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Ways to Power a Project

Herearesomeofthemostmethodsusedforpoweringaproject:

ACtoDCpowersupplies(likeacomputerorlaptopwoulduse)

VariableDCbenchpowersupply

Batteries

ViaaUSBcable

Fourcommonwaystosupplypowertoyourproject

Which option should I pick to power my project?


Theanswertothisquestionlargelydependsonyourprojectspecificrequirements.
IfyourestartingoffwiththeSparkFunInventorsKitoranotherbasicdevelopmentboard,youwilllikely
justneedaUSBcable.TheArduinoUnoisanexamplethatrequiresonlyaUSBAtoBcabletosupplythe
powertoruntheexamplecircuitsinthekit.
Ifyoureinthebusinessofbuildingprojectsandtestingcircuitsregularly,acquiringavariableDCbench
powersupplyishighlyrecommended.Thiswillallowyoutosetthevoltagetoaspecificvaluedepending
onwhatyouneedforyourproject.Italsobuysyousomeprotectionasyoucansetamaximumcurrent
allowed.Then,ifthereisashortcircuitinyourproject,thebenchsupplywillshutdownhopefully
preventingharmtosomecomponentsinyourproject.
AspecificACtoDCpowersupplyisoftenusedafteracircuitisproven.Thisoptionisalsogreatifyou
oftenusethesamedevelopmentboardagainandagaininyourprojects.Thesewalladaptersusuallyhavea
setvoltageandcurrentoutput,soitsimportanttomakesurethattheadapteryouchoosehasthecorrect
specificationsastheprojectyouwillbepoweringandtonotexceedthosespecifications.
IfyouwantyourprojecttobemobileorbasedinaremotelocationawayfromwhereyoucangatherAC
wallpowerfromthegrid,batteriesaretheansweryourelookingfor.Batteriescomeinahugevarietyso
besuretocheckoutthelaterpartsofthistutorialsoyoucanfigureoutpreciselywhattochoose.Common
choicesincluderechargeableNiMHAAsandlithiumpolymerion.

Voltage/Current Considerations
How much voltage do I need for project X?
Thisdependslargelyonthecircuit,sothereisnoeasyanswertothisquestion.However,most
microprocessordevelopmentboardsliketheArduinoUnohaveavoltageregulatoronboard.Thisallows
ustosupplyavoltageinaspecifiedrangeabovetheregulatedvoltage.AlotofmicroprocessorsandICs
ondevelopmentboardsrunat3.3or5Voltsbuthavevoltageregulatorsthatcanhandleanywherefrom6V
to12V.

Thepowercomesfromapowersupplyandisthenregulatedcloselybyavoltageregulatorsothateach
chipispoweredataconsistentvoltageevenwhenthecurrentdrawmayfluctuateatdifferenttimes.Hereat
SparkFun,weuse9Vpowersuppliesformanyofourproductsthatoperateinthe3.3Vto5Vrange.
However,toverifywhatvoltagesaresafe,itisrecommendedthatyoucheckthedatasheetforthevoltage
regulatoronthedevelopmentboardtoseewhatvoltagerangeisrecommendedbythemanufacturer.

How much current do I need for project X?


Thisquestionalsodependsonthedevelopmentboardandmicroprocessoryoureusingaswellaswhat
circuitsyouplanonconnectingtoit.Ifyourpowersupplycannotgiveyoutheamountofjuicetheproject
needs,thecircuitmaystartactinginastrange,unpredictableway.Thisisalsoknownasabrownout.
Aswithvoltage,itsrecommendedtocheckthedatasheetsandestimatewhatthedifferentbitsandpieces
ofthecircuitmightneed.Itsalsobetterpracticetoroundupandassumeyourcircuitwillneedmore
currentthantonotprovideenoughcurrent.Ifyourcircuitincludeselementsthatrequiremassiveamounts
ofcurrent,likemotorsorlargeamountsofLEDs,youmayneedalargesupplyorevenseparatesupplies
forthemicroprocessorandtheextramotors.Again,itsalwaysinyourbestinteresttogetapowersupply
ratedforahighercurrentandnotusetheextrathantohaveasupplythatcantprovideenough.

Have no idea how much current your project draws?


Onceyouvebeenplayingwithcircuitsforawhile,itwillbeeasiertoestimatetheamountofcurrentyour
projectrequires.However,thecommonwaystofigureitoutexperimentallyaretoeitheruseavariableDC
powersupplythathasareadoutforcurrentortouseadigitalmultimetertomeasurethecurrentgoingto
yourcircuitwhileitsrunning.Ifyoudontknowhowtomeasurecurrentwithamultimeter,pleasesee
ourmultimetertutorial.

DigitalMultimeter
WehighlyrecommendhavingaDMMinyourelectronicstoolbox.Itsgreatformeasuringcurrentor
voltage.

Connections
How do I connect my battery or power supply to my
circuit?
Therearemanywaystoactuallyconnectapowersupplytoyourproject.

Commonwaystoconnectapowertoyourcircuit
Variablebenchtoppowersuppliescommonlyconnecttocircuitsusingbananajacksorwiresdirectly.
Thesearealsosimilartotheconnectorsfoundonthemultimeterprobecables.
Manyprojectsarebuiltonabreadboardfirst,asaprototype,beforetheybecomeafinalproduct.There
arenumerouswaystopoweryourbreadboardcircuit,manyoftheminvolvingathesameconnectors
mentionedhere.

