The consequences of voltage drops

Voltage drops explained

Voltage drops can lead to major problems, such as the failure of production processes and quality problems. Drops are many times more common than interruptions. The economic impact of voltage dips is therefore greatly underestimated. But what is a voltage drop? How does a voltage dip occur? Can we prevent a voltage drop or should we limit the consequential damage by means of timely notification?


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Voltage drops electricity - whitepaper fortop
Overvoltage undervoltage voltage drops short interruption and long interruption

What is a voltage drop?

According to the European standard EN 50160, a voltage drop is a sudden lowering of the effective voltage value to a value of between 90% and 1% of the stipulated nominal value, followed by the “immediate” recovering of this voltage. The duration of a voltage drop lies between a half period (10 ms with 50 Hz grids) and one minute.

If the effective value of the voltage does not drop below 90% of the stipulated nominal value then this is considered to be normal operating conditions. If the voltage drops below 1% of the nominal value then this is considered a voltage interruption.

Voltage drop or interruption?

A voltage drop should therefore not be confused with an interruption. An interruption arises, for example, after a circuit breaker has tripped (Typ. 300 ms). The mains power failure is propagated throughout the remaining distribution network as a voltage drop. The diagram clarifies the difference between a voltage drop, a short- or long-term interruption and an under-voltage situation.

How does a voltage drop arise?

Starting currents

A known cause of small voltage drops are the starting or inrush currents for capacitors, motors and other devices. In the following diagram it can be seen that the current increases briefly when the motor starts up. The inrush current leads to a voltage drop across the impedances Z and Z1. However it leads to a smaller voltage drop at the low voltage bus bar (drop zone 1) and a somewhat larger voltage drop behind impedance Z1 (drop zone 2).

Motor causes voltage dip - White paper

The "start-up" of large loads, e.g. motors, can lead to voltage drops

Possible improvement to this phenomenon lies in the optimisation of the system itself, i.e. the switching-on of electrical loads should not lead to critical voltage drops. Typical solutions are adequate starting equipment, e.g. capacitor contactors for PFC or soft starters for motors, but it can be as well the increase of short circuit power (reducing impedance), e.g. larger cable cross-section, changing the connection point to higher grid levels, stronger switchgear and transformer.

Short circuits in the low voltage network

A very high current flows in the event of a short circuit in the low voltage network. The peak of the short circuit current depends on the value of the impedances Z and Z3. In practice impedance Z3 is the larger and dominating one. The value of impedance Z3 is determined by the type (cross-section, material) and length of the cable amongst other things. The greater the length of the cable, the smaller the short circuit current due to a higher impedance. The short circuit current causes a voltage drop across impedance Z, whereby the voltage at the low voltage main distribution bus bar collapses briefly (drop zone 1).

In the event of a short circuit the breaker in group 3 should be tripped. If it takes more than 100 ms for the breaker to trip then the voltage drops deeply throughout the whole system for 100 ms.


Motor causes voltage dip - White paper

Typical example for an operating situation where a voltage drop occurs due to a short circuit in the low voltage network

Short circuits occurring in the low voltage network are happening quite frequently. But as long as the selective short circuit protection is designed in a proper way across the network levels it can often be neglected in practice. However short circuits at the medium voltage side are much more critical.

Short circuits in the medium voltage network

Most often voltage drops are caused in the medium-voltage network. Typical root causes are as follows:

  • Road works
  • Digging and earthworks
  • Flashover in a connection coupling
  • Cable ageing
  • Short circuit in the overhead transmission lines (storm damage, animals, etc.)
  • Lightning strikes

The diagram shows a typical example of the design of a medium voltage network. The transformer substations / local secondary substations (green dots) are linked to one another in a ring and connected to a distribution main substation (blue dots). The ring is open at some point (see the lower right side of the green dot ring). If there is a short circuit a short circuit current will flow (red line). This will flow until the breaker in the distribution main substation switches the ring off. This can be seen in the left diagram (in the top left ring).

Thus during the short circuit, there will be a high current flowing briefly. Due to the network impedance, this results in a short-term lowering of the voltage throughout the whole network. This short-term lowering of the voltage is noticeable as a "voltage drop".

Voltage dip impedance - White paper

Most voltage drops are caused by short circuits in the medium voltage network

Around 75% of all voltage drops occur in the medium-voltage network. Often these cannot be avoided by the consumer.

Short circuits in the high voltage network

Short circuits in the high voltage network are not so common but in case they happen they are often caused by storms or (faulty) switchgear. The latter primarily in the areas at the end of a high voltage line.

Problems caused by voltage drops

Voltage drops can lead to the failure of computer systems, PLC systems, relays and frequency converters. With critical processes just a single voltage drop can result in high costs, continuous processes are particularly impacted by this. Examples of this are injection moulding processes, extrusion processes, cable and semiconductor factories, printing processes or the preparation of foodstuffs such as milk, beer or refreshments.

