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Home / Technical Articles / Smart Ways To Cut Down The Influence Of Harmonics

The influence of harmonics

There are three possible ways of suppressing or at least reducing the influence of harmonics. The fourth way is a special case.

3 Ways To Suppress (Or Reduce) The Influence Of Harmonics
3 Ways To Suppress (Or Reduce) The Influence Of Harmonics (on photo: Lineator wide spectrum filter - designed to provide better than 18 pulse harmonic performance (5-6% Ithd) under all operating conditions; credit:


  1. Reducing generated harmonic currents
  2. Modifying the installation
  3. Filtering
  4. Special case – circuit breakers

1. Reducing generated harmonic currents

Generated harmonic currents can be reduced by:

1.1 Line choke

A 3-phase choke is connected in series with the power supply (or integrated into the DC bus for frequency inverters). It reduces the line current harmonics (especially high number harmonics) and therefore the rms value of the current consumption and the distortion at the inverter connection point.

It is possible to install the choke without affecting the harmonics generator and to use chokes for several drives.

3-phase line choke
3-phase line choke (photo credit:

1.2 Using 12-phase rectifiers

Here, by combining currents, low-order harmonics such as 5 and 7 are eliminated upstream (these often cause the most disturbance owing to their large amplitude). This solution requires a transformer with two secondary windings (star and delta), and only generates harmonics numbered 12 k ± 1.

1.3 Sinewave input current devices

This method consists in using static converters where the rectifier uses PWM switching to absorb a sinusoidal current.

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2. Modifying the installation

Modifying the installation can be performed by immunising sensitive loads with filters, increasing the short-circuit power of the installation, derating equipment or to:

2.1 Segregate polluting loads

As a first step, the sensitive equipment must be connected as close as possible to the power supply source.

Next, the polluting loads must be identified and separated from the sensitive loads, for example by powering them from separate sources or from dedicated transformers. These solutions involve work on the structure of the installation and are, of course, usually difficult and costly.

2.2 Modify protective devices and oversize the capacitors

The choice of solution depends on the installation characteristics. A simple rule is used to choose the type of equipment where Gh is the apparent power of all generators of harmonics supplied from the same busbar system as the capacitors, and Sn is the apparent power of the upstream transformer(s):

  • If Gh/Sn ≤ 15%, standard equipment is suitable
  • If Gh/Sn > 15%, there are two possible solutions.

For polluted networks (15% < Gh/Sn ≤ 25%):
The current rating of the switchgear and in-series links must be oversized, as must the voltage rating of the capacitors.

For very polluted networks (25% < Gh/Sn ≤ 60%):
Anti-harmonic chokes must be connected to the capacitors and set to a frequency lower than the frequency of the lowest harmonic (for example, 215 Hz for a 50 Hz network). See figure 1 below. This eliminates any risk of resonance and helps to reduce harmonics.

Effects of an anti-harmonic choke on network impedance
Figure 1 – Effects of an anti-harmonic choke on network impedance

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3. Filtering (passive, active and hybrid)

Where Gh/Sn > 60%, specialists must calculate and install the harmonics filter (see Figure 2 below – Principles and characteristics of passive, active, and hybrid filtering).

PassiveBy-pass series LC circuit tuned to each harmonic frequency to be eliminated.

Passive filter

  • No limits in harmonic current.
  • Compensation of reactive power.
  • Elimination of one or more harmonic orders (generally 5, 7, 11). One filter for one or two orders to be compensated.
  • Risk of amplification of harmonics in the event of network modification.
  • Risk of overload caused by external pollution. c “Network” filter (global).
  • Case by case engineering study.
ActiveGeneration of current cancelling out all harmonics created by the load.

