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Publisher's Letter

Power factor correction gizmos do not save power

The first week of February caused a certain amount of excitement in the SILICON CHIP offices. This was triggered off by the Seven Network’s Today Tonight feature item on the Earthwise Power Saver on Monday January 31st. This was immediately followed by a number of emails from concerned readers, suggesting that we do a thorough debunking of this product as we had with other power factor correctors (SILICON CHIP, November 2007 & May 2008).

However, I had not had a chance to respond to those emails when I was approached by Today Tonight for an interview on the topic. Apparently, a number of viewers had phoned the station to state that the product was “a load of rubbish” (or words to that effect) and that Seven should contact SILICON CHIP to find out the real story. “Would you mind doing an interview on the topic?” asked the Channel Seven researcher. How could I say “No’? And thanks to those readers for making the suggestion.

Today Tonight immediately sent out a crew and I prepared a demo to show what the product was supposed to do and how it could not save consumers money. The interview was done in great haste, with reporter Rodney Lohse in Brisbane via mobile phone while I was in our editorial offices. Being asked not to look at the camera but at a point on a bookshelf (to simulate talking to the interviewer) was distinctly odd, I can tell you.

As it turned out, probably due to programming constraints, Today Tonight did not run the whole interview but I was glad to get across the message that any device based on power factor correction could not save power and would result in no saving for the consumer. You can read the transcript at:

The matter did not end there though because Channel Nine’s A Current
had run a segment on a very similar product on the same night as Today Tonight’s feature item. They also had received trenchant criticism from viewers and presumably, having seen my debunking of the concept on Tuesday, 2nd February, had decided to investigate further. They then asked the promoter to run through the demo again but this time showing readings in watts (power) rather than amps (current). This time the result was very different and the promoter was depicted in his self-induced destruction.

Having obtained such a damaging video, reporter Damian Murphy also visited our offices for an interview and a somewhat more detailed demonstration of power factor correction. This was supposed to go to air on Friday, February 6th but again, extended reporting on the aftermath of Cyclone Yasi meant that it was not featured. They duly apologised. However, A Current Affair did include a brief quote from an Emeritus Professor of Electrical Engineering and his words effectively administered the coup-de-grace to the product concept. Well done.

Several concerns still remain though. For example, on the Earthwise Power Savers’s site it is possible to read an “independent report” which endorses the Powersaver product: It compares the energy consumption at different times of the year and makes no attempt to show differences with the device switched in or out. As such, the report is simply invalid.

Secondly, promoters of these sorts of products make outrageous claims about the quality of the electrical supply to homes. On the Earthwise Power Saver site you can see such drivel as: “up to 30% of the billable electricity consumed in homes and businesses is non-productive and unusable. What this means is that even though you pay for all of your energy, you only use around 70% of it. This un-used, non-productive energy wastes money and also shortens the life of inductive equipment such as motors, HVAC equipment, pumps, and major appliances”.

The energy retailers would rightly be peeved at this because firstly, the claims are rubbish and second, they are conscientious in ensuring that the harmonic content of the mains waveform is kept below defined limits. Nor can the installation of capacitors do anything to clean up the mains waveform.

Thirdly, the energy retailers might also be very concerned with the concept of installing large capacitors across the consumer mains supply. Such capacitors could cause undue loading on their tone signalling systems. In fact, I would not be surprised that if they found it was a problem, they would immediately disconnect the offending premises until said capacitors were removed at the owners’ expense.

As I said on the Today Tonight segment, “There are no easy ways to save power”. If there were, we would be doing it.

Leo Simpson


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