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Alternating currents and voltages are sinusoidal and vary with time. Alternating currents produce different responses in resistors, capacitors, and inductors than direct currents do.

Capacitance in AC Circuits

When capacitors are connected across a direct current DC supply voltage they become charged to the value of the applied voltage, acting like temporary storage devices and maintain or hold this charge indefinitely as long as the supply voltage is present. During this charging process, a charging current, ( i ) will flow into the capacitor opposing any changes to the voltage at a rate that is equal to the rate of change of the electrical charge on the plates. This charging current can be defined as: i = CdV/dt. Once the capacitor is "fully-charged" the capacitor blocks the flow of any more electrons onto its plates as they have become saturated. However, if we apply an alternating current or AC supply, the capacitor will alternately charge and discharge at a rate determined by the frequency of the supply. Then the Capacitance in AC circuits varies with frequency as the capacitor is being constantly charged and discharged. We know that the flow of electrons through the capacitor is directly proportional to the rate of change of the voltage across the plates. Then, we can see that capacitors in AC circuits like to pass current when the voltage across its plates is constantly changing with respect to time such as in AC signals, but it does not like to pass current when the applied voltage is of a constant value such as in DC signals. Consider the circuit below.

AC Capacitor Circuit

In the purely capacitive circuit above, the capacitor is connected directly across the AC supply voltage. As the supply voltage increases and decreases, the capacitor charges and discharges with respect to this change. We know that the charging current is directly proportional to the rate of change of the voltage across the plates with this rate of change at its greatest as the supply voltage crosses over from its positive half cycle to its negative half cycle or vice o o versa at points, 0 and 180 along the sine wave. Consequently, the least voltage change occurs when the AC sine wave crosses over at its maximum or minimum peak voltage level, ( Vm ). At these positions in the cycle the maximum or minimum currents are flowing through the capacitor circuit and this is shown below.

AC Capacitor Phasor Diagram

reactance is also measured in Ohm's but is given the symbol X to distinguish it from a purely resistive value. capacitive reactance depends on the value of the capacitor in Farads as well as the frequency of the AC waveform and the formula used to define capacitive reactance is given as: Capacitive Reactance . From the waveform above. We know that the current flowing through the capacitance in AC circuits is in opposition to the rate of change of the applied voltage but just like resistors. o Capacitive Reactance Capacitive Reactance in a purely capacitive circuit is the opposition to current flow in AC circuits only. Also. Then we can say that in a purely capacitive circuit o the alternating voltage lags the current by 90 . so capacitance in AC circuits suffers from Capacitive Reactance. but with capacitors in AC circuits this AC resistance is known as Reactance or more commonly in capacitor circuits. Then we can say that for capacitors in AC circuits the instantaneous current is at its minimum or zero whenever the applied voltage is at its maximum and likewise the instantaneous value of the current is at its maximum or peak value when the applied voltage is at its minimum or zero.At 0 the rate of change of the supply voltage is increasing in a positive direction resulting in a maximum charging o current at that instant in time. At the 180 point along the line the rate of change of the voltage is at its maximum again so maximum current flows at that instant and so on. Like resistance. the slope of the voltage is negative so the capacitor discharges in o the negative direction. capacitors also offer some form of resistance against the flow of current through the circuit. As the applied voltage reaches its maximum peak value at 90 for a very brief instant in time the supply voltage is neither increasing or decreasing so there is no current flowing through the circuit. we can see that the current is leading o the voltage by 1/4 cycle or 90 as shown by the vector diagram. As reactance can also be applied to Inductors as well as Capacitors it is more commonly known as Capacitive Reactance for capacitors in AC circuits and is given the symbol Xc so we can actually say that Capacitive Reactance is Resistance that varies with frequency. As the o applied voltage begins to decrease to zero at 180 . Capacitive Reactance.

As the frequency approaches infinity the capacitors reactance would reduce to zero acting like a perfect conductor. This means then that capacitive reactance is "Inversely proportional" to frequency for any given value of Capacitance and this shown below: Capacitive Reactance against Frequency The capacitive reactance of the capacitor decreases as the frequency across it increases therefore capacitive reactance is inversely proportional to frequency. the electrostatic charge on the plates (its AC capacitance value) remains constant as it becomes easier for the capacitor to fully absorb the change in charge on its plates during each half cycle. From the capacitive reactance formula above. acting like a very large resistance. So. Then we can see that at DC a capacitor has infinite reactance (open -circuit). This capacitive reactance is inversely proportional to frequency and produces the . The opposition to current flow. Find the current flowing in a circuit when a 4uF capacitor is connected across a 880v. Example No1. Also as the frequency increases the current flowing through the capacitor increases in value because the rate of voltage change across its plates increases. at very high frequencies a capacitor has zero reactance (short-circuit). 60Hz supply. 2πF can also be expressed collectively as the Greek letter Omega. Capacitive Reactance.Where: F is in Hertz and C is in Farads. as the frequency approaches zero or DC. it can be seen that if either of the Frequency orCapacitance where to be increased the overall capacitive reactance would decrease. However. the Capacitance in AC circuits varies with frequency as the capacitor is being constantly charged and discharged with the AC resistance of a capacitor being known as Reactance or more commonly in capacitor circuits. ω to denote an angular frequency. the capacitors reactance would increase up to infinity.

