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What is kVAR in power?

kVAR, which stands for kilovolt-amperes reactive, is an important concept in understanding and managing power systems. It describes the reactive or non-working power component in an AC electrical system. While real power (kW) does useful work, reactive power (kVAR) is required to maintain voltages and magnetic fields in equipment like motors and transformers. Properly managing kVAR is critical for efficient and stable grid operation.

What is Reactive Power (kVAR)?

Reactive power refers to the non-working power generated by equipment like inductors, capacitors, and transformers to create magnetic fields. It is different from real or working power (kW) which does actual work like turning motors and lighting bulbs.

Some key facts about reactive power:

– Unit is kilovolt-amperes reactive (kVAR)
– Necessary to maintain voltages and create magnetic fields in equipment
– Caused by inductors and capacitors storing and releasing energy
– Alternates between electrical and magnetic energy storage
– Does no real work, only supports working power

While real power is converted to useful mechanical work, reactive power is continuously being exchanged between source and load to sustain magnetic fields. Without sufficient reactive power, voltages can collapse.

Why is Reactive Power Needed?

Reactive power serves several key purposes in AC power systems:

Maintaining Voltages

Reactive power helps maintain and control voltages throughout the grid. Inductors and capacitors help boost voltages during transmission. Without adequate reactive power support, voltage levels would fluctuate wildly or even collapse under load.

Operating Magnetic Devices

Motors, transformers, inductors, and other magnetic devices require reactive power to function. The magnetic fields in these devices must be continuously sustained through the reactive power exchange. Insufficient reactive power will cause them to operate incorrectly or overheat.

Stabilizing Power Flow

Reactive power helps stabilize power flow in transmission lines. The interaction between line capacitance and inductive devices can cause disturbances in the power flow. Providing reactive power support dampens these oscillations.

Improving Power Factor

A system’s power factor describes how effectively power is being used. Reactive power improves power factor by more closely matching apparent power to real power usage. This allows the system to function more efficiently.

Sources of Reactive Power

Reactive power is generated from various sources on the grid. Key providers include:


Shunt capacitors generate reactive power directly onto the grid. They do not use any real power in the process. Capacitor banks are often added to lines and substations for voltage and reactive power support.

Synchronous Generators

Large power generators like hydro, coal, nuclear, and natural gas turbines inherently produce both real and reactive power. Generators are oversized to help excite their own magnetic fields.

Synchronous Condensers

These specialized motors run off real power input to product reactive power through over-excited fields. They provide continuous voltage regulation without delivering any real power.

Static VAR Compensators

Power electronics like thyristors are used to rapidly switch reactive elements like capacitors and inductors. This allows fast and precise control of reactive power.

Power Transformers

Transformers require reactive power to energize their magnetic fields. This reactive demand increases during periods of light loading.

Impacts of Reactive Power

Reactive power flow has several notable effects on the power system:

Voltage Control

The reactive power balance directly influences voltage levels across the grid. Increased reactive supply raises voltages while insufficient supply lowers them.

System Stability

Adequate reactive reserves enhance stability by damping oscillations. Insufficient reserves may result in voltage collapse when the system is disturbed.

Transmission Capacity

The reactive power flow consumes transmission capacity that could otherwise carry real power. Minimizing reactive flows frees up capacity for working power transfers.

Line Losses

The circulating reactive power increases resistive heating losses in lines and equipment. Reducing reactive flows cuts wasted energy consumption.

Power Factor

A lagging power factor indicates high reactive loading. Improving power factor enables real power delivery closer to equipment ratings.

Power Factor

Power factor (PF) is the ratio of working power to apparent power in a system. It quantifies how effectively power is being used.

The power factor ranges from 0 to 1. A high value near unity indicates efficient utilization with low reactive power. A low power factor signals poor usage with more reactive power flowing.

Causes of Low Power Factor

Many types of equipment exhibit lagging power factors due to consuming significant reactive power. Common causes include:

– Induction motors
– Transformers
– Fluorescent lighting
– Welding equipment
– Inductive heating loads
– Arc furnaces
– AC transmission lines

A lagging power factor is indicative of an inductive load requiring magnetization. The current waveform lags behind the voltage waveform.

Effects of Low Power Factor

The consequences of a lagging power factor include:

– Increased current for the same real power delivery
– Higher resistive line losses
– Lower usable transmission capacity
– Voltage regulation problems
– Increased risk of system instability
– Higher electricity bills since utilities bill kVA not kW usage

By improving power factor, these detrimental effects can be minimized.

Improving Power Factor

Methods for raising a lagging power factor:

– Install shunt capacitor banks near inductive loads
– Replace inductive motor drives with high efficiency units
– Use synchronous condensers to generate reactive power
– Employ static VAR compensators to rapidly inject reactive power
– Switch on idling generator overcapacity
– Specify power factor correction requirements for large customers

Raising power factor reduces current flows and enables more efficient grid operation. Utilities often provide incentives for customers to implement power factor correction.

kVAR Control

Controlling reactive power flow is essential for stable and efficient grid operation. Methods for kVAR control include:

Generator Excitation

The magnetic excitation of synchronous generators is adjusted to regulate reactive power output. Over-excitation raises voltage and increases kVAR supply. Under-excitation has the opposite effect.

