Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Power Factor and Active Power Factor Correction for Switched-mode Power Supplies

In my previous posting “More on Early Power Supply Preregulator Circuits” SCRs served to provide basically line frequency switched-mode operation for efficient power conversion and regulation in earlier mixed-topology DC power supply designs. Now that high frequency switched-mode power conversion circuits have long been highly refined, are physically much smaller, and are extremely cost effective they have become the game-changer. They can be used as a preregulator for mixed-topology DC power supply designs, as well as the complete DC power supply from the AC input to the regulated DC output, right? Well almost “yes”. They do bring all those of benefits over line frequency operation. As they can span a much wider range of AC input another benefit they bring is to eliminate the need for a complex AC line switch arrangement for the wide range of AC voltages needed.

It was recognized that one downside of high frequency switched-mode conversion is the AC input suffered from rather low power factor (PF). PF is the ratio of the real power to the apparent power. Low PFs cause increased losses in the AC power distribution system. Not only was it low, it was very non-linear, drawing current having high levels of odd harmonics. It turns out the third harmonic in particular can be additive, causing excessive current through the neutral line of AC power distribution systems. The reason for the low and non-linear PF is that the AC input of a high frequency switched-mode conversion circuit is a diode bridge feeding a large, high voltage, bulk storage capacitor, as shown in Figure 1. This non-linear load draws large peaks of current over short portions of the AC line period.

Figure 1: Non-linear AC load input of a high frequency switch-mode power converter circuit

As more and more electronic equipment was making use of switch-mode DC power supplies, minimum PF standards were established for products above a certain power rating, to avoid causing problems with the AC power distribution system. To meet the standards switch-mode DC power supplies above a certain power rating have had to incorporate power factor correction (PFC) into their AC inputs. While a few different approaches can be taken for adding PFC, most switch-mode DC power supplies incorporate a specialized switched-mode boost converter stage for providing active PFC. The active PFC stage is placed between the input rectifier bridge and bulk storage capacitor as depicted in Figure 2. An active PFC stage is designed to draw AC current in phase and in proportion to the AC voltage, typically providing PFs in a range of 0.95 to 0.99, which is comparable to a nearly purely resistive load!

Figure 2: Active PFC circuit in typical switched-mode DC power supply

While adding active PFC to a switch-mode DC power supply increases complexity, cost, and power loss somewhat, the overall combination of benefits of a switch-mode DC power supply with active PFC, either stand-alone or as a preregulator, is hard to beat!

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