Balancing the Breaker Box

A person at work was telling about someone that cut their electric bill approximately in half by balancing their breaker box. If I understand this
correctly, the power company charges for power based on the current draw of the highest leg. If you are using 100A on L1 and 50A on L2 then you would pay based on 100A instead of the average 75A.
If this is the case, since loads change constantly based on what is ON and what is OFF, would a person save money by installing an isolation transformer, wired for 240V in and 240/120 out?
Thanks!
RogerN
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No. There's one way to get free electricity, and that's illegal;to hook a load before the meter. Balancing only helps you distribute electricity more efficiently. Here, in EU, we have single phase service, for residence, 1 X 40 A, and then three phase. We use special bus bars that connect one of every three breakers to onle leg, the second to the second, the third to the third... for all breakers, but that only to not overload one leg. One of the largest residential services I've seen is my sister's house, with 3 X 50 A, 3 X 25 mm^2 (# 6).
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Tzortzakakis Dimitrios
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Of course the technology is their for the power company to bill for actual usage, but if they can get away with charging for the high leg amps X volts, they may choose to do so.
An electrician at work said he knows some people that balanced their breaker box and their electric bill went down. The power company sent their workers out to inspect 3 different times. The third time, they asked why the guys are inspecting their service for the third time. They said it was because the usage went down so much. The homeowner said that he had the breaker box load balanced. The power company worker said "Oh, you know about that.". The homeowner said Yeah. The power company was satisfied and didn't order any more inspections.
This was supposed to be a true story with actual people known by the person telling it. This didn't involve anyone selling any kind of product or service for "free electricity" or anything like that. The person I heard this from has a brother and cousin that I used to work with and now works at an Ameren power plant, along with many of the other techs that I used to work with.
So, I don't know, but it wouldn't cost me much time to ampprobe the lines and move a couple of breakers if needed to better balance the load, but maybe (hopefully) it's just BS anyway.
RogerN
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If I had a dollar for every time someone started spouting a story like that in order to look like some sort of "expert"...
It's complete BS, the power company does not charge based on Amps * Volts (apparent power), they charge by kilowatt-hours (true power), it's what it says on the bill, and if they were pulling some stunt to defraud customers there would be a massive lawsuit in no time flat. A kilowatt is a kilowatt whether it's drawn from one phase, the other, or both, period.
As someone else pointed out, the big loads are 240V anyway so they already use both legs of the panel and are inherently balanced. The smaller loads vary so much based on what's being used at the time that you won't be able to optimize it much beyond what was done when the house was wired.
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<snip>
They could take volts X amps X power factor, and the amps could be taken from the higher leg or they could average the current for each leg. From the power meter description link from another poster, they read volts from one leg and amps on the other, if that's the case then they would have to measure at both legs and average.

In my own situation, I have a 240V stove that is off the majority of the time, an electric dryer that is off the majority of the time, my constant 240V draw would be the water heater. My heat comes from propane and is supplemented by electric heaters (120V), my AC is 120V, fridge is 120V. So the big loads are 240V but they are not drawing most of the time. The 120V loads are present constantly. I know many have 240V heat and air, probably their major draw. I've never had a problem with any mains kicking out and if it doesn't save any money their would be no reason to balance unless I wanted to check when adding a circuit.
RogerN
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wrote:

How are you going to measure power factor directly (remember to include harmonics)?

"Ather poster" is wrong, too. Power meters measure power directly. Why mess around with computation?

Exactly. Somone is blowing smoke up your butt.
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RogerN wrote:

Not all meters are the same. In the UK they sense the current in one leg and that is enough because the current in the other leg must be equal to the first leg (they don't have a neutral over there, all of it is 240).
Meters used in some 3-phase service also only have one current sensing coil. To measure all three phases it takes at least two meters, sometimes three.
But the household meter used in the US has two current sensing coils, one in each hot leg. They don't sense neutral current because that is simply the difference between the two hot legs (not accounting for major ground faults)
The torque developed on the wheel is the product of average current in the two legs and the voltage sensing coil that measures the 240V between the two hot legs and the phase angle between them. (this is the old induction style meter, but the modern digital ones do effectively the same thing, only in firmware).
In single-leg meters, the current flows through two coils, one positioned on each side of the voltage sensing coil (one of the current coils is wound backwards from the other). These are positioned, one on each side of the potential coil. The interaction of the magnetic fields from the three coils is what turns the disk.
In a residential meter for the center-tapped 120/240 service, one leg of the 240 is fed through one current coil and the other leg of the 240 service is fed through the other current coil. The potential coil is fed from across the two hot legs. The neutral conductor passes straight through the meter box. So it 'senses' the average of both hot leg currents.