Onceaprojectispasttheprototypingphase,itwillusuallyenduponaPCB.Oneofthemostcommon
powerconnectorsusedonafinishedPCB,inbothconsumerelectronicsandhobbyelectronicsalike,is
thebarrelconnector,alsoknowasabarreljack.Thesecanvaryinsize,buttheyallfunctionthesameand
provideasimply,reliablewaytopoweryourproject.
Batteriesaregenerallyheldinacasethatholdsthebatteriesandconnectsthethecircuitviawiresora
barreljack.SomebatterieslikeLithiumPolymerIonbatteriesoftenuseaJSTconnector.
Tolearnmoreaboutdifferentpowerconnectors,pleaseseeourconnectorstutorial.

Remote/Mobile Power
Which battery should I choose?
Whenyourepoweringaremotecircuit,thesameissuesoffindingabatterythatdeliversthepropervoltage
andcurrentstillapply.Batterylife,orcapacity,isameasureoftotalchargethebatterycontains.The
capacityofabatteryisusuallyratedinamperehours(Ah)ormilliamperehours(mAh),andittellsyou
howmanyampsafullychargedbatterycansupplyoveraperiodofonehour.Forexample,a2000mAh
batterycansupplyupto2A(2000mA)foronehour.
Batterysize,shape,andweightisalsosomethingtoconsiderwhenmakingyourprojectmobile,especially
ifitsgoingtobeonsomethingthatflieslikeasmallquadcopter.Youcangetaroughideaofthevariety
byvisitingthiswikipedialist.Learnmoreaboutbatterytypesinourbatterytechnologytutorial.

Batteries in series and parallel


Youcanaddbatteriesinseriesorparalleltoproducethedesiredvoltageandcurrentneededforyour
project.Whentwoormorebatteriesareplacedinseries,thevoltagesofthebatteriesareaddedtogether.
Forexample,leadacidcarbatteriesareactuallymadeoutofsixsinglecellleadacidbatteriestiedtogether
inseries;thesix2.1Vcellsadduptoproduce12.6V.Whentyingtwobatteriesinseries,itsrecommended
thattheybeofthesamechemistry.Alsobewaryofchargingbatteriesinseriesasmanychargersare
limitedtosinglecellcharging.

Whenyouconnecttwoormorebatteriesinparallel,thecapacitiesadd.Forexample,fourAAbatteries
connectedinparallelwillstillproduce1.5V,howeverthecapacityofthebatterieswillbequadrupled.

How much battery capacity do I need for my project?


Thisquestioniseasiertoansweronceyouhavedeterminedtheamountofcurrentthatyourcircuit
normallydraws.Inthefollowingexample,wewilluseestimation.However,itisencouragedthatyou
measurecurrentdrawofyourcircuitusingaDigitalMultimetertogetaccurateresults.
Asanexample,letsstartwithacircuit,estimateitscurrentoutput,thenselectabatteryandcalculatehow
longitthecircuitwillrunonbatterypower.LetschooseaATmega328microcontrollertobeourbrains
forthecircuit.Itdrawsabout20mAundernormalconditions.LetsnowconnectthreeredLEDsandthe
standard330ohmcurrentlimitingresistorstodigitalI/Opinsofthemicrocontroller.Inthatconfiguration,

eachLEDaddedmakesthecircuitdrawabout10mAmorecurrent.NowletsconnecttwoMicroMetal
motorstothemicrocontrolleraswell.Eachoneoftheseusesapproximately25mAwhenturnedon.Our
totalpossiblecurrentdrawisnow:

LetschooseastandardalkalineAAbatteryforthisbecauseithasmorethanenoughcurrentcapability(up
to1A),hasadecentbatterycapacity(usuallyintherangeof1.5Ahto2.5Ah),andisverycommon.Well
assumetheaverageis2Ahforthisexample.ThedownsidetousingaAAisitonlyhasa1.5Voutput,and,
sincetherestofourcomponentswillrunon5V,weneedtostepupthevoltage.Wecanusethis5Vstepup
breakouttogetthevoltageweneed,orwecanusethreeAAbatteriesinseriestogetusclosetothevoltage
weneed.ThreeAAsinseriesgivesusavoltageof4.5V(3times1.5V).Youcouldalsoaddanother
batteryforatotalof6Vandregulatethevoltagedowntowhatyourcircuitrequires.
Tocalculatehowlongacircuitwilllastonbatterypower,weusethefollowingequation:

Foracircuitpoweredby3AAsinparallelthatsconnectedtoacircuitwithaconstant100mAcurrent
draw,thistranslatesto:

Wewouldideallyget60hoursofbatterylifeoutofthesethreealkalineAAsinthisparallelconfiguration.
However,itsgoodpracticetoderatebatteries,whichmeanstoassumeyouregoingtogetlessthanideal
batterylife.Letsconservativelysaythatwellget75%oftheidealbatterylife,andthereforeabout45
hoursofbatterylifeforourproject.
Batterylifecanalsovarybasedontheactualcurrentdrawamount.HeresagraphfromanEnergizerAA
batteryshowingitsexpectedbatterylifebasedonconstantcurrentdraw.

EnergizerAA,CurrentvsBatteryLife
Thisisjustoneofthenumerousconfigurationsyoucouldusetopoweryourprojectremotley.

Resources and Going Further


You should now know the most common ways to power your circuit and how to
figure out which way is best for you depending on your your projects specific
requirements. You can make a better judgment now based on current, voltage,
connector, and mobility considerations for your project.