You have already learned how inductance and capacitance individually behave in a direct current circuit. In this tutorial you will be shown how inductance, capacitance, and resistance affect alternating current.


This might be a good place to recall what you learned about phase in the tutorial on sign waves in an ac circuit current. When two things are in step, going through a cycle together, falling together and rising together, they are in phase. When they are out of phase, the angle of lead or lag-the number of electrical degrees by which one of the values leads or lags the other-is a measure of the amount they are out of step.

The time it takes the current in an inductor to build up to maximum and to fall to zero is important for another reason. It helps illustrate a very useful characteristic of inductive circuits-the current through the inductor always lags the voltage across the inductor.

A circuit having pure resistance (if such a thing were possible) would have the alternating current through it and the voltage across it rising and failing together. This is illustrated in view (A) of the picture below, which shows the sine waves for current and voltage in a purely resistive circuit having an ac source. The current and voltage do not have the same amplitude, but they are in phase.

In the case of a circuit having inductive reactance, the opposing force of the counter emf would be enough to keep the current from remaining in phase with the applied voltage. You learned that in a dc circuit containing pure inductance the current took time to rise to maximum even though the full applied voltage was immediately at maximum. View(B) shows the wave forms for a purely inductive ac circuit in steps of quarter-cycles.

Voltage and current waveforms in an inductive circuit.

With an ac voltage, in the first quarter-cycle (0° to 90°) the applied ac voltage is continually increasing. If there was no inductive reactance in the circuit, the current would also increase during this first quarter-cycle. You know this circuit does have inductance.

Since inductance opposes any change in current flow, no current flows during the first quarter-cycle. In the next quarter-cycle (90° to 180°) the voltage decreases back to zero; current begins to flow in the circuit and reaches a maximum value at the same instant the voltage reaches zero.

The applied voltage now begins to build up to maximum in the other direction, to be followed by the resulting current. When the voltage again reaches its maximum at the end of the third quarter-cycle (270°) all values are exactly opposite to what they were during the first half-cycle. The applied voltage leads the resulting current by one quarter-cycle or 90 degrees. To complete the full 360° cycle of the voltage, the voltage again decreases to zero and the current builds to a maximum value.

You must not get the idea that any of these values stops cold at a particular instant. Until the applied voltage is removed, both current and voltage are always changing in amplitude and direction.

As you know the sine wave can be compared to a circle. Just as you mark off a circle into 360 degrees, you can mark off the time of one cycle of a sine wave into 360 electrical degrees. This relationship is shown in the next illustration below.

By referring to this picture you can see why the current is said to lag the voltage, in a purely inductive circuit, by 90 degrees. Furthermore, by referring to view(A) of each illustration you can see why the current and voltage are said to be in phase in a purely resistive circuit. In a circuit having both resistance and inductance then, as you would expect, the current lags the voltage by an amount somewhere between 0 and 90 degrees.

Comparison of sine wave and circle in an inductive circuit.

A simple memory aid to help you remember the relationship of voltage and current in an inductive circuit is the word ELI. Since E is the symbol for voltage, L is the symbol for inductance, and I is the symbol for current; the word ELI demonstrates that current comes after (Lags) voltage in an inductor.

Capacitors and alternating current

Reactance, impedance, and their relationships with alternating current


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