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# Alternating Current

## What is Alternating Current?

Back-and-forth movement

Electrons have negative (-) electrical charges. Since opposite charges attract, they will move toward an area consisting of positive (+) charges. This movement is made easier in an electrical conductor, such as a metal wire. With DC electricity, connecting a wire from the negative (-) terminal of a battery to the positive (+) will cause the negative charged electrons to rush through the wire to the positive charged side. The same thing happens with a DC generator, where the motion of coiled wire through a magnetic field pushes electrons out of one terminal and attracts electrons to the other terminal. With an AC generator, a slightly different configuration alternates the push and pull of each generator terminal. Thus the electricity in the wire moves in one direction for a while and then reverses its direction when the generator armature is in a different position.

## Properties of Alternating Current

Frequency of any regular waveform identifies the number of complete cycles it goes through in a fixed period of time. For standard measurements, the period of time is one second, so the frequency of the wave is commonly measured in cycles per second (cycles/sec) and, in normal usage, is expressed in units of Hertz (Hz). It is represented in mathematical equations by the letter 'f.' Period Is the amount of time required to complete one cycle of the waveform. This is logically the reciprocal of frequency. Thus, period is the time duration of one cycle of the waveform, and is measured in seconds/cycle. A 60 Hz power system has a period of 1/60 = 0.016667 seconds/cycle. These are often expressed as 20 ms/cycle or 16.6667 ms/cycle, where 1 ms is 1 millisecond = 0.001 second (1/1000 of a second). Wavelength to know how far it moves in one cycle of the wave. wavelength= c/f. wavelength can be measured from any part of one cycle to the equivalent point in the next cycle. wavelength is measured in distance per cycle Amplitude Another thing we have to know is just how positive or negative the voltage is, with respect to some selected neutral reference. With DC, this is easy; the voltage is constant at some measurable value. But AC is constantly changing, and yet it still powers a load. note that for a sine wave, the effective voltage of the AC power system is 0.707 times the peak voltage. When we deal with AC power, the most important of these properties are frequency and amplitude, since some types of electrically powered equipment must be designed to match the frequency and voltage of the power lines.

Resistors and AC
When we apply an ac voltage to a resistor as shown to the right, current will flow through that resistor. But how much current? Can we apply Ohm's Law ? How can we even specify the ac voltage, since it is constantly changing? To answer these questions, we must first define how we will specify the ac voltage applied to the resistor. In most cases, it makes a lot of sense to describe ac voltage and current in terms of a "dc equivalent," such that the actual ac power delivered to the load does exactly the same amount of work as the same value of dc voltage and current applied to the same load. To do this, we need to find some sort of "average ac power" over the entire cycle. Unfortunately, the actual average voltage of the applied ac is zero. The same is true of the alternating current flowing back and forth through the circuit. Yet we know that real power is used, because light bulbs turn on, clocks run, electric motors work, etc. How do we resolve this? The RMS Values The answer is to identify the power dissipated by the resistor, in terms of either the ac voltage by itself, or the current by itself. This is easy enough; we already know that we can use either of two expressions for this: P = IR = E/R Since squaring a number always results in a positive result (or zero, and we are not using imaginary numbers here), we should be able to find a real average of the squared value. Then we can take the square root of that average to get the effective current or voltage. If we plot a unit sine wave and its square, we will get the graph shown to the right. Here, the sine wave (in red) varies in the range 1, while its square (in blue) is a smaller sinusoidal waveform that varies from 0 to 1. Mathematically: sin(x) = - [cos(2x)]/2 Since the average value of any sine (or cosine) wave by itself is zero, the average value of the above expression is simply 1/2. This is the average of the squared sine wave. Therefore we must take its square root to get the effective value, which is 1/ = 0.707. This factor gives us the square root of the mean (or average) of the squared value of the sine wave. Therefore, the effective value of the waveform is also known as the root-meansquare, or rms value. The peak value of the actual sine wave can be any value; it is a constant multiplier which is squared and then has the square root taken of its squared value. As a constant, it can be left out of the averaging process. It is simply used in the final calculation. Thus: Irms = Ipeak/ = Ip 0.707 Erms = Epeak/ = Ep 0.707 The above expressions apply specifically to sinusoidal waveforms. Other waveforms may have a different relationship between peak and rms values, and must be analyzed separately. Applying Ohm's Law Now that we know what the rms value of a voltage or current is and how we got it, we can look at the relationship between voltage and current in a resistance. In the graph to the right, we have arbitrarily assigned the red curve to voltage and the blue one to current. We note here that the current increases or decreases directly with the applied voltage at any instant in time. Thus, Ohm's Law applies to this circuit directly, and is accurate for peak voltage and current, instantaneous voltage and current, and most importantly, for rms voltage and current. In all cases, E = IR. And if we use rms values, P = IE = IR = E/R. Since voltage and current change in step with each other, they are said to be in phase with each other. This is always true for any resistance or resistive circuit.

