Low voltage tariff and metering

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No attempt will be made in this guide to discuss particular tariffs, since there appears to be as many different tariff structures around the world as there are utilities.

Some tariffs are very complicated in detail but certain elements are basic to all of them and are aimed at encouraging consumers to manage their power consumption in a way which reduces the cost of generation, transmission and distribution.

The two predominant ways in which the cost of supplying power to consumers can be reduced, are:

  • Reduction of power losses in the generation, transmission and distribution of electrical energy. In principle the lowest losses in a power system are attained when all parts of the system operate at unity power factor
  • Reduction of the peak power demand, while increasing the demand at low-load periods, thereby exploiting the generating plant more fully, and minimizing plant redundancy

Reduction of losses

Although the ideal condition noted in the first possibility mentioned above cannot be realized in practice, many tariff structures are based partly on kVA demand, as well as on kWh consumed. Since, for a given kW loading, the minimum value of kVA occurs at unity power factor, the consumer can minimize billing costs by taking steps to improve the power factor of the load (as discussed in Chapter Power Factor Correction). The kVA demand generally used for tariff purposes is the maximum average kVA demand occurring during each billing period, and is based on average kVA demands, over fixed periods (generally 10, 30 or 60 minute periods) and selecting the highest of these values. The principle is described below in “principle of kVA maximum-demand metering”.

Reduction of peak power demand

The second aim, i.e. that of reducing peak power demands, while increasing demand at low-load periods, has resulted in tariffs which offer substantial reduction in the cost of energy at:

  • Certain hours during the 24-hour day
  • Certain periods of the year

The simplest example is that of a residential consumer with a storage-type water heater (or storage-type space heater, etc.). The meter has two digital registers, one of which operates during the day and the other (switched over by a timing device) operates during the night. A contactor, operated by the same timing device, closes the circuit of the water heater, the consumption of which is then indicated on the register to which the cheaper rate applies. The heater can be switched on and off at any time during the day if required, but will then be metered at the normal rate. Large industrial consumers may have 3 or 4 rates which apply at different periods during a 24-hour interval, and a similar number for different periods of the year. In such schemes the ratio of cost per kWh during a period of peak demand for the year, and that for the lowest-load period of the year, may be as much as 10: 1.


It will be appreciated that high-quality instruments and devices are necessary to implement this kind of metering, when using classical electro-mechanical equipment. Recent developments in electronic metering and micro-processors, together with remote ripple-control[1] from an utility control centre (to change peak-period timing throughout the year, etc.) are now operational, and facilitate considerably the application of the principles discussed.

In most countries, some tariffs, as noted above, are partly based on kVA demand, in addition to the kWh consumption, during the billing periods (often 3-monthly intervals). The maximum demand registered by the meter to be described, is, in fact, a maximum (i.e. the highest) average kVA demand registered for succeeding periods during the billing interval.

Figure C11 shows a typical kVA demand curve over a period of two hours divided into succeeding periods of 10 minutes. The meter measures the average value of kVA during each of these 10 minute periods.

Fig. C11 – Maximum average value of kVA over an interval of 2 hours

Principle of kVA maximum demand metering

A kVAh meter is similar in all essentials to a kWh meter but the current and voltage phase relationship has been modified so that it effectively measures kVAh (kilo-volt-ampere-hours). Furthermore, instead of having a set of decade counter dials, as in the case of a conventional kWh meter, this instrument has a rotating pointer. When the pointer turns it is measuring kVAh and pushing a red indicator before it. At the end of 10 minutes the pointer will have moved part way round the dial (it is designed so that it can never complete one revolution in 10 minutes) and is then electrically reset to the zero position, to start another 10 minute period. The red indicator remains at the position reached by the measuring pointer, and that position, corresponds to the number of kVAh (kilo-volt-ampere-hours) taken by the load in 10 minutes. Instead of the dial being marked in kVAh at that point however it can be marked in units of average kVA. The following figures will clarify the matter.

Supposing the point at which the red indicator reached corresponds to 5 kVAh. It is known that a varying amount of kVA of apparent power has been flowing for 10 minutes, i.e. 1/6 hour.

If now, the 5 kVAh is divided by the number of hours, then the average kVA for the period is obtained.

In this case the average kVA for the period will be:

[math]\displaystyle{ 5\times\frac{1}{\frac{1}{6} }={5\times6}={30\ \mbox{kVA} } }[/math]

Every point around the dial will be similarly marked i.e. the figure for average kVA will be 6 times greater than the kVAh value at any given point. Similar reasoning can be applied to any other reset-time interval.

At the end of the billing period, the red indicator will be at the maximum of all the average values occurring in the billing period.

The red indicator will be reset to zero at the beginning of each billing period. Electro-mechanical meters of the kind described are rapidly being replaced by electronic instruments. The basic measuring principles on which these electronic meters depend however, are the same as those described above.


  1. ^ Ripple control is a system of signalling in which a voice frequency current (commonly at 175 Hz) is injected into the LV mains at appropriate substations. The signal is injected as coded impulses, and relays which are tuned to the signal frequency and which recognize the particular code will operate to initiate a required function. In this way, up to 960 discrete control signals are available.