Short #49 – VA vs. Watts (Podcast)
In this short podcast episode, Bryan covers the difference between volt-amps (VA) and watts when we take electrical measurements.
We usually use VA to rate transformers, but we use watts for other electrical ratings. Even though you can multiply volts by amps to get wattage, the difference between VA and watts has to do with the power factor. Power factor is the ratio of apparent to active power. VA is the apparent power, and watts is active power. The difference between volt-amps and watts is called KVAR (kilovolt-amps reactive). The reactive volt-amps are not effective; you can compare them to the foam on a beer (if the entire beer is the VA, the watts are the actual beer).
When we look at motors, we want to know how much actual work that motor is doing. That's why motor ratings are in watts or horsepower; the utility company is also probably going to charge you in watts. However, we want to measure transformers in VA because we are more concerned about the exchange of current, not necessarily the work to be performed. (Smaller transformers use VA ratings, while larger transformers have KVA ratings.)
Our goal is to have a power factor of 1, as that indicates a minimal amount of ineffective reactive power. In those cases, our motors and other electrical components will be working efficiently. There is also less unnecessary heat when our systems have a power factor of 1. When our systems get out of whack, we may have to do power factor correction.
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