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Year 11 Mains Electricity Summary

1 Alternating Current

A battery makes current ow around a circuit in one direction only. We refer to this current as being direct current (d.c.). When we switch on a light at home, we use alternating current (a.c.) because mains electricity is an a.c. supply. The fundamental dierence between alternating current and direct current is that alternating current repeatedly reverses direction. It ows one way and then the opposite way in successive cycles. Its frequency is the number of cycles it passes through each second. In the UK, the mains frequency is 50 cycles per second (or 50Hz). A light bulb works just as well at this frequency as it would with a direct current.


Mains Circuits

All mains power sockets in our houses, schools, factories etc have a live and neutral wire. The current through a mains appliance alternates because the mains supply provides an alternating voltage between these two wires. The neutral wire is earthed (0V) at a sub-station. The live wire is very dangerous because its potential (i.e. voltage) repeatedly changes from + and and back every cycle. It reaches just over 300V in both directions.


How did we Measure the Alternating Current?

We did the practical using the oscilloscopes. These can be used to display alternating current. They can be analysed to see what the peak voltage is. The oscilloscope has the two adjustments, the y-gain and also the time base. The y-gain tells us how many volts correspond to each division going from the bottom to the top of the screen. The time base tells us the time that each division from the left to the right of the screen corresponds to. The traces you drew into your exercise books will help more with this. The main equation to be aware of is: the frequency of the a.c. supply, Hz = 1 the time taken for one cycle, s (1)


Final Points on Mains Circuits

The live wire alternates between +325V and 325V. In terms of electrical power, this would be equivalent to roughly a direct voltage of 230V. This is why we say that the voltage of the mains supply is 230V. Each complete cycle takes 0.02 seconds. By doing the maths, we can see that 0.02 seconds goes into 1 second 50 times so we can say that the mains supply alternates at 50 cycles per second. Therefore the frequency of the mains supply is 50Hz. IMPORTANT FACT: Mains electricity is very dangerous. It only takes a current of about 0.03A to give you a severe electric shock, This might even electrocute you. Your body has a resistance of about 1000 Never touch a wire or terminal with a potential of 30V or more. Summary Points: Alternating current constantly reverses direction. Direct current travels in one direction only. The peak voltage of an alternating potential dierence is the maximum voltage measured from zero volts. Mains electricity is an alternating current supply (230V and 50Hz frequency). All mains circuits have a live wire which is alternately positive and negative every cycle and a neutral wire at zero volts.

Cables & Plugs

Plugging in a toaster or kettle with a metal case will earth the metal case automatically. By doing this, the metal case cannot become live if the live wire breaks and touches it. You would be electrocuted if the case did become live and you touched it. Plastic materials are very good insulators. An appliance with a plastic case is doublyinsulated and carries the double-insulation symbol:


Plugs, Sockets & Cables

All the outer casings of the above three things are made of hard waring plastic material (an electrical insulator). This is all because plugs, sockets and cables each contain live wires. Sockets are made of sti plastic material with the wires inside it, see the picture I gave you for your notes. In your house, the earth wire will be connected to the ground.

The longest pin of a standard three pin plug is specically designed to make contact with the earth wire of a wall socket circuit. Therefore, whenever you plug something in with a metal case, the case will be automatically earthed. Plugs have cases which are once again made of plastic materials, as we have seen. The pins are made of brass because brass is a good conductor and does not rust or oxidise (think of your chemistry now!). Copper isnt as hard as brass even though it conducts better. The case material is an electrical insulator. The inside of the case is specially shaped so that, under normal operation, the wires and pins cannot touch each other when the plug is sealed. The plug also contains a fuse between the live pin and the live wire. The fuse will melt and cut the live wire o if too much current passes through it. Cables used in mains appliances are made up of two or three insulated copper wires which are surrounded by an outer layer of rubber or exible plastic material. Copper is used for the wires because it is a good conductor of electricity. Plastic is a good insulator so will prevent anyone touching the cable from getting an electric shock. Two-core cables are used for appliances which have plastic cases e.g. hair dryers, radios etc. Cables will vary in thickness depending on what they need to be used for. For example, the cables joining the wall sockets in a house must be much thicker than the cables joining the light ttings. This is because more current passes along wall socket cables than along the lighting circuits, so the wires in them must be much thicker. This will stop the heating eect of the current making the wires too hot. Summary Points: Cables consist of two or three insulated copper wires surrounded by an outer layer of exible plastic material. Sockets and plugs are made of sti plastic materials which house the electrical connections. In a three pin plug the live wire is brown, the neutral wire is blue and the earth wire is yellow AND green. The earth wire is there to earth the metal case of a mains appliance.


Whenever a fuse needs to be replaced in an appliance, it is very important that we know what the fuse rating of the appliance actually is. Otherwise, the new fuse might blow as soon as it is used. Alternatively, it might let too much current through and cause a re. In simple terms, a fuse contains a thin wire that heats up and melts if too much current passes through it (think back to the practical we did on this). Whenever we refer to fuse ratings, we are always talking about the maximum current that can pass through the fuse itself without melting the fuse wire. A fuse in a mains plug must always have the correct rating for the appliance. If the rating is too large, the fuse will not blow when it should. The subsequent heating eect of the current could be enough to set the appliance on re. If the correct fuse is tted, the connecting cable must be thick enough to make the heating eect of the current owing through the cable insignicant.


Earthing Appliances

Now is a good time to refer to the coloured images with their associated captions to make sure you are totally familiar with this process. It is not completely re-written in these notes, as the diagrams and captions clearly demonstrate the process. As I have mentioned in our lessons, there is almost certainly going to be a question on some part of the process of earthing. Remember though, it may not be a simple case of writing down each process, but using your own understanding of the processes to answer a question on it in a scenario that the question describes.


