Opposition to Current Flow of Alternating Current

Opposition to Current Flow of AC

There are three factors that can create an opposition to the flow of electrons (current) in an AC circuit. Resistance, similar to resistance of DC circuits, is measured in ohms and has a direct influence on AC regardless of frequency. Inductive reactance and capacitive reactance, on the other hand, oppose current flow only in AC circuits, not in DC circuits. Since AC constantly changes direction and intensity, inductors and capacitors may also create an opposition to current flow in AC circuits. It should also be noted that inductive reactance and capacitive reactance may create a phase shift between the voltage and current in an AC circuit. Whenever analyzing an AC circuit, it is very important to consider the resistance, inductive reactance, and the capacitive reactance. All three have an effect on the current of that circuit.

Resistance

As mentioned, resistance creates an opposition to current in an AC circuit similar to the resistance of a DC circuit. The current through a resistive portion of an AC circuit is inversely proportional to the resistance and directly proportional to the voltage applied to that circuit or portion of the circuit. The equations I = E / R & E = I × R show how current is related to both voltage and resistance. It should be noted that resistance in an AC circuit does not create a phase shift between voltage and current.

Figure 9-17. Resistance.

Figure 9-17 shows how a circuit of 10 ohms allows 11.5 amps of current flow through an AC resistive circuit of 115 volts.

Inductive Reactance

When moving a magnet through a coil of wire, a voltage is induced across the coil. If a complete circuit is provided, then a current will also be induced. The amount of induced voltage is directly proportional to the rate of change of the magnetic field with respect to the coil. Conversely, current flowing through a coil of wire produces a magnetic field. When this wire is formed into a coil, it then becomes a basic inductor.

The primary effect of a coil is its property to oppose any change in current through it. This property is called inductance. When current flows through any conductor, a magnetic field starts to expand from the center of the wire. As the lines of magnetic force grow outward through the conductor, they induce an EMF in the conductor itself. The induced voltage is always in the direction opposite to the direction of the applied current flow. The effects of this countering EMF are to oppose the applied current. This effect is only a temporary condition. Once the current reaches a steady value in the conductor, the lines of magnetic force are no longer expanding and the countering EMF is no longer present. Since AC is constantly changing in value, the inductance repeats in a cycle always opposite the applied voltage. It should be noted that the unit of measure for inductance is the henry (H).

The physical factors that affect inductance are:

1. Number of turns—doubling the number of turns in a coil produces a field twice as strong if the same current is used. As a general rule, the inductance varies with the square of the number of turns.
2. Cross-sectional area of the coil—the inductance of a coil increases directly as the cross-sectional area of the core increases. Doubling the radius of a coil increases the inductance by a factor of four.
3. Length of a coil—doubling the length of a coil, while keeping the same number of turns, reduces inductance by one-half.
4. Core material around which the coil is formed— coils are wound on either magnetic or nonmagnetic materials. Some nonmagnetic materials include air, copper, plastic, and glass. Magnetic materials include nickel, iron, steel, and cobalt, which have a permeability that provides a better path for the magnetic lines of force and permit a stronger magnetic field.

Since AC is in a constant state of change, the magnetic fields within an inductor are also continuously changing and create an inducted voltage/current. This induced voltage opposes the applied voltage and is known as the counter EMF. This opposition is called inductive reactance, symbolized by XL, and is measured in ohms. This characteristic of the inductor may also create a phase shift between voltage and current of the circuit. The phase shift created by inductive reactance always causes voltage to lead current. That is, the voltage of an inductive circuit reaches its peak values before the current reaches peak values.

Inductance is the property of a circuit to oppose any change in current and is measured in henries. Inductive reactance is a measure of how much the countering EMF in the circuit opposes the applied current. The inductive reactance of a component is directly proportional to the inductance of the component and the applied frequency to the circuit. By increasing either the inductance or applied frequency, the inductive reactance likewise increases and presents more opposition to current in the circuit. This relationship is given as XL = 2πfL Where XL = inductive reactance in ohms, L = inductance in henries, f = frequency in cycles per second, and π = 3.1416

Figure 9-18. AC circuit containing inductance.

