Are You Paying Too Much On Your Electric Bill?

Texas is leading the nation in Energy Deregulation. Because of the planning and implementation of a very efficient Energy Deregulation and Operating System by the Texas Legislature, Texans can now enjoy the benefits of competition. Texas created the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.

The mission of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is to direct and ensure reliable and cost-effective operation of the electric grid and to enable fair and efficient market-driven solutions to meet customers’ electric service needs.

The ERCOT grid covers approximately 75 percent of the land area in Texas.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) manages the flow of electric power to approximately 20 million Texas customers – representing 85 percent of the state’s electric load and 75 percent of the Texas land area.

As the independent system operator for the region, ERCOT schedules power on an electric grid that connects 38,000 miles of transmission lines and more than 500 generation units.

ERCOT also manages financial settlement for the competitive wholesale bulk-power market and administers customer switching for 5.9 million Texans in competitive choice areas.

Balanced market rules are a basic element in Texas competition. Clear, predictable and well-designed rules help foster a stable electricity market. Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) market rules are developed by participants from all aspects of the electricity industry. The rules and amendments are reviewed by the Public Utility Commission of Texas to ensure that they satisfy the public interest.

WHY COMPETITION?

Texas lawmakers changed state law to allow customers to have more control over their purchase of electric service because they believe competition is good for Texas. Over time, competition for electric service is expected to lower rates and speed the development of new products and services.

WHAT HAS CHANGED?

In the past, one company provided all parts of your electric service (generation, transmission and distribution, and retail sales). With competition, these parts are separated into different companies. Generation, or production of electricity, was deregulated in 1995, resulting in an ample supply of new, cleaner and more efficient power plants throughout Texas.
The actual delivery of electricity across poles and wires to your home is called transmission and distribution. These services are provided to you by your local wires company, which is responsible for maintaining the poles and wires, and responding to emergencies and power outages as always. The Public Utility Commission continues to regulate transmission and distribution to ensure the safety and reliability of your electric service.
With electric competition, Retail Electric Providers sell electricity to you and provide functions such as customer service and billing. Retail Electric Providers compete for your business by offering lower prices, renewable energy options, added customer service benefits or other incentives.
No matter which Retail Electric Provider provides your service, the Public Utility Commission continues to enforce customer protections and regulate the delivery of electricity to ensure it is delivered safely and reliably by the local wires company .

Competition also is expected to create new jobs, stimulate economic development and help our environment.

CUSTOMER RIGHTS

All Retail Electric Providers must adhere to Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) rules and regulations designed to protect you against fraudulent, unfair, misleading, discriminatory or anti-competitive practices.

These protections include:

Non-Discrimination: In addition to standard discrimination prohibitions, a Retail Electric Provider may not deny service or discriminate in the marketing of electric service based on a customer’s income level, location in an economically distressed area, or qualification for low-income or energy efficiency services.

Slamming and Cramming: Slamming is switching your electric service provider without your permission. Cramming is adding charges to your electric bill for additional services without your permission. Both slamming and cramming are illegal.

Dispute Resolution: Retail Electric Providers must promptly investigate customer complaints and customers have the right to make complaints about a Retail Electric Provider to the PUC.

Privacy of Information: No Retail Electric Provider can release any customer-specific information to another Retail Electric Provider or any other companies without your permission.

Safety and Reliability: No matter which Retail Electric Provider you choose, the Public Utility Commission continues to enforce customer protections and regulate the delivery of electricity to ensure it is delivered safely and reliably by the local wires company.