Despite all the stories out there about "...a friend of mine did such-and-such and saved" or "the power company knows this but doesn't want to tell anyone...", it just isn't true. The metering schemes have been reviewed by state commissions for every public utility in the country. No way are they all 'in on it'. The simple fact is that the inventors of the modern kWh meter are smarter than that and tested just about every conceivable combination of imbalance/balance.
I suppose there's a one-in-a-million chance that the power company installed the wrong type of meter and is only reading one current leg, but that isn't very likely. Or that some small mom-and-pop coop utility thought they would save money using the wrong type of meter, but that ain't likely either.
daestrom
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Sure, they could, just like they could have a little hamster in there running on a wheel to turn the dials, but they don't. Power meters have coils on both legs that act on a metal disk causing it to rotate in response to true power passing through either or both leg. Some newer meters are electronic and do measure the voltage as well as the current and power factor, again in both legs. There are some good application notes on Austria Microsystem's website that describe how their offerings work. The electronic meters also contain various tamper detection circuitry that will alert the electric company if suspicious circumstances are detected.
Magical money saving methods to fool or otherwise alter the response of a residential power meter all fall into the same bucket as the mythical 100 mpg carburetors, fuel magnets and other pseudoscience bullshit. The short answer is they don't work, but that doesn't stop countless people from trying every one of them, and failing, while others swear to have witnessed fantastic results.
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Duh! Nobody was talking about magical money saving methods. Only using the power you are being charged for OR not being charged for power you are not using. Does that appear as magical to you?
RogerN
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wrote:

Does to me. Power companies aren't in the business of giving away energy.
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They could "take.. other" but they don't - There will be two current coils for 120/240V 3 wire and a voltage coil (240V). so that (I1+I2)V is measured. The torque produced is proportional to the real power. It doesn't matter if all the load is on one leg, split between legs or all line to line - the real power will be read correctly independently of the power factor. The energy is measured by counting disc rotations. Accuracy requirements are stringent.
Balancing the legs will not affect the meter except that there may be a marginal decrease in losses in the wiring and this gain will be lost as load balances change with activities.
James Sweet has it right.
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Good answer Don Kelly, I remember you from other posts, you seem to have a great foundation on these electrical things. At least you could give an informative answer that most others could not. James Sweet has the idea right but seems to think it is magical to use the power you are being charged for.
RogerN
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There only thing magical is the belief that you are somehow being charged for power that you are not using. The meters work, they are accurate, the response is not altered by balance. If it is already accurately measuring your consumption, then how do you propose to alter the reading without somehow fooling it into an inaccurate reading?
Now it's starting to look like you're simply trolling here.
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From the very start this post was based on hearing that the meters run based on the power drawn from the high leg. Quote you "If it is already accurately measuring your consumption", if the meter recorded KWH of the high leg then it wouldn't be accurately measuring your consumption. If it were measuring high leg consumption X 2 then you could balance the load and use the power it was measuring, no magic involved. I'm not disagreeing that the meters are accurate, I heard they measured based on the high leg, hadn't heard this before, so I posted here. Many here gave good replies, others gave replies showing they didn't understand the question acting like I was looking for free power or something magical. So a meter doesn't read KWH based on the high leg, that's what I was trying to find out. However if a meter did work based on the high leg then balancing the load would let the consumer use more of the power they were paying for. Nothing free, just using what you're paying for. Some of these replies are on the line of claiming repairing a hole in your fuel tank is like stealing gasoline.
RogerN
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I disagree with you regarding your interpretation of James Sweet's position. It was quite clear and correct. Otherwise I would have argued with him.
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Don Kelly
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You balance for safety reasons. You do not want to overload a bus.
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My total propane bill for the entire last year was $380 and my electric for the past 2 months has been $100 per month, that is with electric hot water and their are 3 living here. I'm happy enough with my utility bill but if I could save a little by moving a breaker or two then it would be worth doing. If what I heard was true I don't think I'd save much. I figured if it were true the folks on here would have heard about it, apparently it's not, found out what I wanted to know.
I guess an easy experiment would be to run a 120V 1500W heater from each leg, turn other breakers off, the meter speed would change if either heater were turned off/on if the balance info was incorrect.
Thanks!
RogerN
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Understanding electricity has absolutely nothing to do with it, understanding how the KWH meter works has everything to do with it. Power for an AC circuit is Volts X Amps X power factor, in that equation you could use amps from either leg or average the amps from each leg. Of course the correct way would be to use the current from each leg X the voltage from each leg X the power factor from each leg. Like I said, it has nothing to do with understanding electricity but everything to do with how the KWH meter measures it.
RogerN
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RogerN wrote:

Which many in here also understand. I have a couple of old KWH meters sitting around, I've played with them, they're simple devices, and they just plain don't work the way you seem to believe they do. Being mechanical, they don't calculate anything, they simply respond to true power, regulated by the laws of physics. Both sides of the meter act on the same disk so the result is additive. Draw through either leg and the meter turns. Draw through both legs at once and it turns faster. The disk is directly coupled through a gear set to the dials on the face which do nothing more than count the number of rotations the disk makes. Trust me, you can't fool it by shifting loads around. About the only thing that happens to the accuracy is dried up lubricant and/or aged mechanical parts which normally results in slowing the meter in the customer's favor.
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First, I don't have any specific belief on how KWH meters work, I heard that they run based on the high leg but evidently that is not the case. However if that was the case it wouldn't have anything to do with fooling the meter, it would have to do only with using all the power you are paying for. Digital electronics is not the only way to calculate, it's just what we are used to in these times. You can also calculate with analog electronics, pneumatics, hydraulics, fluidics, and even mechanical. A KWH meter converts power to torque (or speed?) and counts the revolutions, the result is volts X amps X power factor X time, a mechanical calculator.
Thanks for explaining the operation of the meter, sounds like balancing the load would only help with the overall KWH capacity of the circuit.
RogerN
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