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Power Supplies

Types of Power Supply

There are many types of power supply. Most are designed to convert high voltage AC mains electricity to a suitable low voltage supply for electronics circuits and other devices. A power supply can by broken down into a series of blocks, each of which performs a particular function. For example a 5V regulated supply:

Each of the blocks is described in more detail below:

Transformer - steps down high voltage AC mains to low voltage AC. Rectifier - converts AC to DC, but the DC output is varying. Smoothing - smooths the DC from varying greatly to a small ripple. Regulator - eliminates ripple by setting DC output to a fixed voltage.

Power supplies made from these blocks are described below with a circuit diagram and a graph of their output:

Transformer only Transformer + Rectifier Transformer + Rectifier + Smoothing Transformer + Rectifier + Smoothing + Regulator

Transformer only

The low voltage AC output is suitable for lamps, heaters and special AC motors. It is not suitable for electronic circuits unless they include a rectifier and a smoothing capacitor.

Transformer + Rectifier

The varying DC output is suitable for lamps, heaters and standard motors. It is not suitable for electronic circuits unless they include a smoothing capacitor.

Transformer + Rectifier + Smoothing

The smooth DC output has a small ripple. It is suitable for most electronic circuits.

Transformer + Rectifier + Smoothing + Regulator

The regulated DC output is very smooth with no ripple. It is suitable for all electronic circuits.


Transformers convert AC electricity from one Transformer voltage to another with little loss of power. circuit symbol Transformers work only with AC and this is one of the reasons why mains electricity is AC. Step-up transformers increase voltage, stepdown transformers reduce voltage. Most power supplies use a step-down transformer to reduce the dangerously high mains voltage (230V in UK) to a safer low voltage. The input coil is called the primary and the output coil is called the secondary. There is no electrical connection between the two coils, instead they are linked by an alternating magnetic field created in the soft-iron core of the transformer. The two lines in the middle of the circuit symbol represent the core. Transformers waste very little power so the power out is (almost) equal to the power in. Note that as voltage is stepped down current is stepped up. The ratio of the number of turns on each coil, called the turns ratio, determines the ratio of the voltages. A step-down transformer has a large number of turns on its primary (input) coil which is connected to the high voltage mains supply, and a small number of turns on its secondary (output) coil to give a low output voltage. turns ratio = Vp Np = Vs Ns

power out = power in Vs Is = Vp Ip

Vp = primary (input) voltage Np = number of turns on primary coil Ip = primary (input) current

Vs = secondary (output) voltage Ns = number of turns on secondary coil Is = secondary (output) current

There are several ways of connecting diodes to make a rectifier to convert AC to DC. The bridge rectifier is the most important and it produces full-wave varying DC. A full-wave rectifier can also be made from just two diodes if a centre-tap transformer is used, but this method is rarely used now that diodes are cheaper. A single diode can be used as a rectifier but it only uses the positive (+) parts of









Bridge rectifier A bridge rectifier can be made using four individual diodes, but it is also available in special packages containing the four diodes required. It is called a full-wave rectifier because it uses all the AC wave (both positive and negative sections). 1.4V is used up in the bridge rectifier because each diode uses 0.7V when conducting and there are always two diodes conducting, as shown in the diagram below. Bridge rectifiers are rated by the maximum current they can pass and the maximum reverse voltage they can withstand (this must be at least three times the supply RMS voltage so the rectifier can withstand the peak voltages).


rectifier Output:




Alternate pairs of diodes conduct, changing over (using all the AC wave) the connections so the alternating directions of AC are converted to the one direction of DC.

Single diode rectifier A single diode can be used as a rectifier but this produces half-wave varying DC which has gaps when the AC is negative. It is hard to smooth this sufficiently well to supply electronic circuits unless they require a very small current so the smoothing capacitor does not significantly discharge during the gaps.

Single diode rectifier





(using only half the AC wave)

Smoothing is performed by a large value electrolytic capacitor connected across the DC supply to act as a reservoir, supplying current to the output when the varying DC voltage from the rectifier is falling. The diagram shows the unsmoothed varying DC (dotted line) and the smoothed DC (solid line). The capacitor charges quickly near the peak of the varying DC, and then discharges as it supplies current to the output.