DELIVERY OF ELECTRICITY

When you choose a new electric provider, you are choosing the company that provides or sells you electricity – a company called a Retail Electric Provider. These companies purchase electricity from competing power plants, and electricity is delivered to your home or business over the same poles and wires that are in your neighborhood today.
The actual delivery of the electricity (“transmission and distribution”) is still provided by your local utility, now called a local wires company. In a competitive electric market, your local wires company will continue to be responsible for maintaining the poles and wires that deliver electricity to your home or business. You and your neighbors can all have different Retail Electric Providers, but you all have the same local wires company.
An important message from the Commissioners regarding Electric Choice and the reliability of your electric service. – 01/05

REPAIRS AND EMERGENCIES

If you experience an emergency or power outage, you may call:
Your Retail Electric Provider, who will work with the local wires company to repair the problem, or connect you to your local wires company.
The number for repairs and emergencies printed on your electric bill.
Your local wires company as you do today.

KHOU-TV CH-11 NEWS

HOUSTON, TEXAS (June 6, 2006 Transcript)

Families across our area can save hundreds, even thousands of dollars if they would only switch to an
energy provider that charges less. But you know what, most people just won’t switch and we’ve wondered
why. 11 News reporter Jeremy Diesel shows us what he’s uncovered. You have the power to choose.
Power that can literally save you hundreds of dollars a year on your bill. But in the four years since electricity deregulation began in Texas only a little more than 25% of people in the Houston area have left Reliant Energy, even though the price it’s forced to charge is generally the highest.

Minnie Lee Coleman is like so many others. ” If it gets unbearable here I will cut it off and just sacrifice
something else to pay my electric bill. Because paying half and part I don’t do that.” Last night she told
us she’s willing to sacrifice. But not willing to leave Reliant for a cheaper price. “I don’t trust them. And
that’s it.”

But why?

Houston Mayor Bill White is hoping to educate. “They should not question reliability as far as keeping
the lights on or what happens if there is a storm — who is going to turn back on the power.”
Here’s the deal, when deregulation happened five years ago, Reliant Energy divided into two completely
separate companies. Reliant which sells power and Centerpoint which delivers it. CenterPoint
owns the lines which carry power, maintain them and reads the meter no matter who your power
provider is.

Come storm time, its CenterPoint which restores power to those who lose it. Not the power provider
you pay. All of the power companies Reliant, TXU, Green Mountain, Commerce and more than a dozen
others all put their power on the Texas grid. Its then used by everyone. Your meter read by CenterPoint
shows the amount you used. CenterPoint forwards that information to your provider who bills you.
“Who you buy your power from does not affect the reliability of that power. But it can affect your
bottom line.

Questions – General
Q: What has stayed the same in electric service?

A: Your current Transmission and Distribution Utility, or “local wires company,” continues to deliver electricity to your home. Your local wires company still responds to service interruptions and continues to maintain the poles and wires. You will continue to receive the same reliable service you are used to with your local wires company, regardless of which Retail Electric Provider you receive service from.

Q: What has changed in electric service?

A: You can now choose to buy your electricity from a different electric provider than the original provider for your area. These companies are called Retail Electric Providers. Additionally, your bill now looks different than bills you have received in the past, but each Retail Electric Provider provides the same standard information.

Q: Do all Texans have the power to choose their electric provider?

A: No. City-owned utilities and member-owned electric cooperatives have the option of giving their customers a choice of providers, or keeping things the way they are today. To see if competition is active in your area call toll-free 1-866-PWR-4-TEX (1-866-797-4839).

Q: What are the benefits of Electric Choice?

A: Texas’ electric rates are average, compared to the rest of the country, but our usage is among the highest in the nation due to demand for air conditioning during the long, hot summer season. Competition in other industries has often brought lower prices and innovative, new products and services. Having more control over your buying decision should make it easier to determine what matters most to you, whether it’s prices, renewable energy, customer service, or simply a name you know.
Electric competition also should help the environment because Retail Electric Providers must offer some energy from renewable energy sources. Renewable energy – such as wind, solar, hydroelectric and biomass (gas released from landfills) – produce less air pollution than sources that rely on burning coal or natural gas.
The Texas power market is one of the most attractive in the country for new investment. Forty-seven new power plants have been built or are being built in Texas since 1995 (that’s almost one-fourth of all power plants being built or planned in the nation). The properties represent a $10 billion investment in Texas. These plants provide jobs and sales and tax revenue into local Texas communities.

Q: How does Electric Choice affect electric rates?

A: The base rates for residential and small commercial customers of investor-owned utilities in Texas were frozen from September 1, 1999, to December 31, 2002. On January 1, 2002, rates for most of these customers were lowered, creating the “Price to Beat.” The Affiliate Retail Electric Provider cannot charge above this rate until it loses 40 percent of its customers or five years pass, whichever comes first.

Q: If electric rates are frozen, why does my electric bill rise?

A: Texas law allows the Affiliate Retail Electric Provider (the electric provider that was part of the original electric company that generated and sold electricity in your area, that now only sells electricity) to ask the PUC to adjust the “fuel factor” portion of its rate when there are significant changes in the market price of natural gas and purchased energy. These requests, which may be made twice a year, are subject to PUC review and approval. The cost of natural gas has increased significantly over the last year, and fuel factors have been increased to reflect the higher cost of natural gas. For more information on how natural gas prices change please review Questions and Answers Regarding Natural Gas Prices.
The Affiliate Retail Electric Provider is prohibited from making a profit on fuel costs. Competitive (or new to the area) Retail Electric Providers set their own electric service rates.

Q: With competition, will the reliability of my electric service change?

A: No. No matter which Retail Electric Provider you choose, your electricity will continue to be delivered safely and reliably by the local wires company, a company still regulated by the PUC.

Q: How does the new competition law protect the environment?

A: The law requires “grandfathered” power plants (those that predate the 1971 Texas Clean Air Act) to reduce nitrogen-oxide emissions by at least 50 percent and sulfur dioxide by 25 percent before May 1, 2003.
Encourages upgrade or retirement of older power plants to meet emissions standards by allowing utilities to recoup the costs of retrofitting or retiring certain older power plants.
Provides incentives for energy efficiency programs that will result in less demand for the production of electricity.
Requires retail electric providers to buy an additional combined 2,000 megawatts of Texas renewable electric generation capacity statewide by January 2009, from sources that include wind, solar, hydroelectric, biomass or geothermal.

Q: Do I have to switch from my current electric utility?

A: No. If you decide not to choose a new Retail Electric Provider, your service will be provided by the Affiliate Retail Electric Provider. The Affiliate Retail Electric Provider is the electric provider that was part of the original electric company that generated and sold electricity in your area, that now only sells electricity and provides customer service.

Questions – Changing Providers

Q: Is there a penalty for changing providers?

A: There is no switching fee unless you request a special meter reading at a time other than your regularly scheduled meter reading. There may also be penalties if you break an existing contract with your current Retail Electric Provider. Review your Terms of Service agreement for details.

Q: If I sign up with a new Retail Electric Provider, when will the switch to that company happen?

A: Customers can choose a Retail Electric Provider at any time; however, you will not begin to receive power from your new Retail Electric Provider until after your next regularly scheduled meter reading. Before you are switched, you will receive written confirmation in the mail. You will receive your first electric bill from your new Retail Electric Provider on the following billing cycle.

Q: Do I have a right to cancel?

A: Yes. You may cancel within three days from when you receive your Terms of Service agreement by contacting the Retail Electric Provider. If you are hand-delivered a terms of service agreement or you sign up for service using the Internet, there is a three-day cancellation period. The confirmation that will be mailed to you will also provide a way to cancel your switch.

Q: What happens if my Retail Electric Provider stops serving customers?

A: You will not be without electricity. Your Retail Electric Provider must give you 30 days’ advance notice to give you time to select a new provider. However, if you do not choose a new provider, your service will automatically be switched to the Provider of Last Resort for your area.

Q: If I do not choose an electric provider, who will supply my electricity?

A: If you decided not to choose a new Retail Electric Provider, your service is being provided by the Affiliate Retail Electric Provider. The Affiliate Retail Electric Provider is the electric provider that was part of the original electric company that generated and sold electricity in your area, that now only sells electricity and provides customer service.

