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ac circuit calculation


Over the course of the next few chapters, you will learn that AC circuit measurements and calculations can get very complicated due to the complex nature of alternating current in circuits with inductance and capacitance. However, with simple circuits (figure ) involving nothing more than an AC power source and resistance, the same laws and rules of DC apply simply and directly.


AC circuit calculations for resistive circuits are the same as for DC.

Series resistances still add, parallel resistances still diminish, and the Laws of Kirchhoff and Ohm still hold true. Actually, as we will discover later on, these rules and laws always hold true, its just that we have to express the quantities of voltage, current, and opposition to current in more advanced mathematical forms. With purely resistive circuits, however, these complexities of AC are of no practical consequence, and so we can treat the numbers as though we were dealing with simple DC quantities.

Because all these mathematical relationships still hold true, we an make use of our familiar “table” method of organizing circuit values just as with DC:

One major caveat needs to be given here: all measurements of AC voltage and current must be expressed in the same terms (peak, peak-to-peak, average, or RMS). If the source voltage is given in peak AC volts, then all currents and voltages subsequently calculated are cast in terms of peak units. If the source voltage is given in AC RMS volts, then all calculated currents and voltages are cast in AC RMS units as well. This holds true for any calculation based on Ohm’s Laws, Kirchhoff’s Laws, etc. Unless otherwise stated, all values of voltage and current in AC circuits are generally assumed to be RMS rather than peak, average, or peak-to-peak. In some areas of electronics, peak measurements are assumed, but in most applications (especially industrial electronics) the assumption is RMS.

AC phase

Things start to get complicated when we need to relate two or more AC voltages or currents that are out of step with each other. By “out of step,” I mean that the two waveforms are not synchronized: that their peaks and zero points do not match up at the same points in time. The graph in figure illustrates an example of this.


Out of phase waveforms

The two waves shown above (A versus B) are of the same amplitude and frequency, but they are out of step with each other. In technical terms, this is called a phase shift. Earlier we saw how we could plot a “sine wave” by calculating the trigonometric sine function for angles ranging from 0 to 360 degrees, a full circle. The starting point of a sine wave was zero amplitude at zero degrees, progressing to full positive amplitude at 90 degrees, zero at 180 degrees, full negative at 270 degrees, and back to the starting point of zero at 360 degrees. We can use this angle scale along the horizontal axis of our waveform plot to express just how far out of step one wave is with another: Figure


Wave A leads wave B by 45o

The shift between these two waveforms is about 45 degrees, the “A” wave being ahead of the “B” wave. A sampling of different phase shifts is given in the following graphs to better illustrate this concept: Figure


Examples of phase shifts.

Because the waveforms in the above examples are at the same frequency, they will be out of step by the same angular amount at every point in time. For this reason, we can express phase shift for two or more waveforms of the same frequency as a constant quantity for the entire wave, and not just an expression of shift between any two particular points along the waves. That is, it is safe to say something like, “voltage ‘A’ is 45 degrees out of phase with voltage ‘B’.” Whichever waveform is ahead in its evolution is said to be leading and the one behind is said to be lagging.

Phase shift, like voltage, is always a measurement relative between two things. There’s really no such thing as a waveform with an absolute phase measurement because there’s no known universal reference for phase. Typically in the analysis of AC circuits, the voltage waveform of the power supply is used as a reference for phase, that voltage stated as “xxx volts at 0 degrees.” Any other AC voltage or current in that circuit will have its phase shift expressed in erms relative to that source voltage.

This is what makes AC circuit calculations more complicated than DC. When applying Ohm’s Law and Kirchhoff’s Laws, quantities of AC voltage and current must reflect phase shift as well as amplitude. Mathematical operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division must operate on these quantities of phase shift as well as amplitude. Fortunately, there is a mathematical system of quantities called complex numbers ideally suited for this task of representing amplitude and phase.

Because the subject of complex numbers is so essential to the understanding of AC circuits, the next chapter will be devoted to that subject alone.





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