Note that smoothing significantly increases the average DC voltage to almost the peak value (1.4 RMS value). For example 6V RMS AC is rectified to full wave DC of about 4.6V RMS (1.4V is lost in the bridge rectifier), with smoothing this increases to almost the peak value giving 1.4 4.6 = 6.4V smooth DC. Smoothing is not perfect due to the capacitor voltage falling a little as it discharges, giving a small ripple voltage. For many circuits a ripple which is 10% of the supply voltage is satisfactory and the equation below gives the required value for the smoothing capacitor. A larger capacitor will give less ripple. The capacitor value must be doubled when smoothing half-wave DC. Smoothing capacitor for 10% ripple, C = 5 Io Vs f

C = smoothing capacitance in farads (F) Io = output current from the supply in amps (A) Vs = supply voltage in volts (V), this is the peak value of the unsmoothed DC f = frequency of the AC supply in hertz (Hz), 50Hz in the UK



Voltage regulator ICs are available with fixed (typically 5, 12 and 15V) or variable output voltages. They are also rated by the maximum current they can pass. Negative voltage regulators are available, mainly for use in dual supplies. Most regulators include some automatic protection from excessive current ('overload protection') and overheating ('thermal protection'). Many of the fixed voltage regulator ICs have 3 leads and look like power transistors, such as the 7805 +5V 1A regulator shown on the right. They include a hole for attaching a heatsink if necessary.

zener diode a = anode, k = cathode Zener diode regulator

For low current power supplies a simple voltage regulator can be made with a resistor and a zener diode connected in reverse as shown in the diagram. Zener diodes are rated by their breakdown voltage Vz and maximum power Pz (typically 400mW or 1.3W). The resistor limits the current (like an LED resistor). The current through the resistor is constant, so when there is no output current all the current flows through the zener diode and its power rating Pz must be large enough to withstand this. Choosing a zener diode and resistor: 1. The zener voltage Vz is the output voltage required 2. The input voltage Vs must be a few volts greater than Vz
(this is to allow for small fluctuations in Vs due to ripple)

3. The maximum current Imax is the output current required plus 10% 4. The zener power Pz is determined by the maximum current: Pz > Vz Imax 5. The resistor resistance: R = (Vs - Vz) / Imax 6. The resistor power rating: P > (Vs - Vz) Imax Example: output voltage required is 5V, output current required is 60mA. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.
Vz = 4.7V (nearest value available) Vs = 8V (it must be a few volts greater than Vz) Imax = 66mA (output current plus 10%) Pz > 4.7V 66mA = 310mW, choose Pz = 400mW R = (8V - 4.7V) / 66mA = 0.05k = 50 , choose R = 47 Resistor power rating P > (8V - 4.7V) 66mA = 218mW, choose P = 0.5W



The rectifier circuitry takes the initial ac sine wave from the transformer or other source and converts it to pulsating dc. A full-wave rectifier will produce the waveform shown to the right, while a half-wave rectifier will pass only every other half-cycle to its output. This may be good enough for a basic battery charger, although some types of rechargeable batteries still won't like it. In any case, it is nowhere near good enough for most electronic circuitry. We need a way to smooth out the pulsations and provide a much "cleaner" dc power source for the load circuit. To accomplish this, we need to use a circuit called a filter. In general terms, a filter is any circuit that will remove some parts of a signal or power source, while allowing other parts to continue on without significant hinderance. In a power supply, the filter must remove or drastically reduce the ac variations while still making the desired dc available to the load circuitry. Filter circuits aren't generally very complex, but there are several variations. Any given filter may involve capacitors, inductors, and/or resistors in some combination. Each such combination has both advantages and disadvantages, and its own range of practical application. We will examine a number of common filter circuits on this page.

A Single Capacitor

If we place a capacitor at the output of the full-wave rectifier as shown to the left, the capacitor will charge to the peak voltage each half-cycle, and then will discharge more slowly through the load while the rectified voltage drops back to zero before beginning the next half-cycle. Thus, the capacitor helps to fill in the gaps between the peaks, as shown in red in the first figure to the right. Although we have used straight lines for simplicity, the decay is actually the normal exponential decay of any capacitor discharging through a load resistor. The extent to which the capacitor voltage drops depends on the capacitance of the capacitor and the amount of current drawn by the load; these two factors effectively form the RC time constant for voltage decay.