Questions – Why is Texas different from California

Although Texas and California have similarly sized electric grids and similar growth in power demand, Texas put more than eight times the capacity online between 1996 and 1999 than California added.
The Texas power plant permitting process has a lead-time of two to three years to construct new power plants, while California’s lead-time is approximately seven years. Since 1995, 47 new power plants have been built or are being built in Texas, representing one-fourth of all power plants being built in the nation. California has built only two power plants since 1995.
New plant construction will allow power generators to easily meet the needs of residential and non-residential power users in our state.

Texas imports less than 1 percent of its power during peak power demand, compared to California, which imports at least 25 percent of its load during peak demand.
Long-term wholesale market contracts in Texas shield customers from price volatility. In Texas, power generators and Retail Electric Providers can negotiate wholesale power purchases for the lowest price, which benefits customers.

Texas enacted strong measures to protect customers during the transition to a fully competitive retail electric market. These measures have kept a lid on electric rates so Texas electric customers won’t see their electric bill double or triple.

You have a choice and now is the time to take control of your New Energy Options.

Electricity Innovations

Even though the modern electric utility industry didn’t begin until the late 1800s, we have been fascinated by electricity since our ancestors first witnessed lightning. The ancient Greeks discovered that rubbing amber produced an electric charge. Electricity is a basic part of nature and it is one of our most widely used forms of energy. It is a secondary energy source that we get from the conversion of primary sources such as natural gas, oil, coal and nuclear power. Many cities and towns were built alongside waterfalls that turned water wheels to perform work. Before the beginning of the electricity generation, kerosene lamps lit houses, iceboxes were used to keep food cold, and rooms were warmed by stoves. The “necessities” of today such as light bulbs, fans, air conditioners and refrigerators stem from the ideas of inventors that lived over 100 years ago. Many of us are familiar with Benjamin Franklin’s famous kite experiment and Thomas Edison’s electrical light bulb, but there were many other inventors that contributed greatly to our modern uses of electricity. Some of these inventors simply sought to improve upon old ideas and others saw a need and let their curiosity run wild with each experiment until they discovered something new. Each invention paved the way for the next.

In the mid-1600s Otto von Guericke, a German physicist, started experimenting with generating electricity. In 1670 he invented the first machine to produce electricity in large amounts using a ball of sulfur which he rotated and he held his hand against the ball, charging it with electricity. Others, such as Isaac Newton, later used this machine using a ball of glass instead of sulfur, and then later a cylinder, and then a glass plate.

In 1747 Benjamin Franklin started to experiment with electricity and proposed the notion of positive and negative charge. He performed his famous kite experiment to prove that lightning was a form of electrical discharge in 1752. During a thunderstorm he flew a kite with a stiff wire pointing up attached to the top of the kite and a key tied to the other end of the string, and let it hang close to a jar. The string became wet from the rain and caused sparks to jump from the key into the jar until the jar could not handle any more charges. This experiment proved that electricity and lightning are one in the same and that pointed rods conduct electricity better than balls, leading to Franklin’s invention of the lightning rod. Beginning with this experiment, the principles of electricity gradually became understood.

In 1800 an Italian professor, Alessandro Volta, invented the voltaic pile which is now called an electric cell or battery. He made a stack of disks of zinc, acid or salt-soaked paper and copper, and when he touched both ends he received a shock. The volt is named after Volta. Another, who in the first half of the 1800s contributed greatly to our modern uses of electricity, was Michael Faraday. He performed experiments on electricity and magnetism which led to modern inventions such as the motor, generator, telegraph and telephone. In 1831 he experimented with induction and discovered a way to generate a lot of electricity at once. We use his principle of electromagnetic induction for generating electricity today in electric utility plants.

