Plug and Save: Another power factor correction scam?

Let's get one thing straight: I think the Plug and Save is a waste of money!  That's why I was so surprised when I Googled "Save Electricity" and it turned out to be the second hit.  I question the validity of a search engine if a company can simply "game" their search ranking to get high on the rankings and then offer no insight on to how their product works.  The device claims "Save Electricity Bills by up to 40%".  This is complete and utter b.s.!  So what is the Plug and Save?

The Plug and Save seems to be a Power Factor Correction device. But I can't be absolutely sure, because on the joke of a website they have they don't really say what Plug and Save is.  By the way, the website looks eerily similar to many other websites that we've covered on our Renewable Energy Scam post.

We covered the topic of power factor correction over a year ago in our post, "Can improving Power Factor help your Energy Bill?"  Our answer: NO!  I gave a semi-technical explanation of why these devices don't help residential customers in that post where I stated:

The power factor correction devices are said to improve Apparent Power.  However you don’t pay your utility for Apparent Power.  You pay them for Real Power (Watts). (Watts = Power Factor * Apparent Power) Apparent Power is defined as the total power in an AC circuit, both dissipated AND returned! ( view the power triangle and description of Apparent, Real and Reactive power).  This means that if you currently have a poor power factor, your  Apparent Power is higher, but all this means is that you are returning more unused electrons to the utility!  But since they only charge you for used electrons (dissipated electrons = Real Power = Watts) you don’t give a hoot about your Apparent Power!

The worst part about the Plug and Save website is that they have a link to a video from a local Atlanta news station, CBS 46, who has NO CLUE WHAT THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT!  Just because you see it on TV doesn't make it true.  The CBS 46 news cast states that electrical motors in your house pull in kW that they don't use and this just magically flows out of your house.  The "magic" device saves these wasted kW for later use.  What!!?  Are you serious CBS 46?  Just because you can make a silly animation doesn't make it true.

It's not just me who says that these devices don't work.  The highest authority on these matters in the U.S., the Department of Energy, says on the Energy Star page that power factor correction devices don't work!

You may see people claim on the internet that these devices work for them, but do you believe everything you read on the internet?  Some people actually believe that these devices do work for them, yet when I ask them to explain how, they can't.  If you can't get a reasonable explanation of how something saves you energy, then DON'T BUY IT!  Until I get a reasonable explanation of how power factor correction saves residential users money, I'm not buying it either.