The costs for a voltage drop are comprised of:

  • Loss of profits due to production stoppage
  • Costs for catching up with lost production
  • Costs for delayed delivery of products
  • Costs for raw materials wastage
  • Costs for damage to machinery, equipment and moulds
  • Maintenance and personnel costs

The average costs of a single voltage drop vary greatly from one sector to another:

  • Fine chemicals € 190.000
  • Microprocessors € 100.000
  • Metal processing € 35.000
  • Textiles € 20.000
  • Food € 18.000

Sometimes processes run in unmanned areas in which voltage drops are not immediately noticed. In this case, an injection moulding machine, for example, could come to a complete standstill unnoticed. If this is discovered later there will already be a large amount of damage. The customer receives the products too late and the plastic in the machine has hardened off. With publishers or in the paper industry paper can tear or even cause a fire.

Susceptibility of IT systems to voltage drops and voltage interruptions

IT systems are particularly susceptible to voltage drops and voltage interruptions. This means that all processes that are controlled by microprocessors are vulnerable to this type of interference, for example:

  • PLC systems
  • Frequency converters
  • Machine controllers
  • Servers, PCs etc.

The ITI-CBEMA curve created by the Information Technology Industry Council defines when a voltage drop will lead to the failure of IT devices and when a voltage spike will result in damage to IT devices. Although the model was developed for 120-V-60-Hz-networks, it can also be applied to devices that are connected to 230-V-50-Hz-networks. The model can be used by manufacturers as a design guideline.

The ITI curve (CBEMA) stipulates when a voltage drop will result in the failure of IT devices

De ITI (CBEMA) curve - Whitepaper fortop

How to combat voltage drops?

Most voltage drops occur in the public electricity grid. These voltage drops cannot be prevented. Do you want to 'eliminate' voltage drops and keep their consequences to a minimum? Then you can consider using a UPS or Active Voltage Conditioners.

"A UPS is an uninterruptible power supply and supplies power to underlying equipment in situations where the usual primary power supply fails."

Static UPS systems

A static UPS is often used to absorb power outages. The system consists of a rectifier, energy storage by batteries followed by an inverter. In data centers and hospitals, for example, UPS systems serve as a bridge to the emergency power supplied by the generators. UPS systems are therefore versatile and also absorb short-term voltage dips. The disadvantages of static UPS systems are the efficiency (self-consumption), the physical space required for the systems, the purchase and the relatively high maintenance costs.

Active Voltage Conditioners (AVCs)

Dedicated systems are available for absorbing voltage dips. These can be distinguished into systems that work on the basis of supercapacitor and systems that obtain the required energy from the phase that is not subject to a dip. These systems are also called voltage stabilization systems. With its European power quality network, Fortop has experience in dimensioning, engineering, commissioning and maintenance of these types of systems. Contact us for more information.

Signalling voltage drops

Janitza offers a wide range of analysers that are able to identify short term interruptions and voltage drops. The UMG 604 network analyser continuously monitors more than 800 electrical parameters. All channels are sampled 20,000 times each second and this enables short term voltage interruptions and drops to be signalled and recorded. An email or an SMS can be sent on the basis of these events. A comprehensive report can be generated with the GridVis-Basic software package included. Read more about power analyzers.Power analyser UMG 604-PRO - Janitza

By arranging the UMG 604 in the supply field one has a comprehensive and cost-effective solution for identifying, recording, alerting and reporting voltage drops. The measurement device is equipped with a WEB-browser that offers the facility to call up the most important parameters directly from the measurement device without great investment and without complex software programs. The interruptions and voltage drops can be analysed and compiled into reports with the integrated Event- Browser.



Voltage deviations are recognized by placing a power analyzer on the incoming field

Voltage fluctuations are identified by a network analyser in the supply field

The Janitza measurement devices for identifying short-term interruptions are:

Janitza UMG 604 a compact network analyzer for DIN top-hat rail mounting
Janitza UMG 509 a power analyzer with intuitive interactive colour screen for panel mounting
Janitza UMG 605 a class network quality analyzer for DIN top-hat rail mounting
Janitza UMG 512 a class A network quality analyzer with colour screen for panel mounting


Analysing with GridVis Software

With GridVis, fortop offers user-friendly software for configuring and analyzing measurement data for consumption and power quality. GridVis provides the data to identify cost savings, reduce energy costs and take the right actions to prevent production downtime.

The GridVis basic license (GridVis-Basic) is provided along with the Janitza measurement devices free-of-charge.

Amongst other things the following are possible with this software package:

  • Reading out real-time measurement values
  • Retrieving historical measurement data in files and graphics
  • Analysing short-term interruptions, transients and voltage drops
  • Printing out complete EN 50160 reports at the push of a button
  • Generating good/fault reports

Analysis with GridVis - Analysis software - Janitza

You can carry out comprehensive analyses yourself with GridVis.

With the integrated report generator it is possible to compile concise reports yourself periodically providing an overview of voltage drops, short term interruptions and voltage spikes that have occurred by means of the ITI-curve (CBEMA). In the diagram below it is possible to see that three voltage drops occurred, resulting in a system failure.

Analysis with GridVis - Analysis software - Janitza

Report regarding voltage drops and spikes by means of ITI curve


Read more about analyze and report software GridVis®


Most voltage dips occur in the public electricity grid. They are not always recognized, but they can lead to process failure. By signalling dips in time with a power analyzer, the consequential costs can be limited. With UPS systems or dedicated Active Voltage Conditioners, voltage dips can be eliminated.


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