In the mid 1800s, the invention of the electric light bulb changed everyone’s life. This invention used electricity to bring indoor lighting to our homes. Thomas Edison, an American inventor, didn’t invent the light bulb, but improved upon a 50-year-old idea and invented an incandescent light bulb. Many people before him had developed forms of electric lighting, but none of these were practical for home use. In 1879, after experimenting for a year and a half, he used lower current electricity, a filament of carbonized sewing thread, and an improved vacuum inside the globe to produce a practical, electrical light bulb. Edison demonstrated his incandescent lighting system for the public as he electrically lit the Menlo Park laboratory complex. He realized the need for an electrical distribution system to provide power for lighting and in 1882 the first central commercial incandescent electric generating station provided light and electric power to customers in one square mile area in New York City. This was the beginning of the electric age as the industry was evolving from gas and electric carbon-arc commercial and street lighting systems. By the late 1880s the demand for electric motors brought the industry to 24-hour service and the electricity demand for transportation and industry needs was dramatically increased. Many U.S. cities now had small central stations, however each was limited to an area of just a few blocks because of the transmission inefficiencies of direct current (DC). As electricity spread around the world, Edison’s various electric companies continued to expand until they joined to form Edison General Electric in 1889. Three years later Edison General Electric merged with its leading competitor Thompson-Houston and the company became simply General Electric.

One of Thomas Edison’s main rivals was George Westinghouse Jr., a pioneer of the electrical industry. In 1886 he founded Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company to pursue the technology of alternating current (AC). An alternating current power system allowed voltages to be “stepped up” by a transformer for distribution, which reduced power losses, and then “stepped down” by a transformer for consumer use. He thought that Edison’s power network based on low-voltage direct current was too inefficient to be scaled up to a large size. In 1885 Westinghouse purchased power transformers developed by Lucien Gaulard and John Dixon Gibbs. Transformers were not a new invention, however this design was one of the first that was able to handle large amounts of power, yet was still easily manufactured. Using these transformers and a Siemens alternating current generator, he began experimenting with alternating current networks. Westinghouse worked to perfect the transformer design and build a practical alternating current power network with the help of William Stanley and Franklin Leonard Pope. In 1886 Westinghouse and Stanley installed the first multiple-voltage alternating current power system. The network was driven by a hydropower generator that produced 500 volts. The voltage was stepped up to 3,000 volts for distribution, and then stepped back down to 100 volts to power electric lights. This device made it possible to spread electric service over a wide area and allowed for the availability of alternating current at different voltages, forming the basis of modern electrical power distribution. Over the next year 30 more alternating current lighting systems were installed, but the method was limited because they lacked an efficient metering system and an alternating current electric motor. In 1888, Westinghouse and his engineer Oliver Shallenberger created a power meter that would be more effective and the same basic meter technology remains in use today.

Nikola Tesla was one of the most important contributors to the birth of commercial electricity. He was originally an employee of Thomas Edison’s and he invented a system that transmitted alternating current, as opposed to Edison’s direct current system. Edison opposed Tesla’s idea, so Tesla set up his own laboratory and announced his invention of the first practical alternating current induction motor and polyphase power transmission system in 1888. The polyphase system would allow transmission of alternating current electricity over long distances. Westinghouse asked Nikola Tesla to join his electric company where Tesla continued his work on the alternating current induction motor and Westinghouse acquired exclusive rights to Tesla’s polyphase system patent. All of our electric motors today run on principles set out by Tesla, such as the motor that produces high frequency signals that are used in radios and TVs. He also set the standard for the frequency of the transmission current, 60 hertz, which we still operate at today.

Westinghouse and Edison feuded over the distribution of alternating current power and direct current power. Edison used only direct current because he thought that alternating current was dangerous, but Westinghouse thought the risks could be controlled and were outweighed by the advantages. Even General Electric eventually switched to alternating current. In 1893 the Westinghouse Company won the contract to set up an alternating current network to light the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and later to set up the first long-range power network using three giant alternating current generators to harness the energy of Niagara Falls into electrical energy for distribution 25 miles away.

Now over 100 years later, think about how much we use and rely on electricity every day to meet what we consider to be our “basic needs” such as alarm clocks, traffic lights, computers and TVs. When we walk into a dark room and flip the light switch, we expect instant light. It’s interesting to think this was once only a daydream and it took many inventors to make it a reality.

How to Protect Your Electronics From Electrical Surge Events

1.0 INTRODUCTION

In this modern world, we have become very dependent upon our electronic gadgets. We use personal computers to work, communicate with friends, family members or business associates.

We often times store valuable files (such as financial documents, memos, reports, *.mp3 files, and now we also store important personal pictures) onto the Hard Drives of our Computers.

We use the following electronic systems to entertain, educate, enlighten and comfort us.

  • DVD Players
  • HDTVs (e.g., LCD and Plasma)
  • Video Recording Equipment (for those of you upload your videos on to YouTube)
  • Gaming Systems (e.g., Nintendo, Wii, X-Box, etc.)
  • Central Air Conditioning System, Heat Pumps
  • Microwave Ovens

These and other electronics gadgets require a significant investment to obtain in the first place; and are very expensive to repair and/or replace.

And yet, amazingly, we do very little to protect our electronics from damage or attempt to make them last (and serve us) longer.

This article is one of a series of three (3) articles that discusses how to protect your electronics against the following destructive mechanisms that shorten its operating life.

Heat
Electrical Surge/Spike Events, and
Electrical Noise

In this particular article, we are going to talk about “Electrical Surge/Spike Events”.

In particular, we are going to discuss the following topics associated with “Electrical Surge/Spike Events”.

What are Electrical Surge/Spike Events and How are they generated?

How do you protect your electronics from Electrical Surge/Spike Events?

What are some guidelines that you should use when selecting a Surge Protector?

2.0 WHAT ARE ELECTRICAL SURGE/SPIKE EVENTS?

Electrical Surge/Spike events are typically defined as a “large current/voltage transients that occurs in an electrical signal or the power-line”.

Surge events typically last for a few microseconds and are then gone. Similarly, spike events will typically last for a few nanoseconds and are then gone.

NOTES:

a. 1 microsecond = 1 millionth of a second, and
b. 1 nanosecond = 1 billionth of a second.

Both electrical surge and spike events can cause considerable damage to any electronic systems that are electrically connected to these power-line or signal-lines that are carrying this transient current and voltage.

For a typical person that lives in a home and own some consumer electronics, electrical surge/spike events can fall into one of two categories.

External Surge/Spike Events, and
Internal Surge/Spike Events

I will briefly define each of these types of Surge/Spike events below.

2.1 EXTERNAL ELECTRICAL SURGE/SPIKE EVENTS

External Surge/Spike events are called “External” because they occur “External” to (or outside of) your home.

External Surge/Spike events typically originate from one of two sources.

Lightning Strikes (during an Electrical/Thunderstorm), and
Switching events within the Electrical Grid

External Surge/Spike events tend to be very large and damaging (especially if they originate from lightning strikes).

If these external surge/spike events were to enter your home (via the main power line and through the circuit breaker panel), they will destroy pretty much any piece of electronics that is connected to an electrical outlet in your home.

NOTE: These pieces of electronics do not need to be powered on to be destroyed.

They only need to be plugged into an outlet in your home at the time when this catastrophic electrical surge/spike event occurs.

Fortunately, the External Electrical Surge/Spike events do not occur very often (e.g., a few times a year depending upon what part of the world you live in).

2.2 INTERNAL ELECTRICAL SURGE/SPIKE EVENTS

Internal Surge/Spike Events (as the name implies) are generated “internal” (or within your home).

Internal Surges/Spike events typically occur whenever the motor or an appliance (such as an Air Conditioner or the Refrigerator turns ON or OFF).

Internal Surge/Spike events tend to be much smaller than External Surge/Spike events.

However, Internal Surge/Spike events occur much more often than do External Surge/Spike events (several times a day).

Over time, these smaller (though more frequent) internal surge/spike events will do damage to your electronics as well.

Each time a motor of an appliance (such as an Air Conditioner or a Refrigerator) requires surge current (for it to turn on), or anytime the magnetic field (within the motor of an appliance collapses) whenever it is turned OFF, a damaging surge or spike is generated and can propagate throughout some of the power supply lines in your home.

Internal surge events will shorten the operating life of any electronic gadget that is plugged into an electrical outlet in your home.

NOTE: The electronics gadget does not need to be powered ON for it to sustain some damage from these internal surge/spike events.

3.0 HOW TO PROTECT YOUR ELECTRONICS FROM ELECTRICAL SURGE/SPIKE EVENTS

One of the most common ways of protecting many of your electronics from damage (due to electrical surge/spike events) is through the use of “power strips” that contain “surge protection” circuitry within them.

Many power strips have surge protection built in, and in most cases, these types of power strips are clearly marked to reflect this.

CAUTION:

There are some power strips that do not provide surge protection for your electronics.

Often times, people will still (incorrectly) refer to these products as “surge protectors”.

If you are looking to purchase a Power strip that contains “Surge Protection” circuitry, make sure that the labeling (on the box that you have in your hands) clearly indicates “Surge protection” or something like that.

If you cannot quickly find those words on the box, then I recommend that you put that Power-Strip box back on the shelf and go find a Power-Strip that has “Surge Protection” clearly marked on it.

3.1 HOW DO SURGE PROTECTORS WORK?

Surge Protector circuitry typically works by having devices (like an MOV – Metal Oxide Varistor) that “sits” between the “power-line” path and electrical ground within the power strip.

Many Surge Protectors will have several of these MOV devices in order to make them more robust.

Under normal operation, these MOV devices will do nothing at all and do not affect the operation of your appliances or electronic systems.

For you electrical engineers out there, I will tell you that these MOV devices presents a very high impedance between the “power-line” and “electrical ground”.

If a surge event occurs such that the “power-line voltage” exceeds a certain “threshold” voltage level, then the MOV devices will start to conduct current (and will then present a very low impedance path) between the “power-line” and “electrical ground”.

At this point, all of this excessive energy (from the electrical surge event) will be “routed” through the MOV devices (to electrical ground) and will be diverted away from your valuable electronics.

Once the “power-line voltage” returns to a normal level, the MOV devices will then return to their “high-impedance” state and will cease to conduct current between the power-line and electrical ground.

3.2 SHOULD YOU USE SURGE PROTECTORS FOR EVERY ELECTRONIC SYSTEM/ELECTRICAL APPLIANCE IN THE HOME?

In general, you should use surge protectors on all sensitive electronics that you would like to keep and use for some period of time.

If you have Surge Protectors for each of your sensitive electronics, then they will do a very good job protecting your electronics, for the duration that they (the Surge Protectors) function.

3.3 WHAT ARE SOME THINGS THAT I SHOULD LOOK FOR WHEN SHOPPING AROUND FOR SURGE PROTECTORS IN MY HOME?

In general, you should look for the following parameters/metrics whenever you are shopping around for Surge Protectors.

Clamping/Let-Through Voltage
Joules Rating
Response Time (if available)

I will explain each of these items below.

3.3.1 Clamping Voltage:

The “Clamping Voltage” level is also (often times) referred to as the “Let-Through Voltage” level.

Basically, this is the voltage level that will cause the MOVs (inside the Surge Protect system/Power-Strip) to conduct electrical current between the “power-line” and Electrical Ground.

At this voltage level, the Surge Protector will start to shunt the destructive electrical energy (from an incoming surge event) to Electrical Ground and will divert it away from your valuable electronics.

As I mentioned before, the MOVs will continue to shunt electrical current (from the power line) to Ground for the duration that the “Power-Line Voltage exceeds this “Clamping” or “Let-Through” Voltage level.

In general, the lower the “Clamping” or “Let Through” Voltage level the better the protection for your electronics.

Typical values for “Clamping” or “Let Through” voltage level are 330V, 400V, or 500V.

