You are on page 1of 20

Topic 18 : Capacitance

• Sub- topics:
• 18.1 Capacitors and capacitance
• 18.2 Energy stored in a capacitor
• Is a device that is capable of storing electrical energy.
• It stores positive charge on one side of the plate, and negative on the other
side. Hence, giving the net/total charge stored is zero.
• Very useful component used in many electrical & electronic circuits. It can also
be used to block direct current, to produce electrical oscillations, to provide
smoothing for a rectifier dc circuit.
• Example, capacitors are used in computers, they are charged up in normal use,
and then they gradually discharge if there is a power failure, so that the
computer will operate long enough to save valuable data.
• All capacitor have 2 leads, connected to 2 metal plates where the charge is
stored. Between the plates is an insulating material called the dielectric. (air,
plastic sheets, oil)
Capacitor charging process
• Electrons are ‘pumped’ into plate A from the negative terminal of the battery causing
plate A to be negative charged.
• Due to the excessive electrons at plate A, the electrons in plate B are repelled out of
plate B, causing it to be positively charged.
• The movement of the electrons produces an electric current in the circuit.
• As time passes, the magnitude of the current begins to decrease till zero. (refer figure)
• When the current has stopped flowing, the capacitor is said to have become fully
• In short, the battery does work to separate charges (‘-’ on A, ‘+’ on B). Some of the
work done by battery is converted to energy stored in the capacitor as a result.

Capacitor discharging process
• Suppose the dc battery is removed. Since the capacitor is charged, a p.d exists across
A and B. A is negatively charged while B is positively charged.
• When a wire is connect electrically from A to B, free electrons immediately begin to
flow out of A and begin to flow into B.
• The movement of electrons in the external circuit produces current. The current
decreases with time.
• When the current stopped flowing, it means that A and B have finally become
electrically neutral. ( the capacitor is said to have discharged completely)


• Capacitance, C of a capacitor is defined as the charge stored per unit p.d. applied to the
capacitor. [Do not be confuse with the symbol for the quantity capacitance, C and the
unit for charge, C (Coulomb)]
• The SI unit for capacitance is Farad, F.

• A capacitance of 1F means that the capacitor will store 1C of charge if a p.d. of 1V is

applied across it.
• Hence, the greater the capacitance, the greater is the charge stored by the capacitor for
a given p.d. across it.
• If one plate of the capacitor stored charge of + Q, then the other plate will store equal
and opposite charge of – Q. We said that the charge stored by capacitor is Q. (In fact,
the total charge stored in the capacitor is zero).
• We focus our attention to one of the capacitor plates where there is an excess or
deficiency of electrons.
Q-V graph - relationship between charge and
• If the charge stored in the capacitor and the p.d. across the capacitor is
measured at various times of the charging process, the following V vs Q graph is
• We found that the reciprocal of gradient is equal to the capacitance.
p.d. across capacitor, V/V

Charge stored in capacitor, Q/C

Example 1
 A parallel plate capacitor of 3.5 nF is constructed using air as dielectric
material. The distance between the parallel plates of the capacitor is 5.0 mm.
A potential difference of 10 kV is applied across the plates, find:
(a) The charge on each plate
(b) The electric field strength between the plates

• A battery is connected to the plates of a capacitor and causes the potential

difference between the capacitor to rise from 0 to 5 V in 20 s. The current
flowing through the circuit is assumed to decrease uniformly from 50 µA to 0
within the same time. What is the capacitance?
Capacitors in Parallel
Capacitors which are all connected to the same
source of potential are said to be connected in
parallel. See below:

Parallel capacitors: Voltages:

VT = V1 = V2 = V3
C1 C2 C3



- - - - - -
QT = Q1 + Q2 + Q3
Capacitors in Parallel
Parallel capacitors: C = Q/V ; Q = CV
QT = Q 1 + Q 2 + Q 3
C1 C2 C3 CTVT = C1V1 + C2V2 + C3V3