As a result, the actual voltage output from this combination never drops to zero, but rather takes the shape shown in the second figure to the right. The blue portion of the waveform corresponds to the portion of the input cycle where the rectifier provides current to the load, while the red portion shows when the capacitor provides current to the load. As you can see, the output voltage, while not pure dc, has much less variation (or ripple, as it is called) than the unfiltered output of the rectifier. A half-wave rectifier with a capacitor filter will only recharge the capacitor on every other peak shown here, so the capacitor will discharge considerably more between input pulses. Nevertheless, if the output voltage from the filter can be kept high enough at all times, the capacitor filter is sufficient for many kinds of loads, when followed by a suitable regulator circuit.

RC Filters

In order to reduce the ripple still more without losing too much of the dc output, we need to extend the filter circuit a bit. The circuit to the right shows one way to do this. This circuit does cause some dc loss in the resistor, but if the required load current is low, this is an acceptable loss. To see how this circuit reduces ripple voltage more than it reduces the dc output voltage, consider a load circuit that draws 10 mA at 20 volts dc. We'll use 100 f capacitors and a 100 resistor in the filter. For dc, the capacitors are effectively open circuits. Therefore any dc losses will be in that 100 resistor. for a load current of 10 mA (0.01 A), the resistor will drop 100 0.01 = 1 volt. Therefore, the dc output from the rectifier must be 21 volts, and the dc loss in the filter resistor amounts to 1/21, or about 4.76% of the rectifier output. This is generally quite acceptable. On the other hand, the ripple voltage (in the USA) exists mostly at a frequency of 120 Hz (there are higher-frequency components, but they will be attenuated even more than the 120 Hz component). At this frequency, each capacitor has a reactance of about 13.26. Thus R and C2 form a voltage divider that reduces the ripple to about 13% of what came from the rectifier. Therefore, for a dc loss of less than 5%, we have attenuated the ripple by almost 87%. This is a substantial amount of ripple reduction, although it doesn't remove the ripple entirely. If the amount of ripple is still too much for the particular load circuit, additional filtering or a regulator circuit will be required.

LC Filters

While the RC filter shown above helps to reduce the ripple voltage, it introduces excessive resistive losses when the load current is significant. To reduce the ripple even more without a lot of dc resistance, we can replace the resistor with an inductor as shown in the circuit diagram to the right. In this circuit, the two capacitors store energy as before, and attempt to maintain a constant output voltage between input peaks from the rectifier. At the same time, the inductor stores energy in its magnetic field, and releases energy as needed in its attempt to maintain a constant current through itself. This provides yet another factor that attempts to smooth out the ripple voltage. In some cases, C1 is omitted from this filter circuit. The result is a lower dc output voltage, but improved ripple removal. The choice is a trade-off, and must be made according to the specific requirements in each individual case. For dc, the inductance has only the resistance of the wire that comprises the coil, which amounts to a few ohms. Meanwhile, the capacitors still operate as open circuits at dc, so they do not reduce the dc output voltage. However, at the basic ripple frequency of 120 Hz, a 10 Henry inductance has a reactance of: XL = 2fL = 7540 At the same time, a 100 f capacitor at the same ripple frequency has a reactance of: XC = 1/2fC = 13.26 Thus, L and C2 form a voltage divider that drastically reduces the ripple component (to less than 0.2%) while leaving the desired dc output nearly alone. This configuration may provide sufficiently pure dc for some applications, without the need for any following regulator at all. The drawback of this approach is that a 10 Henry inductor is as large as some power transformers, with a heavy iron core. It takes up a lot of space and is relatively expensive. This is why the RC filter circuit may be preferred to the LC filter, provided the ripple reduction is sufficient and the power loss in the resistor is not excessive.

