PHYS 2212 Module 11

11: Alternating Current Circuits

The current we draw into our houses is an alternating current (ac). Power lines transmit ac to our neighborhoods, where local power stations and transformers distribute it to our homes. In this module, we discuss how a transformer works and how it allows us to transmit power at very high voltages and minimal heating losses across the lines.

Electric power is delivered to our homes by alternating current (ac) through high-voltage transmission lines. As explained in Transformers, transformers can then change the amplitude of the alternating potential difference to a more useful form. This lets us transmit power at very high voltages, minimizing resistive heating losses in the lines, and then furnish that power to homes at lower, safer voltages. Because constant potential differences are unaffected by transformers, this capability is more difficult to achieve with direct-current transmission.

In this module, we use Kirchhoff’s laws to analyze four simple circuits in which ac flows. We have discussed the use of the resistor, capacitor, and inductor in circuits with batteries. These components are also part of ac circuits. However, because ac is required, the constant source of emf supplied by a battery is replaced by an ac voltage source, which produces an oscillating emf.

When alone in an AC circuit, inductors, capacitors, and resistors all impede current. How do they behave when all three occur together? Interestingly, their individual resistances in ohms do not simply add. Because inductors and capacitors behave in opposite ways, they partially to totally cancel each other’s effect.

11.1 AC Sources

  • Explain the differences between direct current (dc) and alternating current (ac)
  • Define characteristic features of alternating current and voltage, such as the amplitude or peak and the frequency

11.2 Simple AC Circuits

  • Interpret phasor diagrams and apply them to ac circuits with resistors, capacitors, and inductors
  • Define the reactance for a resistor, capacitor, and inductor to help understand how current in the circuit behaves compared to each of these devices

11.3 RLC Series Circuits with AC

  • Describe how the current varies in a resistor, a capacitor, and an inductor while in series with an ac power source
  • Use phasors to understand the phase angle of a resistor, capacitor, and inductor ac circuit and to understand what that phase angle means
  • Calculate the impedance of a circuit

11.4 Power in an AC Circuit

  • Analyze circuits that have an inductor and resistor in series
  • Describe how current and voltage exponentially grow or decay based on the initial conditions

11.5 Resonance in an AC Circuit

  • Determine the peak ac resonant angular frequency for a RLC circuit
  • Explain the width of the average power versus angular frequency curve and its significance using terms like bandwidth and quality factor

11.6 Transformers

  • Explain why power plants transmit electricity at high voltages and low currents and how they do this
  • Develop relationships among current, voltage, and the number of windings in step-up and step-down transformers

Module 11 Self Assessment Practice Problems