In Figure 9-18, an AC series circuit is shown in which the inductance is 0.146 henry and the voltage is 110 volts at a frequency of 60 cycles per second. Inductive reactance is determined by the following method.

XL = 2π × f × L
XL = 6.28 × 60 × 0.146
XL = 55Ω

In AC series circuits, inductive reactance is added like resistances in series in a DC circuit. [Figure 9-19] The total reactance in the illustrated circuit equals the sum of the individual reactances.

Figure 9-19. Inductances in series.

XL = XL1 + XL2
XL =10Ω + 15Ω
XLT = 25Ω

Figure 9-20. Inductances in parallel.

The total reactance of inductors connected in parallel is found the same way as the total resistance in a parallel circuit. [Figure 9-20] Thus, the total reactance of inductances connected in parallel, as shown, is expressed as:

Capacitive Reactance

Capacitance is the ability of a body to hold an electric charge. In general, a capacitor is constructed of two parallel plates separated by an insulator. The insulator is commonly called the dielectric. The capacitor’s plates have the ability to store electrons when charged by a voltage source. The capacitor discharges when the applied voltage is no longer present and the capacitor is connected to a current path. In an electrical circuit, a capacitor serves as a reservoir or storehouse for electricity.

The basic unit of capacitance is the farad and is given by the letter F. By definition, one farad is one coulomb of charge stored with one volt across the plates of the capacitor. In practical terms, one farad is a large amount of capacitance. Typically, in electronics, much smaller units are used. The two more common smaller units are the microfarad (μF), which is 10-6 farad and the picofarad (pF), which is 10-12 farad.

Capacitance is a function of the physical properties of the capacitor:

1. The capacitance of parallel plates is directly proportional to their area. A larger plate area produces a larger capacitance, and a smaller area produces less capacitance. If we double the area of the plates, there is room for twice as much charge.
2. The capacitance of parallel plates is inversely proportional to the distance between the plates.
3. The dielectric material effects the capacitance of parallel plates. The dielectric constant of a vacuum is defined as 1, and that of air is very close to 1. These values are used as a reference, and all other materials have values relative to that of air (vacuum).

When an AC is applied in the circuit, the charge on the plates constantly changes. [Figure 9-21] This means that electricity must flow first from Y clockwise around to X, then from X counterclockwise around to Y, then from Y clockwise around to X, and so on. Although no current flows through the insulator between the plates of the capacitor, it constantly flows in the remainder of the circuit between X and Y. As this current alternates to and from the capacitor, a certain time lag is created. When a capacitor charges or discharges through a resistance, a certain amount of time is required for a full charge or discharge. The voltage across the capacitor does not change instantaneously. The rate of charging or discharging is determined by the time constant of the circuit. This rate of charge and discharge creates an opposition to current flow in AC circuits known as capacitive reactance. Capacitive reactance is symbolized by XC and is measured in ohms. This characteristic of a capacitor may also create a phase shift between voltage and current of the circuit. The phase shift created by capacitive reactance always causes current to lead voltage. That is, the current of a capacitive circuit reaches its peak values before the voltage reaches peak values.

Figure 9-21. Capacitor in an AC circuit.

Capacitive reactance is a measure of how much the capacitive circuit opposes the applied current flow. Capacitive reactance is measured in ohms. The capacitive reactance of a circuit is indirectly proportional to the capacitance of the circuit and the applied frequency to the circuit. By increasing either the capacitance or applied frequency, the capacitive reactance decreases, and vice versa. This relationship is given as:

Where: XC = capacitive reactance in ohms, C = capacitance in farads, f = frequency in cycles per second, and π = 3.1416.

In Figure 9-21, a series circuit is shown in which the applied voltage is 110 volts at 400 cps, and the capacitance of a condenser is 80 mf. Find the capacitive reactance and the current flow.

To find the capacitive reactance, the following equation:

First, the capacitance, 80 μf, is changed to farads by dividing 80 by 1,000,000, since 1 million microfarads is equal to 1 farad. This quotient equals 0.000080 farad. This is substituted in the equation: