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Noadswood Science, 2012

Friday, December 25, 2015

Mains Supply
To understand the mains supply to your house

Mains Supply
The UK mains electricity supply is about 230V and can kill if

not used safely

Electrical circuits, cables, plugs and appliances are designed

to reduce the chances of receiving an electric shock

The more electrical energy used, the greater the cost, and

electrical supplies can be direct current (d.c.) or alternating

current (a.c.)

Mains Circuit
Every mains circuit has a live wire and a neutral wire
The current through a mains appliance alternates because

the mains supply provides an alternating potential

difference between the two wires

Alternating & Direct Current

Alternating current and direct current are different electrical supplies
The battery in a torch makes the current flow around the circuit in

one direction only (it is a direct current (d.c.))

Mains electricity is alternating current (a.c.) which repeatedly

reverses its direction (flowing one way, then in the opposite

direction in successive cycles) its frequency is the number of
cycles per second (in the UK the mains frequency is 50 cycles per
second (50Hz))

Why would a much lower frequency than 50Hz be unsuitable

for a light bulb?

The bulb would flicker continuously

Direct Current
If the current flows in only one direction it is called direct

current (d.c.)
Batteries and cells supply d.c. electricity, with a typical battery

supplying maybe 1.5V

The diagram shows an oscilloscope screen displaying the signal

from a d.c. supply: -


Alternating Current
If the current constantly changes direction, it is called

alternating current (a.c.)

Mains electricity is an a.c. supply, with the UK mains supply

being about 230V - it has a frequency of 50Hz (50 hertz),

which means it changes direction, and back again, 50 times a
The diagram shows an oscilloscope screen displaying the

signal from an a.c. supply: -


Alternating Current Higher

The potential difference of the live terminal varies between a

large positive value and a large negative value however, the

neutral terminal is at a potential difference close to earth,
which is zero
The diagram shows an oscilloscope screen displaying the

signals from the mains supply the red trace is the live
terminal and the blue trace the neutral terminal
Note that, although the mean

voltage of the mains supply is

about 230V, the peak voltage is

Connect a low voltage a.c. supply unit to an oscilloscope

The trace on the oscilloscope screen shows that the p.d.

increases and decreases continuously

The highest p.d. is reached at each peak increasing the p.d.

of the a.c. supply makes the wave on the oscilloscope taller

Increasing the frequency of the a.c. supply increases the

number of cycles (the waves on the screen get squashed)

Now connect a battery to the oscilloscope you should see

a flat line at constant potential


Oscilloscope Higher
The oscilloscope can measure the peak p.d. and the frequency of a

low voltage a.c. supply

For example, an oscilloscope may be set to the following: Y-gain control at 0.5V/cm
Time base control of 10 milliseconds per centimetre (ms/cm)
If the peaks are 8.4cm above the troughs, then they are 4.2cm

above the middle (0 p.d.)

If the Y-gain control is set to 0.5V/cm then we know each

centimetre of height is due to 0.5V so the peak p.d. is 2.1V

(0.5V/cm x 4.2cm)
The each cycle across the screen is 8cm across, the time base

control set at 10ms/cm tells us each centimetre across the screen

is a time interval of 10ms, so one cycle takes 80ms (frequency of
12.5Hz (1/0.08s)

Oscilloscope Higher
The figure below shows how the potential of the live wire

varies with time: -


+325 V

Voltage (V)

Time (s)




-325 V


Oscilloscope Higher
The live wire alternates between +325V and -325V
In terms of electrical power, this is equivalent to a direct

voltage of 230V
Each cycle takes 0.02 seconds, so the mains supply

alternates at 50 cycles every second (50Hz)

What is the maximum potential

difference between the live wire

and the neutral wire?
325V (+/-325V positive, 0V


Choose the correct potential difference from the list for each

appliance: 1.5V; 12V; 230V; and 325V

A car battery
The mains voltage
A torch cell
The maximum potential of the live wire
Car battery = 12V
Mains voltage = 230V
A torch cell = 1.5V
Maximum live potential = 325V