Electrical Engineering Basics
There are many electrical engineering basics you really must know at any time, even in the middle of the night! The basics we will discuss here are current systems and voltage levels in transmission and distribution systems.
- Current Systems
- Voltage Values
- Voltage Systems
Electric currents are of three classes:
- Direct (d.c.)
- Alternating (a.c.), and
Distribution and Transmission electrical workers are mainly concerned with alternating currents. Pulsating currents will not be discussed in this article.
Direct currents (d.c.)
A direct current (d.c.) system is one in which current flows in one direction in the conductors of that system. An everyday example is the car battery, which has two terminals, one positive (+) and the other negative (-).
The accepted convention is that the current flows from the positive terminal to the external circuit and returns to the negative terminal.
High voltage transmission of electricity by direct current has been developed over recent years. In general, however, d.c. distribution is limited to use in:
- Tramway and traction systems with a voltage of usually 600V;
- Railway d.c. traction systems with a voltage of 1.5kV between rail and overhead collector wire;
- Lifts, printing presses and various machines where smooth speed control is desirable;
- Electroplating; and
- Battery charging.
In a 3-wire system the standard voltages are 460 and 230V. There are three wires, one being at 230V positive (or + 230 volts potential), the second 230V negative (or – 230 volts potential), with the third called the “common” or neutral being at zero potential (see Figure 1).
Supply at 230V is taken from the “outer” (or positive) and the common conductors, or from “inner” (or negative) and the common conductors.
Energy for motors at 480V is taken from the outer and the inner conductors.
Alternating current (a.c.)
An alternating current (a.c.) flows in an electrical circuit that is energized with an alternating voltage. This voltage is one that reverses its sense of direction in a regular manner, and this is caused by the method by which it is generated.
The generator (or alternator) is shown in Figure 2 (left).
As the coil rotates one revolution the voltage follows the variation shown in Figure 3 (right). When the coil is at right angles to the magnetic field, it is not cutting the field and the voltage is zero. The maximum rate of cutting occurs when the coil is in line with the magnetic field and there is a maximum voltage output.
From zero to maximum and beyond maximum back to zero occurs in one half revolution and the voltage rises and falls. In the next half revolution, the generated voltage is opposite to the first half. One full revolution of the coil produces one “cycle” of variation.
The number of voltage cycles in one second of time is called the frequency of the supply, and is given the name Hertz (Hz). The standard frequency in Australia and most of the countries is 50Hz.
Advantage of a.c. for distribution
Alternating current has an important advantage over direct current in that the voltage can be changed by transformers to a high value for transmission over long distances and then reduced at the customer’s point of supply to a lower level suitable for operating lights, motors and other appliances.
Transmission of high power levels therefore requires:
- Resistance of the transmission line to be as small as possible
- The transmission line current to be as low as possible
The first condition cannot always be met, as it needs conductors of large cross-sectional area. Large conductors are expensive and their great weight would require strong and costly supports.
Therefore, when high amounts of power levels are involved, it is general practice to use high transmission voltages and relatively small currents with correspondingly small voltage drops.
This condition is much more efficient than if an equivalent power level were transmitted at low voltage and high current with a relatively high voltage drop.
Transformers are used to provide the high voltages necessary for the transmission of high power levels over long distances. In keeping with the value of the transmission line voltage employed, it is necessary to insulate the conductors against leakage to earth.
In the following, “voltage” means the voltage between the conductors. The standard voltage values used are:
- Extra low voltage (ELV) – means any voltage not exceeding 50V a.c. or 120V ripple free d.c.
- Low voltage – means any voltage exceeding 50V a.c. or 120V ripple free d.c. but not exceeding 1kV a.c. or 1.5kV d.c.Thus the normal voltages of 240V and 415V delivered to most customers are “low voltage”.
- High voltage (HV) – means and voltage exceeding 1kV a.c. or 1.5kV d.c.
- Extra high voltage (EHV) means any voltage exceeding 220kV.
Standard line voltages
The standard line voltages in use are:
|240/415V (3 phase)||Used to supply customers installations|
|240/480V (1 phase)|
|6.6kV||Used for urban and rural HV distribution|
|33kV||Used for sub-transmission of larger power levels in distribution over middle distances|
|110kV||Used for transmission of large power levels over long distance|
Voltage between live conductors and voltage to neutral
The voltage between any two live conductors is often referred to as the “line voltage”. The voltage to neutral, often referred to as the “phase voltage”, is the voltage between any live conductor and the neutral point or earth of the system.
Figure 4 shows the line and phase voltages in a three-phase system. The neutral point is usually earthed at the supply end (for protection and safety reasons) and each live conductor is then at a definite potential to earth.
For instance, in an 11kV three-phase system, the voltage between any two live conductors gives a line voltage of 11kV while the voltage between any live conductor and neutral (or earth) gives a phase voltage of 6.35kV.
High voltage overhead systems
The two systems most commonly used for transmission and distribution are:
High voltage single-phase system
This system is generally associated with the distribution of low power levels over relatively short distances. Single-phase systems are generally fed from a three-phase line.
It is usual to have the three-phase system earthed (at the neutral point of the transformer or generator supplying the system) either solidly or through some current limiting resistance (for safety and protection purposes). As the single-phase HV system is part of the three-phase HV system, each phase of the single-phase system has a definite voltage to earth.
For safety reasons alone, it is important to remember that each phase is alive to earth and that a definite voltage exists between each phase and the equipment connected to the ground.