The amplitudes and the RMS voltages V do not add up in a simple arithmetical way. so it's worth repeating: vseries = vR + vC Vseries < VR + VC. Play the animation again (click play). But the y components of different vectors. but This should be clear on the animation and the still graphic below: check that the voltages v(t) do add up. and therefore phasors. Because we have sinusoidal variation in time. but the amplitude is less than VmR(t) + VmC(t). This may seem confusing. RC Series combinations When we connect components together. the AC voltages (amplitude times √2) do not add up. and look at the projections on the vertical axis. add up simply: if . The next animation makes this clear: they add to give a new sinusoidal voltage. and then look at the magnitudes. Similarly. Kirchoff's laws apply at any instant.opposition to current flow around a capacitive AC circuit as we looked at in the AC Capacitance tutorial in the AC Theory section. Here's where phasor diagrams are going to save us a lot of work. So the voltage v(t) across a resistor and capacitor in series is just vseries(t) = vR(t) + vC(t) however the addition is complicated because the two are not in phase. the vertical component (magnitude times the sine of the angle it makes with the x axis) gives us v(t).

We'll discuss phase below. The convention I use is that the x axis is the reference direction. which we do in the still figure below. the exact value depending on the size of VR and VC. The voltage phasors (brown for resistor. vC. which are peak values times 0. VC etc. is just the y projection of the sum of the component phasors. The reason is that the peak values (VmR etc) are rarely used in talking about AC: we use the RMS values. However I am just calling them VR.) The phasor diagram at right shows us a simple way to calculate the series voltage. So v(t). with the same relative phases. the voltage is common.rtotal = r1 + r2. So we can 'freeze' it in time at any instant to do the analysis. You'll see that the series voltage is behind the current in phase. rather than VmR.) Now let's stop that animation and label the values. the sum of the y projections of the component phasors. Phasor diagrams in RMS have the same shape as those drawn using amplitudes.71. (In a parallel circuit. So we can represent the three sinusoidal voltages by their phasors. and the reference is whatever is common in the circuit.71 = 1/√2. so I would make the voltage the horizontal axis. check the phases. blue for capacitor in the convention we've been using) add . vseries) have the same frequency f and the same angular frequency ω.) Be careful to distinguish v and V in this figure! (Careful readers will note that I'm taking a shortcut in these diagrams: the size of the arrows on the phasor diagrams are drawn the same as the amplitudes on the v(t) graphs. In this series circuit. the current is common. VmR etc. but everything is scaled by a factor of 0. but the relative phase is somewhere between 0 and 90°. (While you're looking at it. then ry total = ry1 + ry2. vR. All of the variables (i. so their phasors rotate together. so the current is the same in both. The components are in series.

Zseries and so for this series circuit. to give the series voltage (the red arrow). Their ratio is the series impedance. and remembering that the RMS value V = Vm/√2. like this: From Pythagoras' theorem: V2mRC = V2mR + V2mC If we divide this equation by two. we also get: Now this looks like Ohm's law again: V is proportional to I. By now you don't need to look at v(t). .according to vector or phasor addition. you can go straight from the circuit diagram to the phasor diagram.

Ohm's law in AC. We shall show this characteristic frequency on all graphs on this page. Remember how. so their phasors are parallel. From simple trigonometry. Either way we get where the current goes to zero at DC (capacitor is open circuit) and to V/R at high frequencies (no time to charge the capacitor). We can rearrange the equations above to obtain the current flowing in this circuit. the angle by which the current leads the voltage is . We now derive expressions for their relative phase. Alternatively we can simply use the Ohm's Law analogy and say that I = Vsource/ZRC. At the angular frequency ω = ωo = 1/RC. Because the phasors for reactances are 90° out of phase with the current.Note the frequency dependence of the series impedance ZRC: at low frequencies. the capacitive reactance 1/ωC equals the resistance R. for two resistors in series. so let's look at the phasor diagram again. So far we have concentrated on the magnitude of the voltage and current. you could just add the resistances: Rseries = R1 + R2 to get the resistance of the series combination. the capacitive reactance goes to zero (the capacitor doesn't have time to charge up) so the series impedance goes to R. the impedance is very large. At high frequencies. That simple result comes about because the two voltages are both in phase with the current. because the capacitive reactance 1/ωC is large (the capacitor is open circuit for DC). the series impedance of a resistor R and a reactance X are given by Pythagoras' law: Zseries2 = R2 + X2 .

However.71. At high frequencies. so φ is negative. The voltage is behind the current because the capacitor takes time to charge up.) At low frequencies. the impedance of the series RC circuit is dominated by the capacitor. you select low frequencies. Of course the two voltages must add up to give the voltage of the source. V2RC = V2R + V2C. The voltage is mainly across the capacitor at low frequencies. by chosing to look at the voltage across the resistor.tan-1 (VC/VR) = tan-1 (IXC/IR) = tan-1 (1/ωRC) = tan-1 (1/2πfRC). At the frequency ω = ωo = 1/RC. (You may want to go back to the RC animation to check out the phases in time. the phase φ = 45° and the voltage fractions are VR/VRC = VC/VRC = 1/2V1/2 = 0. and one which merits its own page: filters. you select mainly the high frequencies. This brings us to one of the very important applications of RC circuits. the impedance approaches R and the phase difference approaches zero. but they add up as vectors. integrators and differentiators where we use sound files as examples of RC filtering. The frequency dependence of Z and φ are important in the applications of RC circuits. we shall refer to the angle φ by which the voltage leads the current. . So. ie φ = tan-1 (1/ωRC) = tan-1 (1/2πfRC). so the voltage is 90° behind the current. across the capacitor. and mainly across the resistor at high frequencies.

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