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High-power converters for regenerative drives and distributed generation need a network-friendly operation, low harmonic conductive electromagnetic emission for low electromagnetic interference and high electromagnetic compatibility reaching high reliability and performance. Nevertheless, the converters must be controlled with low switching frequency in order to reduce the commutation losses. These two requirements can be satisfied if an optimal modulation strategy is used. The selective harmonic elimination (SHE) is one of the low-switching-frequency strategies most used today. However, this strategy only eliminates a reduced set of harmonic components from the input current. This paper presents a novel optimal modulation strategy whose objective is to reduce the total harmonic distortion of the input current. Six- and twelve-pulse three-level neutral-point-clamped pulsewidth modulation rectifiers are used in order to implement both modulation techniques. The results confirm the advantages of the proposed strategy, namely, less input current distortion and remarkable reduction of higher order harmonics compared with the SHE method, while keeping a low-switching behavior.