- - - - - - Since voltages are equal:
The expression for capacitors in
parallel is similar to that for
CT = C1 + C2 + C3
resistors in series.
Capacitor in Series
Capacitors connected along a single path are said
to be connected in series. See circuit below:

Series capacitors: Voltages:

+ - + - + -
+ - + - + - VT = V1 + V2 + V3
C1 C2 C3
Battery Charges:
QT = Q1 = Q2 = Q3
Capacitors in Series
C = Q/V ; V = Q/C
V1 V2 V3
+Q -Q +Q -Q +Q -Q VT = V1 + V2 + V3
C1 C2 C3 QT/CT = Q1/C1 + Q2/C2 + Q3/C3
Q1 = Q2 = Q 3
Since charges are equal:
The expression for capacitors
1/CT = 1/C1 + 1/C2 + 1/C3
in series is similar to that for
resistors in parallel.
Example 2
 Find the charge across each capacitor and, hence the total charge QT.

C1 C2 C3
24 V
2 µF 4 µF 6 µF
Example 3
• Referring to the diagram, find the value of each quantity:
Ctotal , Q1, Q2, Q3, Qtotal , V1 , V2, V3

C1 C2 3 µF
24 V
4 µF C3 6 µF
Example 4
• Three capacitors, each marked ‘30 μF, 6 V max’, are arranged as shown.

(i) Determine the total capacitance,

(ii) Determine the maximum potential difference that can safely be applied
between points A and B.
Energy stored in charged capacitor
• In order to charge up a capacitor, work must be done by the supply to push
electrons on to 1 plate and off the other.

When a capacitor is charged,

work must be done to push
electrons against the repulsion
of the existing electrons.

• At first there is only a small amount of negative charge on the left hand plate.
Adding more electrons is relatively easy because there is not much repulsion.
• As the charge stored increases, the repulsion between the electrons on the
plate and the new electrons increases, a greater amount of work must be done
to increase the charge stored.
Energy stored in charged capacitor
• The previous figure shows the energy stored in a capacitor.
• We can use this graph to calculate energy stored in the capacitor which is
basically the area under the graph.

W = ½ QV or W = ½ CV2 or W = ½ Q2/C

• This energy stored by the capacitor will eventually be the amount of energy
released when the capacitor is discharged.
Example 5
• Which store more charge, a 100 μF capacitor charged to 200 V, or a 200 μF
capacitor charged to 100 V? Which stores more energy?

• A capacitor of capacitance 4700 μF is charged to a potential difference of 18 V.

It is then partially discharged through a resistor. The potential difference is
reduced to 12 V. Calculate the energy dissipated in the resistor during the
discharge at a steady rate.
Sharing charge, sharing energy
• If a capacitor is charged and then connected to a second
capacitor which is uncharged, what happens to the charge and
energy that it stores?
• Note that, when capacitors are connected together, the charge
will re-distribute itself until they have the same p.d. Since the
p.d. will always be the same eventually, thus we view this circuit
as a parallel connection.
• Their combined capacitance, CT is equal to the sum of their
individual capacitances.
• The charge stored is now shared between the two capacitors, the
total amount of charge stored must remain the same, since
charge is conserved.
• The p.d. can be calculated from V = Q/ CT and energy from W = ½
CV2 or ½ QV
Example 6
• Consider two 100 mF capacitors. One is charged to 10 V, disconnected from
the supply, and then connected across the other. Calculate the initial energy
stored and the final energy stored by the combination.
Example 7
• A capacitor of capacitance 12 μF is charged using a
battery of emf of 9.0 V, as shown.

(i) Switch S1 is closed and switch S2 is open.

The capacitor is now disconnected from the
battery by opening S1. Calculate the energy
stored in the capacitor.

(ii) The 12 μF capacitor is now connected to an uncharged capacitor of capacitance 20 μF by closing

S2. Switch S1 remains open. What is the total energy stored?

(iii) Suggest why this value is different from your answer in (i).