Capacitors and AC
When we apply ac to a capacitor as shown to the right, we know that the capacitor will draw current to oppose any change in voltage across itself. But that doesn't tell us how much opposition the capacitor will offer, or how much current it will draw. So how can we determine just how much current will flow through C? We find the answer by going back to the original equation for capacitive current, ic, which we introduced when we looked at RC time constants with an applied dc voltage. This equation uses differential calculus, and is written as: iC = C dvCdtNow we are applying an ac voltage to the capacitor. Therefore, vc is a sine wave of some frequency, not a fixed dc voltage. Technically: vc = vpsin(2ft) = vpsin(t) In this type of equation, the Greek letter omega () represents the frequency in radians per second, where = 2f. vp is the amplitude of the ac generator or other source. So how do we find the derivative of vpsin(t) to determine iC? Deriving iC Since these pages are not intended to be a rigorous treatment of mathematics (especially calculus), we will not go into a process of evolving the derivative of a sine function. Instead, we will simply fall back on the following general expression from a book of math tables: d sin(u) = du cos(u)dxdxIn this expression, "x" is the generalized independent variable. For our specific case, this will be "t," for time. The variable "u" is the generalized expression or function of "x" which is used as the argument of the sine function. Making these substitutions, we get: iC = C d vpsin(t)dt = vpC dt cos(t)dt = vpC cos(t) = C vp cos(t)The factor C, or 2fC, amounts to a "constant of proportionality" that relates the voltage and current in the capacitor. Note that it depends on both the value of the capacitance and the frequency of the sine wave. As either factor is increased, the capacitor current will increase for the same applied voltage. Note that this is exactly the opposite behavior from a resistance. Can we make use of this factor in a similar way? Voltage and Current The derived equation above for the alternating current in a capacitor tells us several important things. One of these is that the when the applied ac voltage is a sine wave, as shown in red in the graph to the right, the resulting current is actually shifted in phase by 90 it is a cosine wave, as shown in blue in the graph. The current actually leads the applied voltage by cycle. This actually fits what we know about the capacitor, which is that it will draw current in its attempt to oppose any change in voltage across its terminals. Thus, the capacitor reacts to the applied ac voltage by drawing current ahead of the applied voltage changes. As to that factor of C (or 2fC), if we invert it and use the factor 1/C or 1/2fC, it will behave like the capacitive equivalent of resistance. We can't properly call it resistance, of course, but because the capacitor does react to the application of an ac voltage, we can properly call it a reactance. This is typically designated with the letter X, and capacitive reactance is designated XC. Mathematically: XC = 1/2fC = 1/C Capacitive reactance is measured in ohms, just like resistance, and works like resistance in many ways. However, its value depends on frequency as well as on the value of the capacitance. If we plot a graph of XC versus the product C using logarithmic scales, we get the graph shown to the right. This graph extends indefinitely in both directions, to cover any value of C and . It is not possible to get an XC of zero with any finite frequency, other than by setting C = 0. In a purely capacitive circuit, we can use XC for the various capacitors just as if they were resistors. Ohm's Law still applies to such circuits. However, as we will see on another page a little later on, we cannot simply add values of XC and R. That phase shift introduced by the capacitor adds a bit of a complication that must be dealt with.

Inductors and AC
As you might expect, the behavior of an inductor with an applied ac voltage is almost exactly the opposite of the behavior of a capacitor. The circuit, as shown to the right, doesn't look much diffent. After all, we have merely substituted one schematic symbol for another. And we can be pretty sure that some current will flow through the inductor. The circuit shown here would be a real problem for a dc source. Once the current had built up to its maximum value, there would be no change in current and therefore no inductive reaction to the applied voltage. The circuit current would be limited only by the resistance of the wire that makes up the inductor. Usually, that isn't much. But an ac voltage source is constantly changing, so we can expect the inductor to be constantly reacting to it, but we don't yet know how. Of course, we can speculate about the likely form of the Ohm's Law expression for inductors and ac, the phase relationship between voltage and current, etc. But it would be far better to mathematically derive the appropriate expression, that can then be verified by experiment. Deriving iL To determine the actual relationship between voltage and current for any given inductor, we begin with the basic differential expression that describes the behavior of an inductance: eL = L diLdtAs with the capacitor, the applied voltage is a sine wave, described mathematically as vpsin(t), where = 2f. For the inductor, however, we must integrate in order to solve for iL. This is another aspect of calculus, and we will simply use that book of math tables again to determine the result: eL = vpsin(t) = L diLdt vpsin(t)dt = L diL vpsin(t)dt = L diL vp[-cos(t)] = L iL -vpcos(t) = iL LThis final expression very much resembles the Ohm's Law formula E/R = I. If we define an inductive reactance XL = L = 2fL, we have our inductive counterpart to the capacitive expression we determined previously. Again, it's not really a resistance, but it is a result of the inductor's reaction to the applied ac voltage and changing current, so it can properly be called a reactance. Voltage and Current The final equation above states that the current through the inductor, as a negative cosine wave, will lag the applied voltage by 90, or cycle. This is the case, as shown in the graph to the right. This seems intuitively reasonable, since the basic reaction of any inductor is to oppose any change in current through itself. As we indicated above, we can define inductive reactance according to the equation: XL = 2fL = L If we plot this as XL versus L using logarithmic scales as we did for capacitance, we get the graph shown to the right. This is very similar to the graph we got with capacitive reactance, but with the opposite slope. This makes sense, because XL is directly proportional to both frequency and the value of L, where XC is inversely proportional to both frequency and the value of C.

Transformers and AC
Because an inductor operates by building a magnetic field around itself, we can take a second inductor and place it inside the same magnetic field. This gives us a transformer. In the case of the circuit shown to the right, the two solid lines between the symbols of the two coils indicate that the coils are wrapped around an iron core. The iron serves to concentrate the magnetic field and to help make sure that the field fully envelopes both coils. This greatly increases the inductance of each coil as well as the magnetic coupling between them. Because the transformer is built with the two coils of wire wound around the commmon core, each coil is sometimes also called a "winding." The winding to which the original voltage is applied is designated the primary winding, while the other winding is designated the secondary winding. A transformer can have multiple secondary windings, but except for a very special circumstance, it only has one primary winding. That special circumstance has to do with power transformers designed to operate from houshold line voltage in either North America (120 volts, 60 Hz) or Europe (240 volts, 50 Hz). These transformers have two primary windings each rated at 120 volts. They are connected in parallel for a 120 volt system, or in series for a 240 volt system. Thus, each winding serves as half of the required primary winding. This arrangement makes it possible to use that piece of equipment in many different places in the world without requiring special adapters. Remember that any inductor consists of a coil of wire. We can count the number of turns of wire that make up that coil. When a voltage appears across the coil as a whole, that voltage is shared equally by the individual turns of wire in the coil. Thus, if a coil contains 1200 turns of wire and has a voltage of 120 volts across it, each individual loop or turn of wire has 0.1 volt across itself. Another point to keep in mind is that the inductor itself generates this voltage in its effort to prevent the current through the coil from changing. The changing magnetic field induces that voltage and shares it across the entire coil. Therefore, that same magnetic field also induces the same voltage in each turn of the secondary winding or windings. Thus, if our example transformer has a secondary winding of 100 turns, it will generate a total voltage of 10 volts across itself. This will be the voltage appearing across the resistor. If the resistor is removed and the secondary winding left unconnected to any load, no current flows in the secondary winding. In this case, it might as well not be there, and current through the primary winding is determined by the inductance, and inductive reactance, of the primary winding. This is made sufficiently high that the no-load current is very small. For example, a power transformer with a 120 volt, 60 Hz primary winding might have a primary inductance of 15 Henries. This gives us: XL = 2fL = 6.2831853 60 15 = 5654.8668 ohms iL = 120/5654.8668 = 0.021220659 A = 21.220659 mA 21 mA is generally a negligible amount of current to drain from your wall socket, so it is reasonable to simply pretend that no current is drawn if there is no load on the secondary winding. Now let's put R back into the circuit, as shown in the schematic diagram above. Now we have a load, which will draw current from the secondary winding. This current derives from the changing magnetic field as its lines of force move across the turns of wire in the secondary winding. Therefore, the secondary current draws energy from the magnetic field and reduces its strength. The reduced magnetic field cannot oppose changes in primary current as readily as it did before, so the primary winding draws more current, which restores the magnetic field the full strength. However, with more turns of wire, the primary winding doesn't have to draw as much current as the secondary supplies, to restore the magnetic field. In the final analysis, the amount of power drawn by the load on the secondary is essentially equal to the amount of power required by the primary winding, except for very small loss due to imperfect efficiency. If we ignore those losses for the moment (a reasonable approximation), then we can specify the behavior of the transformer by defining a few variables as follows:

N1 = Number of turns in the primary winding. N2 = Number of turns in the secondary winding. V1 = Primary voltage. V2 = Secondary voltage. I1 = Primary current. I2 = Secondary current.

I1 = V2 = N2I2V1N1The transformer basically behaves as if it were an independent ac generator whose output voltage is equal to the secondary voltage, and which can be electrically isolated from the wall power source. This can be very important with some types of electrical equipment.

Conclusion