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Wow, when you wrote your thoughts on this, you mention right in your text that unused power goes right back out to the utility. In an AC distribution system, the meter does NOT credit you back any power returned to the utility. This means if you run a deep freezer, a kitchen refrigerator, washer, dish washer, dryer or any device using non-linear loading, and in parallel with devices that are resistive loads, energy used through the meter that goes back through the meter is a one way trip and only benefits your power company and they know it. You can measure this with all the youtube videos of people using kill a watt products with amp measuring multimeters demonstrating a power factor correction capacitor box plugged in and unplugged... a motor drawing 4.5A was drawing 2A after hooking in the pfc box. It is measurable and simply ignoring science with stupidity does not make it a scam. You people really gotta start thinking of this on a corporate profit view. Customers are required to provide any power conditioning equipment to bring the line to specification, not the utility. Its in the agreement you make. They will make money on you if you dont know how to run your own power drawing devices. Commercial companies have been using pfc's since the 60s. Some high energy efficient switching power supplies have this built in so they can slip into the energy star window, $1.40 in components is worth a energy star logo especially if the circuit make-over has minimal design changes. Also, i'd like to add, if you get a 2 way power meter installed because you have 18 solar panels on your roof....... you will see an automatic drop even if u turn the "syncro-inverter" off. The 2way meter was designed to measure what others do not. So go onto youtube and if u wanna bag on the plug and save or zap boxes, just go to auction or liquidation and buy a commercial pf correction unit for 90% off its retail cost. peoples ignorant thoughts make me happy im smart.
ckmapawatt's picture
James, I don't think you are correct in your statement, "In an AC distribution system, the meter does NOT credit you back any power returned to the utility. ". If you have poor PF, the utility isn't charging you for the power you dont use.
What a waste of money, that news station did not know anything...
This is sold in India on TV channels by TV Brands ad people are buying...
I bought a single plug pass thru (sorta like a kill-a-watt) version of these and had it hooked up to an eighties vintage fridge. Using a Kill-a-watt it showed a drop of around 20% in electricity. Just recently the old fridge died and we replaced it. Using it with the new one shows no such savings..... figured the technology must be that much better.
ckmapawatt's picture
Thanks Tom, that is a very good observation and helpful to understanding this issue!
Chris, You're right. I hadn't thought about the impact the weather has on our energy consumption, but when you mentioned it, I asked my wife about our bill and this summer, with the heat and humidity in RI we have had to run the central air almost every day (I'm a lung transplant recipient, double lung Oct 2008, so we sort of have to run it)..anyway, our bill/KW usage this year is much higher than last year when we pretty much had no summer. I still think if it was such a great idea, which I define as having the potential of saving 10% or more in energy usage, then some major politician would be on this like white on rice! Could you imagine being able to instantly reduce our electric energy consumption by 10% or more? That's why I too am skeptical. If the science was real, GE or someone would be building these units by the millions. But they are not....which is all we really need to know to realize that you are correct! As for the residential wind turbines, I had looked into that site and before I could get back to look at your reply, I had done some research myself...and found, what you indicate....we in RI surprisingly don't have enough wind speed to justify using wind power! I was actually very surprised since we are considered to be one of if not the windyest areas in the country. But apparently, our average belies our actual daily speed, which is, as you say, not enough to power the wind turbine. Well, I will continue to investigate was to reduce energy costs in the home, though as you can tell, I'm much more interested in power creation than reducing consumption. I don't know if geo-thermal might be worth investigating for HVAC? I've always thought that if you drove a pipe into the ground in the northeast, you could tap into a heating and cooling source that would be low maintenance and low cost? Any thoughts? Steve
I agree with you, as I understand it most residences are not penalized as their power factor is usually around 97. However, I have witnessed personally a huge home (6000+ sf)with zoned HVAC (4 separate units), hot tub, and swimming pool that are running year round. He has realized a 20%+ savings on monthly bill. This is an exception to the rule for residential application. In industrial settings, specifically industries with many motors switching on and off throughout the day, up to 26% savings were realized immediately! On a $5000 a month bill it is not long before the expense of the unit is returned. Commercial and industrial use obviously should be the target market not home owners! Kudos to you for a great insight!
Rick, I think Chris has already indicated that any quoted 'savings' cannot be taken seriously without demonstration of the proper scientific method. You cannot compare one year without a supposed energy-saving device to a following year with one because there are simply too many variables. Industrial applications are a different beast because they are charged for real and reactive power (more for the latter). Such sites often have HV power factor correction banks installed to improve power factor and thus reduce cost. A device such as advertised would not have the capacity to make even a dent on most industrial or manufacturing sites. As already mentioned, the meters installed in residential applications typically only measure real power (Watts). By adding power factor correction to the circuit after such Watt-only metering you are actually increasing the real power and will result in higher bills, if anything. It is also worth considering that if everything else in the house is turned off, this thing will not be offering any PFC (in-fact the opposite), and itself will be consuming power. The savings for industrial applications come from the fact that reactive power is effectively charged at a higher rate to real power, but again, we are talking about much larger installations with a fair bit more engineering rigour in the design.
Chris, Surely you jest! I don't think I would be interested in paying to have the PFC device installed for you.....I don't have any dog in this race! I'm just pointing out as you are that the only way to prove it works or doesn't is for someone unbiased and not likely to have the Placebo effect, install the unit and compare the results they have to previous years, same month usage. The other way would be to install it in a home of someone you knew, without them knowing what it was....perhaps they could be told it was simply a device to monitor quality of the electricity? In any event, the one who should pay to have the test done is the manufacturer or some magazine may be pursuaded to try it? If I were the manufacturer, and the unit did work, I would be giving them out to every newspaper, Major TV Network, Major magazine etc, and asking them to try it!! After all, if it did work, what better way to grow your business than with that kind of free publicity and advertising! I suspect they don't do that because the unit doesn't do what they claim....BUT, I have no way of knowing. It just seems to me that if it did work, then some company like GE would be all over this and it would be the hottest thing on the shelves at Home Depot! I would love to know for sure, one way or the other.....let's face it, who wouldn't? Chris, while I have you on the line, have you ever looked into home wind-mill electric generators? Do you know of any commercially available? I've always thought that should be a fairly easy and inexpensive device to build and could be fitted on just about any size house on any size lot, perhaps affixed to the house like a TV antenna? Any thoughts on this? Thanks, Steve


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