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The Price of Protection  
Let me start by asking a rather stupid question – Should I really care about my safety? The answer most equivocally will be – YES, Of course!

Now, a more meaningful question – Should I really care about my safety if it puts another person in danger? What if it puts 10 other people in danger? Or a 1000?

At what point are we willing to make a sacrifice for the greater good?

I do not intend to make us martyrs (and I am very grateful that I do not have to discuss that). But let us discuss something less dramatic. Let us discuss being good samaritans. Electricity is a critical resource for us and for all those we share it with. Wasting this precious resource has implications far greater than just having to pay more on our electricity bill. When we waste electricity we end up depriving those who have to suffer from brownouts and power outages. You might think that my argument is extreme. On the contrary it is real. India faces a large demand gap (especially at peak hours). Load shedding is an extreme measure adopted to cover this demand gap. Let me explain how this happens. When there is not enough electricity available utilities lower the supply voltage (commonly known as brownouts) and even if that does not cover the demand gap a selected portion of the grid is disconnected, so that the whole grid does not collapse. We can always expect the government to bolster infrastructure by increasing the number of power plants (which they are already doing). However, given the growth of electricity consumption it will be difficult to keep up with demand growth unless we are more judicious about our electricity consumption. By a judicious consumption of electricity we will not only be reducing our electricity bill and carbon footprint we will also have the moral satisfaction of ensuring that a school or a doctor's clinic in a rural environment is not disconnected from the grid when they might electricity the most. We will no longer being putting peoples lives in danger!

Before I get overly philosophical and we go astray from the headlines, let me get back to my main argument. We experience somewhat mediocre power quality in many parts of India. Voltage fluctuations and power outages are common. It is significantly better than what it used to be a couple of decades ago but it is still a significant worry to the Indian consumer. How else do we explain the rise of the residential voltage stabilizers, inverters and UPS industry. Most homes, offices and commercial establishments see use of all three of these type of equipments. Ones that want to be further assured have moved on to installing Diesel Generators (DGs). The environmental reasons of why we should not use DGs is quite straightforward and the problems with inverters is more so with the lifetime of batteries (this will need a separate article). Here let me address the problem with voltage conditioners i.e. voltage stabilizers and UPS. There are three major concerns – Efficiency, Efficiency, Efficiency!
    Loading Pattern
  20-50% 50-80% 80-100%
Voltage Stabilizer (Autotransformer based) 88% 92% 95%
Electronic Voltage Stabilizer 75% 80% 85%
Double conversion UPS 84% 90% 93%
High Efficiency Double Conversion UPS 92% 94% 95%
Table 1: Efficiency for various power conditioners
You might want to ask – why am I insisting on knowing the efficiency under various loading patterns? Well, in most facilities the power consumption is varying across the duration of a day. Figure 1 demonstrates the hourly consumption for a typical home. Power consumption peaks for a very short duration and for most parts of the day it is observed to be between 15-50% of maximum load. In the case of commercial and office premises the power consumption is predominantly expected to be at 30-40% of maximum load. At these low consumption levels the higher efficiency double conversion UPS is the preferred solution to minimize efficiency related losses. Unfortunately, the market is saturated by consumers preferring the more compact and affordable electronic voltage stabilizer and double conversion UPS.
Figure 1: Typical hourly power consumption in homes

When using voltage conditioning devices consumers are unknowingly incurring losses of 16-25%. This is huge! Especially, in the Indian context where our maximum demand gap is measured to be 12% in 2012. While regulators are working hard to figure ways to cut this 12% demand gap, we cannot simply ignore a 16-25% wastage of electricity. A significant change in the mindset of the consumer is required such that they opt for more energy efficient voltage conditioners.

In the future if we do get voltage conditioners with minimal losses, we will be playing a significant role in reducing the demand gap. We will be ensuring more reliable power not only for ourselves but also for several others. Although we may not solve all the causes of voltage fluctuations but we can ensure that we are playing a critical role in improving the quality of power that we share with the rest of the nation.

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