For 120V AC applications, I recommend that you use a Surge Protector with a Clamping Voltage level of 330V.

3.3.2 The Joules Rating

The “Joules” Rating for a Surge Protector will typically define the cumulative amount of energy that it (the Surge Protector) can absorb (throughout its operating life-time) without failing.

In general, the higher the number, the longer the Surge Protector will last and continue to protect your electronics.

Good Surge Protectors are ones that have a “Joules Rating” of 1000J or better.

NOTE: The “Joule” Rating does not reflect the total amount of electrical energy that the Surge Protector will shunt (to Electrical Ground) before failing.

The “Joule” Rating reflects the amount of energy that the components (mostly the MOVs) within the Surge Protector can absorb without failing.

In most cases, whenever an MOV shunts excessive voltage and current to ground (during a Surge Event), it (the MOV) is only absorbing a fraction of this energy.

Most of this energy is “being dumped” to Electrical Ground.

If your Surge Protector is properly installed, then for every joule absorbed by the components (inside the Surge Protector) another 4 to 30 joules was harmlessly shunted from the Power-line to Electrical Ground.

However, each time your Surge Protector responds to a surge event, the MOV devices do absorb some energy, and the cumulative amount of energy that these devices have absorbed moves closer and closer to the “Joules Rating” number and “failure”.

3.3.3 Response Time

Surge Protectors do not respond immediately to Surge Events.

There is a slight delay (or response time) before they respond.

The longer this response time, the longer your electronics sits exposed to the incoming surge event. Fortunately, most surge events do not happen immediately either. Most surge events take several microseconds before they reach their peak voltage.

By that time, most Surge Protection schemes (especially those using MOVs) will “kick in” within nanoseconds after the voltage level has exceeded the “Let Through” Voltage.

3.4 DO SURGE PROTECTORS LAST FOREVER?

Just like the smell of a brand new car, Surge Protectors do not last forever.

As these MOVs respond to Surge Events and “shunt electrical energy to ground” over time, they absorb some of that energy.

This process causes “degradation” and “wear and tear” on the MOV devices (and in-turn) on the Surge Protectors as a whole.

Eventually these MOVs will fail in one of two ways.

a. The MOVs will fail to the point that they will no longer shunt excessive electrical energy to ground. In this case, the MOVs (are said to fail in an “Open” state).

Whenever this occurs, all of your precious electronics that is “downstream” from your Surge Protector are now “officially” un-protected and are now vulnerable to the next surge event that comes around.

b. At least one MOV device will fail into a “Short Circuited” Mode. In this case, the MOVs may (though rarely) fail in the “Short Circuit” state.

Whenever this happens, the “failed” MOV device would continue to conduct high currents (from the Power-line to Electrical Ground) even when the power-line voltage is less than the “Let Through” voltage.

This type of failure mode could be very dangerous.

Fortunately, most Surge Protectors will typically have a fuse that will “blow” and will turn OFF the Surge Protector entirely, rather than risk catching on fire.

The main message here is this. Internal Surge Events occur many times throughout the day.

As these events occur, and as your Surge Protectors continue to function and shunt the excessive electrical energy to ground, these Surge Protectors eventually wear out and will need to be replaced.

SOME GUIDELINES ON WHEN TO REPLACE SURGE PROTECTORS:

You should replace your Surge Protectors under the following conditions.

1. Whenever the Green “Protected” Light (on the Surge Protector itself) goes OUT.

2. If you’ve owned your Surge Protector for more than 3 years.

NOTE: Having the Green Light ON is encouraging but is not a guarantee of adequate protection for the next surge events.

Replacing your Surge Protectors every three years is a good practice to keep your electronics protected.

4.0 OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES

In this article we have discussed one of the three main enemies of electronics and how they shorten the operating life of electronics and cost you money.

Other articles in this series are listed below.

How to Protect Your Electronics from Heat, and
How to Protect Your Electronics from Electrical Noise