Shunt Capacitors/Reactors

Banks of shunt capacitors and reactors are switched on or off to absorb or generate reactive power. This helps smooth out voltage fluctuations at various grid locations.

Tap Changing Transformers

Tap changers alter transformer winding ratios to regulate voltage levels. This helps balance both real and reactive power flows within desired limits.

Flexible AC Transmission Systems (FACTS)

Power electronics devices like SVCs, STATCOMs, and UPFCs can dynamically control reactive power at different points on the grid. They respond faster than mechanical approaches.

Demand-Side Management

Utilities can implement reactive power charges, power factor penalties, and other rules to incentivize consumers to minimize kVAR usage. This reduces system reactive loading.

Effective kVAR control provides voltage support, increases transmission capacity, improves stability, and minimizes losses for more efficient grid performance.

kVAR Charges

Some utilities apply charges or penalties to industrial and commercial consumers based on their amount of reactive power usage. The purpose is to encourage better power factor and less kVAR demand.

Common kVAR billing approaches include:

KVAR Charges

A direct charge proportional to the kVARh consumed during the billing period. The $/kVARh rate is typically lower than the energy charge.

Power Factor Penalties

A penalty is applied if the average monthly power factor falls below a threshold like 0.9 lagging. The lower the power factor, the higher the penalty fee.

Peak kVAR Demand Charge

Charge is based on the maximum kVAR demand recorded during the billing period or on-peak hours. Discourages high reactive draws.

Power Factor Ratchet

Minimum power factor requirements increase as the real power load increases. This ensures sufficient reactive compensation is added as load grows.

These pricing mechanisms reflect the cost of providing reactive power and encourage customers to improve their utilization. This benefits both the consumer and the utility grid as a whole.

kVAR Meters and Measurements

Instrumentation for measuring reactive power typically includes:

Digital Multimeters

Handheld meters used for simple spot checks of kVAR around a facility. Provide kVAR, kW, kVA, and power factor.

Power Quality Analyzers

Portable instruments for temporary reactive power monitoring at different points. Allow in-depth analysis of kVAR, harmonics, and other parameters.

TRMS Power Meters

Permanently installed kVAR transducers providing continuous monitoring and recording at a location. Often have communication capabilities.

Revenue-Grade Meters

Utility-grade kVAR meters utilized for customer billing purposes. Provide highly accurate and tamper-resistant VAR measurement.

PMU Measurement

Phasor measurement units (PMUs) monitor grid reactive power flows in real-time across transmission networks. Help operators manage VARs.

Proper kVAR metering is key for quantifying reactive consumption, validating power factor correction efforts, and optimizing VAR management strategies.

kVAR Compensation Methods

There are two main approaches for compensating for reactive power demands on the grid:

Passive Compensation

Passive techniques include:

– Shunt capacitors
– Shunt reactors
– Series capacitors
– Synchronous condensers

Capacitors generate reactive power while reactors absorb excess VARs. The sizing and switching of these devices provides fixed compensation.

Active Compensation

Active methods consist of:

– SVC (static VAR compensators)
– STATCOM (static synchronous compensators)
– DVR (dynamic voltage restorers)
– UPFC (unified power flow controllers)

These power electronics devices allow rapid and variable reactive power injection for real-time VAR control. They are actively controlled and adaptive to changing conditions.

The optimal solution usually involves a mix of passive and active compensation tailored to the specific reactive requirements of the system. This provides the benefits of both approaches.

Case Study: Reactive Power Compensation

Consider a manufacturing plant experiencing issues with voltage sags, equipment overheating, and poor power factor. Here is an overview of implementing a reactive power compensation system:

Baseline Assessment

– Monitor kVAR and power factor at main feeder and large inductive loads
– Identify voltage sag events and thermal issues
– Estimate total plant VAR consumption
– Calculate power factor during peak production
– Determine utility power factor penalties

Solution Design

– Specify capacitor banks for bulk fixed compensation
– Select SVC rating and location to dynamically mitigate voltage sags
– Choose STATCOM size based on peak VAR requirement of production line
– Estimate power factor improvement and energy cost savings


– Obtain capacitors, reactors, SVC, and STATCOM equipment
– Install capacitor banks on main feeder and near large motors
– Connect SVC to bus with sag issues
– Implement STATCOM on production line with oscillating loads

Commissioning & Monitoring

– Test capacitor switching controls and SVC & STATCOM response
– Monitor power factor and reactive demand after compensation
– Verify voltage profile and sag reduction across plant
– Document kVAR reduction and calculate utility penalty savings

Proper planning, design, installation, and testing are key to effectively applying reactive power compensation.


In summary, reactive power is essential for the proper functioning of AC electrical systems. kVAR describes the non-working but necessary reactive power component. Key takeaways include:

– Reactive power generates magnetic fields and stabilizes voltages
– Lagging power factor indicates high reactive loading
– Capacitors, generators, and power electronics supply reactive power
– Effective kVAR control enhances grid stability and efficiency
– Metering quantifies reactive consumption for management
– Compensation via capacitors and active electronics helps correct poor power factor
– Properly managing kVAR is critical for robust and economical grid operation

Careful attention to reactive power ultimately enables significant performance and financial benefits for both utilities and their customers. Understanding the concepts around kVAR is the foundation for unlocking these advantages.