Circuit Breakers

We did mention circuit breakers briey as being the more modern way of protecting electrical circuits (as opposed to using fuses). A circuit breaker is simply an electromagnetic switch that opens (trips) and will cut o the current if it becomes greater than a certain value. It can then be reset once the fault that made it trip has been sorted out. Circuit breakers are sometimes tted in fuse boxes in place of fuses. Have a look at the fuse box in your house and see how many there are. The key advantages of circuit breakers over fuses are that they work faster at cutting o the current and they can be reset quicker. The Residual Current Circuit Breaker (RCCB) works even faster than an ordinary circuit breaker. An RCCB cuts o the current in the live wire when it is dierent from the current in the neutral wire. The RCCB can be used when there is no earth connection. The RCCB is also more sensitive than either a fuse or an ordinary circuit breaker. IMPORTANT FACT: If the live wire touches the neutral wire inside an appliance, a very large current will pass between the two wires at the point of contact. This is referred to as short circuit. If the fuse blows, the current is 4

cut o. Summary Points: A fuse is a thin wire that heats up and melts, cutting o the current of too much current passes through it. A fuse is always tted in series with the live wire. This will cut o the appliance from the live wire if the fuse blows. A circuit breaker is an electromagnetic switch that opens and cuts the current o if too much current passes through it. A mains appliance with a plastic case does not need to be earthed because plastic is an insulator and so cannot become live.

Electrical Power and Potential Dierence

Whenever we use an electrical appliance, it transfers electrical energy into another form of energy. The power of an appliance measured in watts (W) is the energy it transfers per second. This can be shown by the equation below: Power (watts, W) = energy transferred (Joules, J) time (seconds, s) (2)

This can be simplied to symbols as shown below: P = E t (3)


Calculating Power

Millions of electrons pass through the circuit of a bulb every second. Every one of these electrons will carry a small amount of energy to it from the battery. So, the total energy transferred to it each second is large enough to enable the appliance to work. For any electrical appliance: the current passing through it is the charge owing through it each second. the potential dierence across it is the energy transferred to the appliance by each coulomb of charge that passes through it. the power supplied to it is the energy transferred to it each second. This is the electrical energy it transfers every second. That means that: Power supplied (watts, W) = Current (amperes, A) Potential dierence (volts, V) (4) 5

This can of course be written in symbol form as: P =I V Rearranging the above equation gives: V = P , I I= P V (6) (5)


Choosing the Right Fuse

All our domestic household appliances are often tted with a 3A, 5A or 13A fuse. If you dont know which one to use in an appliance, it is possible to work it out. You use the power rating of the appliance and its potential dierence (voltage). The next time a fuse needs changing try out a quick calculation to make sure its rating is correct for the appliance. Summary Points: The power supplied to a device is the energy transferred to it each second. Electrical power supplied (W) = current (amperes) potential dierence (volts). The correct rating for a fuse (in amperes) = electrical power (watts) potential dierence (volts)


Electrical Energy and Charge

Calculating Charge

Switching on an appliance forces electrons through the appliance by the potential dierence of the power supply unit. The potential dierence causes a ow of charge through the appliance carried by electrons. Electric current is the rate of ow of charge through an appliance. The unit of charge, the coulomb (C), is the amount of charge owing through a wire or a component in 1 second when the current is 1A. The charge passing through a wire in a certain time will depend on the current and the time the charge ows for. We can calculate the charge using the equation: charge (coulombs) = current (amperes) time (seconds) Once again, using symbols, this can be written as: Q=I t (8) (7)


Energy and Potential Dierence

When we connect a resistor to a battery, the electrons are made to pass through the resistor by the battery. Every electron frequently collides with the vibrating ions of the resistor transferring energy to them. The ions of the resistor therefore gain kinetic energy and vibrate even more. This is why the resistor becomes hotter. Whenever charge ows through a resistor, energy is transferred to the resistor so the resistor gets hotter. The energy transferred in a certain time in a resistor depends on: the amount of charge that passes through it the potential dierence across the resistor. We can apply another equation to nd out the energy transferred: Energy transferred (Joules, J) = Potential Dierence (Volts, V) Charge (Coulombs, C) (9) Once again, the equation can be written in symbol form: E =V Q (10)


Energy Transfer in a Circuit

Consider a circuit consisting of a 12V battery connected in series with a torch bulb and a variable resistor. When the potential dierence across the bulb is 10V, the potential dierence across the variable resistor is 2V. Each coulomb of charge: leaves the battery with 12J of energy (because energy from the battery = charge battery potential dierence, transfers 10J of energy to the torch bulb (because energy transfer to the bulb = charge potential dierence across bulb, transfers 2J of energy to the variable resistor. The energy transferred to the bulb makes the bulb hot and give o light. The energy transferred to the variable resistor makes the variable resistor warm so energy is transferred to the surroundings by both the bulb and the resistor. From this, we can say that the energy from the battery is equal to the sum of the energy transferred to the bulb and to the variable resistor. This nal section is probably one of the more dicult topics within this chapter. You are all sitting the higher tier papers so you will be required to know and apply the ideas 7

that we have met here. Sections like this are put in with the intention of being able to see which candidates are capable of attaining the top grade in the exam. In the summary points, an [H] means that the point is an A* learning point. Summary Points: An electric current is the rate of ow of charge. Charge (Coulombs)=current (amperes) time (seconds) [H] When an electrical charge ows through a resistor, energy transferred to the resistor makes it hot. Energy transferred (Joules) = Potential dierence (volts) Charge ow (Coulombs). [H] When charge ows round a circuit for a period of time, the electrical energy supplied by the battery is equal to the electrical energy transferred to all the components in the circuit. [H]