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Although there are technical definition differences between voltage flicker and voltage
fluctuation, because both are closely related many people confuse the two.

Heavy loads can greatly change the load currents in an electrical distribution system. Voltage
flicker occurs when heavy loads are periodically turned on and off in a weak distribution system.
If the distribution system's short circuit capacity is not large enough, voltage fluctuations will
occur. Starting large motors require an inrush of current, which causes a decrease in voltage.
This voltage depression may cause a visible flicker on lighting circuits connected to the same
power system.

Residential customers near large industrial plants often experience flickering lights. This voltage
flickering can be extremely harmful to sensitive electronic equipment. Computerized equipment
requires stable voltage to perform properly. For this reason, voltage flicker is a major power
quality problem.

The magnitude of the voltage flicker depends upon the size and type of the electrical load that is
producing the disturbance.
V = kf x
A sag in voltage can also cause a voltage flicker. Sudden voltage drops in the electrical
distribution system can generate inrush current which can travel to sensitive equipment. This can
cause equipment malfunction and leads to equipment deterioration.

Consider an electronic fluorescent lamp. Flickering due to voltage fluctuation is an important
consideration in the lamp's amplifying characteristic, or gain factor. Gain factor is defined and
calculated by measuring relative changes in light levels while inducing controlled voltage
fluctuations. By controlling the magnitude and frequency of voltage fluctuations, the lamp's
flicker response can be determined using a photometer to measure the lamp output. If the
percentage of relative light fluctuation is greater than the percentage of voltage fluctuation, the
lamp is said to have an amplifying effect, or gain factor greater than unity. The gain factor of a
fluorescent lamp can reach a maximum of 3.8.

The lamp gain decreases at higher frequencies because of the small thermal inertia of the
filament. It responds quicker than the voltage. Similarly, when voltage fluctuations change
gradually a different flicker response is observed. As the frequency of modulation increases, the
thermal inertia of the lamp filament begins to mask the sinusoidal signal. This causes a sudden
drop in voltage, which in turn, randomly increases the inrush current to the system. This harmful
inrush may flow toward either the transformer or the load depending on its magnitude.

Voltage flicker can also be defined with respect to phase over-lapping. According to Kirchoff's
voltage law, the sum of voltages in a 3 phase system should always be the same irrespective of
the load condition. If the voltage drops in one phase, it has to be shared by other two phases
increasing the nominal voltage values of the other two. This can be explained with the following
case study.

In the above graphs, when the load is turned on it is seen that one phase is totally crushed to zero
level, resulting in the increase of the other two phases to 470 volts. This is called voltage flicker
in industrial terms. This is poor power quality.

This demonstrates that electromagnetic disturbances are also responsible for the voltage
fluctuations and voltage flickers in the electrical distribution system.