Voltage Dividers

In many circuits, it is necessary to obtain a voltage not available from the main power source. Rather than have multiple power sources for all needed voltages, we can derive other voltages from the main power source. In most cases, the needed voltage is less than the voltage from the main source, so we can use resistors in an appropriate configuration to reduce the voltage from the power source, for use in a small circuit. If we know precisely both the voltage and current required, we can simply connect a resistor in series with the power source, with a value calculated in accordance with Ohm's Law. This resistor will drop some of the source voltage, leaving the right amount for the actual load, as shown to the right. Usually, however, this doesn't work too well. The required value of the series dropping resistor will almost never be a standard value, and the cost of having special values manufactured for specific circuits is prohibitive. For example, suppose we have a 9 volt battery as your main power source, and want to operate a load that requires 5 volts at 3.5 milliamperes. Our series resistor, R, must drop 4 volts at 3.5 mA. Using Ohm's Law to calculate the required resistance value, we find that we need a resistance of 4/0.0035 = 1142.8571 or 1.1428571k. We have a choice between 1.1k and 1.2k as standard 5% values, but neither will give us what we want.

A more practical solution to the problem is to use two resistors in series, and use the voltage appearing across one of them. This configuration is known as a voltage divider because it divides the source voltage into two parts. The basic circuit is shown to the right. In this circuit, the output voltage, VOUT, can be set accurately as a fraction of the source voltage, E. Using our example above, we want to select R1 and R2 such that we will drop 4 volts across R1, leaving 5 volts across R2. Since VOUT is the voltage across R2, this will give us the voltage we want. But how do we find the correct values of resistance to do this? The first step is to note that, with no external connection to VOUT, this is simply a series connection and the same current must flow through both resistors. (We'll deal with the load current shortly.) Therefore, in accordance with Ohm's Law, the ratio of voltage across these resistors will be equal to the ratio of the resistance values themselves. In this case, the voltage ratio we want is 4:5, or 0.8:1. Therefore, we want this resistor ratio as well. But there are 20 different standard 5% resistance values in each decade range, so there are lots of possible resistance ratios. Most will be wrong for this purpose, of course. So how do we find two standard resistance values that will give the ratio we want? We could do it manually, testing each possible combination. But a better way is to let the computer do the tedious work and present all options to us. Then we can select the values we want from the list of valid possibilities. The table shows the significant digits of standard 5% resistor values. When you type in a ratio, it calculates the corresponding significant digits that would be required to complete that ratio. All you need to do is pick out ratios of valid significant digits. In this case, the table shows that you can use resistance values of 15:12, 20:16, or 30:24 to obtain the ratio of 1:0.8. If you had specified 1:1.25 (the inverse of 0.8:1), you would have gotten the ratios of 12:15, 16:20,

and 24:30. Either way, these are workable choices, while all other choices fail to match standard values. We can get a VOUT of 5 volts, then, if we set R1 = 1.2k and R2 = 1.5k. We can also get the same VOUT if we make R1 = 12k and R2 = 15k. The exact resistor values don't matter, so long as their ratio is correct.

The one thing we haven't accounted for as yet is the current drawn by the load. This will necessarily upset the resistance balance, since any load current will flow through R1, but not through R2. As a result, the load will reduce output voltage of the voltage divider by some amount. Appropriately, this effect is called loading. To calculate the effect of loading and its extent in any given instance, we must realize that the voltage divider circuit behaves in exactly the same way as a battery of voltage VOUT with a series resistor whose value is equal to the parallel combination of R1 and R2. The figure to the right shows the equivalent circuit for our example voltage divider. Now, we noted earlier that our example load draws 3.5mA at 5 volts. In accordance with Ohm's Law, this current will drop a voltage of 2.33333 volts across that 667 resistor. Thus, our example voltage divider will not be able to provide +5 volts to this load. If we reduce the resistors in the voltage divider to 120 and 150 , the equivalent series resistance is only 66.7 so the voltage drop caused by this load will be 0.23333 volt. This may be a small enough loss to ignore in a practical circuit. The drawback of this is that such low resistance values will draw a significant amount of current from the original source. This is probably acceptable if the original source is an electronic power supply, but not if it's an

actual battery. Thus, this use of a voltage divider is reasonable and appropriate in some circumstances, but not in all cases.

The voltage divider is a very simple circuit that can be highly accurate if not loaded down. In many cases it cannot be used directly, as we have seen. However, in such cases it can either be adapted, or augmented with other components to preserve its operation while avoiding the problems that can occur. Thus, even in those cases where a voltage divider by itself is not sufficient to meet the need, it can serve as the basis of a circuit that will perform as required. We'll see any number of examples of this in practical examples on this Website.