Active filter

  • Solution particularly suited to “machine” filtering (local).
  • Filtering on a wide frequency band (elimination of harmonic orders 2 to 25).
  • Self-adapting:
    • Network modification has no effect,
    • Adapts to all variations in load and harmonic spectrum,
    • Open-ended, flexible solution for each type of load.
  • Simple engineering study.
HybridHybrid filterOffers the advantages of passive and active filtering solutions and covers a wide range of power and performance:

  • Filtering on a wide frequency band (elimination of harmonics numbered 2 to 25),
  • Compensation of reactive power, c large capacity for current filtering,
  • Good technical-economic solution for “network” filtering.

3.1 Passive filtering

This involves connecting a low impedance by-pass to the frequencies to be attenuated using passive components (inductor, capacitor, resistor). Several passive filters connected in parallel may be necessary to eliminate several components.

Careful attention must be paid to the sizing of harmonic filters: a poorly designed passive filter may lead to resonance and amplify frequencies which did not cause disturbance before installation of the filter.

400V real-time passive harmonic filter
400V real-time passive harmonic filter (photo credit:

3.2 Active filtering

This consists in neutralising the harmonics induced by the load. First an analysis of the current identifies them in amplitude and phase. Then the same but opposite harmonics are produced by the active filter. It is possible to connect several active filters in parallel.

An active filter may for example be connected to a UPS to reduce harmonics which have been injected upstream.

The ABB range of PQF Active Harmonic Filters - available in ratings from 30Amps to 450Amps, and units can be arranged in multiples to obtain the required rating. The PQF Units can filter up to 20 harmonics simultaneously in 3 wire systems (15 harmonics in 4 wire systems), and up to the 50th harmonic.
The ABB range of PQF Active Harmonic Filters – available in ratings from 30Amps to 450Amps, and units can be arranged in multiples to obtain the required rating. The PQF Units can filter up to 20 harmonics simultaneously in 3 wire systems (15 harmonics in 4 wire systems), and up to the 50th harmonic.

3.3 Hybrid filtering

This consists of an active filter and a passive filter set to the order of the dominant harmonic (e.g. 5) which supplies the necessary reactive power.

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4. Special case – Circuit breakers

Harmonics may cause unwanted tripping of protective devices. Care must be taken when choosing protective devices to avoid this.

Circuit breakers can be fitted with two types of trip device, thermal-magnetic or electronic.

The heat sensors of thermal-magnetic circuit breakers are particularly sensitive to harmonics and can identify the actual load on the conductors caused by the presence of harmonics. They are thus well suited to use on low current circuits, essentially in domestic or industrial applications.

The method used by electronic circuit breakers to calculate the current being carried may present a risk of unwanted tripping and care must therefore be taken when choosing these devices that the true rms value of the current is measured.

These devices have the advantage of being better able to track changes in the temperature of cables, particularly in the case of cyclical loads, as their thermal memory is superior to that of indirectly heated bimetallic strips.

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Harmonics for beginners (VIDEO)

This eLearning Module provides a basic understanding of electrical harmonics, with an explanation of how they are created and how they can be eliminated from the electrical grid.

Reference // Cahier Technique Schneider Electric no. 199 – Power Quality by Philippe FERRACCI

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Edvard Csanyi

Electrical engineer, programmer and founder of EEP. Highly specialized for design of LV/MV switchgears and LV high power busbar trunking (<6300A) in power substations, commercial buildings and industry facilities. Professional in AutoCAD programming.


  1. José Vendeirinho
    Aug 23, 2021

    Good example . Problems with harmonics is a common of today problems.

  2. Badrudin
    Jun 20, 2020

    I really like the harmonics problem article

  3. atom faraday
    Jan 13, 2020

    really nice article

  4. melvin a. surita
    Jul 10, 2018

    Edvard you are truly heaven sent. Thank you for your unselfish support to the Electrical Engineering profession. May your tribe increase.

  5. Alexi Krastev
    Mar 15, 2017

    I`m impressed of the activity and the expertise of Eng. Csanyi and his readiness to share his wide experience. Good for him!

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