Real Power off of the power lines, so that is what you pay.

I would like to see more info from the manufacturers of these devices on how improving PF helps save you Watts!  Basically, your utility doesn't really care what your Power Factor is, so I want to see some evidence on how this device impacts your energy bill.

One more thing!  On the product's website there are many customer testimonials.  NEVER believe customer testimonials.  Especially on things like energy saving devices or products that claim they can improve your gas mileage.  The reason people believe these testimonials is because they can't see electricity flowing through their home, so they just take the product's statements at face value.  Even if the "customer" really said the things about the product, how do you know they aren't mentally insane and or compulsive liars?

Also, if your energy bill goes down the month after you install this, how do you know its not just because you didnt have your AC or lights on as much?  You dont! Only believe data and analysis from trusted web sources (Mapawatt, Rocky Mountain Institute, Energy Star, Michael Bluejay, etc.).

I'm not saying this doesn't work, but I am saying that I need more evidence, and until I see more evidence, I think your and my money can be spent on better energy savings

I'm not the only site questioning the validity of Power Factor correction devices.  Open4Energy has a great review of Power Factor correction devices and another post on Energy Saving Scams.  I should note that it is in their "scam" section!

enjoyed our post? let others know: 


Thank you. Does this mean that my final year project concerning power factor correction in residential areas won't apply
Yes, I've been using thest devices (one on each phase) at home. Compared to last year's billing for corresponding months there is a saving. (Although the energy rates have gone up by 30%)
Hello folks has anyone actually installed anyone of PFC devices and seen any benefits at the single family home level? If so what and how long have you been encountering these benefits?
I actually came across a useful news story that was posted about the Power Saver 1200, This video shows an actual test being done with monitoring of the actual watts used and not the amps as all the other videos show. Do these devices really save any money, the answer is obviously no. However, do they do some of the other features they claim, like surge protection and reducing 'noise' in the electrical system, quite possibly but there is no money savings on your electric bill to be had.
ckmapawatt's picture
Tim, this video is awesome and it is exactly the type of test I have been asking for!
Yes, I am glad someone did some type of real world test and a fair test, not just comparing one year's electric bill to the next. My feeling is that for an average house it really won't save enough to ever be worth it. However, if you are a small business that has a lot of compressors for refrigeration or have large A/C units that are running the whole day, it may pay off for you. I, like many other, have been searching for that holy grail of power savings to allow me to drastically reduce my electric costs but in the end only common sense and a few lower power devices around the house will really make any difference.
Thanks Tim for informing us about the video. This is the sort of test that clears the doubts in the minds of non-technical guys like me!
Enjoyed this video. Really liked the power factor device scam exposé. One of the things perhaps overlooked with these devices is what the power company sees when they are installed at the main electrical box. If no inductive devices are being used in the home the power company lines will experience capacitive reactance current generated by the installed capacitor device. No work is being done by this current. This has the same affect as inductive reactive current and will result in lower efficiency and require more electricity be generated. Guess who will pay for this sooner or later.
if paying bill in KWH i agree with chris that there will be merely saving a penny. it only reduce your ampere load and doesn't lower your watt usage. so a big nooooooooooo to these power saving products.
For all those who claim a savings on their power bills and are not on a commercial rate where there is a demand charge using either KW or KVA or a power factor penalty, send me a copy of a recent bill and I will calculate your potential savings and you will know the truth. Over the past 40 years, I have evaluated hundreds of services for potential savings plus a number of scams which continually appear out of the woodwork. I will only accept your claims if it can be calculated. Otherwise I recommend all to treat it as gossip and not reliable.


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