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6 Types of Power Disturbances and How to Protect Against Them

May 08, 2024May 08, 2024

There are several types of power disturbances, but how can you protect each of them?

Power disturbances are any electrical distortions that cause an electrical power system to deviate from its normal operational behavior. Since electrical devices are designed and expected to work at certain steady voltages, power disturbances can wreak havoc on your devices.

Power disturbances are common occurrences that happen all the time. Whether at home or work, your electronic devices always risk encountering power disturbances and all their harmful effects.

To help you combat these problems, here are six types of power disturbances and how you can protect your device from each one of them.

A power surge or power transient is a sudden and brief increase in voltage in an electrical system. Although brief, the voltage spike coming from a power surge is enough to damage and cause malfunctions to electronic devices.

Power transients are caused by various reasons, including power grid failure, equipment failure, lightning strikes, and the sudden turning on and off of large electrical equipment.

Power transients are often the most dangerous type of power disturbance as their effects are instant and the most damaging.

Thankfully, the harmful effects of power transients can easily be mitigated through surge protection devices. Surge protectors can be integrated into power strips, convenience outlets, and circuit breakers. Keep note that not all power strips, convenience outlets, and circuit breakers are rated to handle power transients.

Power strip surge protectors are often the most cost-effective way of protecting from a power transient as they are inexpensive, easy to carry, and don’t need installation. But if you want a surge protector already integrated into the house, having convenience outlets and whole-house surge protectors may be a better investment.

You can also protect your devices from power transients by unplugging your devices during circumstances where the chances of a power transient are high. Make sure to unplug during a thunderstorm, a power outage, or a few minutes before the local factory starts operating.

Power outages are disruptions to the normal flow of electricity, which results in the loss of power in a household or establishment. Power outages happen due to equipment failure and malfunctions caused by bad weather, human error, and poorly maintained infrastructures.

Although not as damaging as power transients, the sudden loss of electricity to your device could still lead to malfunctions and data loss if you were using it before the outage. Power transients also commonly occur when the power comes back on after a power outage.

Connecting your computer and monitor to an uninterruptible power supply should negate their harmful effects to protect your device from a power outage and the likely occurrence of a power transient. Charging your phone through a surge protector should also ensure that they are safe during and after a power outage.

Power swell, also known as overvoltage, is a type of power disturbance where the flow of electricity is over the expected regulated voltage. Overvoltage is different from a power transient as power transients are sudden voltage spikes lasting only a short period, while a power swell is the continuous flow voltage that is over the normal voltage level.

A power swell commonly happens during operations of nearby large electrical equipment, faulty power equipment, and malfunctions in power adapters and chargers.

To avoid a power swell affecting your device, keep electronic devices away from large electrical equipment and replace damaged power adapters/chargers. You may also consider using an automatic voltage regulator (AVR), which will regulate the voltage that enters your device.

Power sag, or undervoltage, is the opposite of a power swell. Undervoltage is when the voltage used to deliver power is below the expected voltage. Undervolting an entire device may cause errors and malfunctions if not cause your device to shut down. Furthermore, prolonged undervoltage causes devices to wear faster, reducing their lifespan.

Avoid the damaging effects of undervoltage by unplugging your device during brownouts, replacing any damaged power supply, and using an AVR.

Electrical noise is the random electrical frequencies that affect the smooth transmission of power from the grid to your device. Electrical noise is very common in houses and establishments connected to the grid. This is because having a perfectly smooth signal is nearly impossible unless your power supply runs on batteries or your own off-grid power system.

Each device will have a tolerance level and sensitivity to electrical noise. For example, some devices, such as blenders, microwaves, and light bulbs, are highly tolerant to electrical noise. At the same time, devices such as computers, monitors, and measuring equipment have lesser tolerance. Furthermore, the quality of parts and manufacturing will also dictate the level of electrical noise a device can tolerate before it malfunctions.

So, if you don’t want electrical noise to affect your device, buying your electronics from reputable brands will ensure a more noise-tolerant device. If you aren’t sure about the quality of the devices you already have, having either an AVR or a UPS should help lengthen your device's lifespan.

Electromagnetic Interference (EMI) is an electrical disturbance caused by electromagnetic induction or electromagnetic radiation coming from high-powered equipment, faulty power lines, and transmission towers. EMIs may also originate from various natural causes, such as solar flares, thunderstorms, and volcanic eruptions.

EMI can cause devices to malfunction, corrupt data, disrupt communication systems, and even permanently destroy devices if the EMI is strong enough.

To protect your electronics from EMIs, distance sensitive devices from high-powered appliances such as motors and microwaves, ensure proper grounding of your home electric system, and use auto-regulating power supplies such as AVRs and UPS.

Electrical power disturbances are serious problems that can negatively affect your electronic devices. It is important that you be aware of the various power disturbances, what causes them, and how you can protect your device from them.

For the most part, the effects of power disturbances can be negated by knowing when to unplug your device, placing the devices away from power-hungry appliances and equipment, and ensuring proper electrical grounding. But if you want to add another layer of protection to your devices, you may also purchase various electrical items such as a surge protector, AVR, or/UPS.

Craving to learn how things worked, Jayric Maning started tinkering with all kinds of electronic and analog devices during his early teens. He took up forensic science at the University of Baguio, where he got acquainted with computer forensics and cyber security. He is currently doing lots of self-study and tinkering with tech, figuring out how it works and how we can use it to make life easier (or at least cooler!).