High voltage three-phase system
This system is widely used for the transmission of high power levels and is also the standard system used in distribution and reticulation.
The voltage in each phase alternates, in a similar manner to the alternating voltage shown in Figure 3 but one follows the other in regular order (see Figure 6).
Brie y, phase A reaches its maximum positive value first, then is followed by phase B, then by phase C and so on. The order in which the phases reach their peak is called the phase sequence.
It is essential that the order of phase sequences and the identity of the A, B and C be known. In the case just cited, the order of phase sequence was from A to B to C because the voltage in phase B reached its maximum value after that in phase A and the voltage in phase C reached its maximum value after that in phase B.
A reversal in the order of the phase sequence (eg. by interchanging any two of the three wires connected to its main terminals) will cause the motor to run in the reverse direction of rotation.
For this reason alone, it is important that electrical workers know what happens if there is an inadvertent change in the position of the phases supplying a factory in which motors are installed.
Low voltage single-phase 2-wire overhead system
In this system there are two conductors, one generally solidly earthed at the transformer and known as the “neutral”, while the other is known as the “live”, “active” or “phase” conductor.
The voltage between phase and neutral is nominally 240V and the voltage of the phase or active conductor to earth is therefore also 240V (see Figure 7).
Low voltage single-phase 3-wire system
In certain rural areas, it is often more economical to install a single-phase high voltage line, saving the cost of the third high voltage phase and to supply the load by stepping down through a transformer to a 3-wire system. One conductor is earthed and known as the neutral while the other conductors are both “actives”. (see Figure 8).
The voltage between either of the actives and the neutral is 240V while the voltage between the two active conductors is 480V. It is the a.c. equivalent of the three-wire d.c. system. It facilitates the supply of larger loads or loads at greater distances from the transformer than the single-phase 2-wire system.
Low voltage three-phase 4-wire system
This system employs four conductors and is widely used in all areas where it is considered economical to supply large amounts of energy for industrial and domestic purposes.
The system is shown in Figure 9 – a, b and c are the active conductors and n is the neutral which is connected to the “star point” of the transformer. It is usual for the “star point” to be earthed as shown.
The standard voltage between actives is 415V, while the voltage between any one of the actives, (a, b and c respectively) and the neutral is 240V.
The same phase relationship of “phase sequence” exists on the LV as on the HV side of the transformer, so care must be taken when renewing mains to avoid upsetting the phase sequence to the supply of motor loads.
High voltage single-wire earth return (SWER) system
The power system known as the SWER system uses only one HV conductor with the earth being used as the return conductor, (see Figure 10).
This system was first developed in New Zealand and is now used in Australia, South Africa and many other countries. It can have great economic advantages in hilly areas where the loading is relatively light, where long distances are involved and where the line can be strung from ridge top to ridge top.
Because of the generally lower impedance of the line to earth circuit, it usually has better voltage regulation than a conventional single-phase 2-wire circuit.
A special transformer is used to isolate the SWER line from the main distribution line. The SWER line voltage is 12.7kV to earth. The distribution transformers tted to the SWER line can be either single-phase 2-wire 240V supply or single-phase 3-wire 240/480V supply.
Particular attention must be paid to the good earthing of the transformers on a single-wire line and to the protection of these earth wires from physical damage.
Reference // VESI Fieldworker Handbook
Very informative – on a related subject perhaps you could comment I have heard that 48v DC lines should not cross over 220v AC lines or hot spots are created. What is the minimum safe separating distance to avoid hot spots. Will placing DC cables in a Faraday cage prevent hotspots? Kind regards Mike from Cape Town.
i have getton good concept and need simple doccument wich converts 12V dc to 220V ac
High voltage DC can easily be transmitted with low losses at long distances. Who told you that? Edison wanted safe and local low DC generation, predicting equipment to evolve to less and less consumption (which it has). 50 Hz has led to many amputations due to stroboscopic matching of RPMs and doesn’t match the the clock for grid synchronization. Green power will never work until we standardize electrical systems with a proper sexagecimal system, instead of trying to cheat each other’s patents. Face it, power is POWER, and that seems to be the key. Politics are the weapon of the witless. Let’s work together.
I really appreciate this article as it gave me a more detailed understanding of some electrical basics that I had taken for granted before.
In the topic standard line voltages in use, 400kV and 765kV have not been mentioned, why?
Looking for an article on LED Lighting, working principle, calculation of power, power factor when connected to grid power 400 Y/230V, 3-Phase 4-Wire System,
Your, otherwise, excellent article is marred by mislabelling ‘phase’ and ‘line’ conductors in the section on three-phase systems. Transmission/distribution conductors are LINE conductors, NOT ‘phase’ conductors. ‘Phases’ are restricted to supplies (alternator windings, transformer windings), and loads (three-phase motor windings, etc.); the conductors that link supplies and loads are ‘lines’.
In a delta-connected system, the voltages between conductors should be labelled ‘line conductors’. These voltages are numerically identical to the ‘phase voltages’ (i.e. those voltages across supply windings), but should ALWAYS be labelled ‘line voltages’ in order to describe where they are being measured.
It’s all very well arguing that, in the field, lines, line voltages, and line currents are often described as phases, phase voltages, and phase currents. But this is confusing to those who are studying the subject for the first time, and should not appear in a scholarly article. Lines and phases should be clearly distinguishable from each other.
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As an Electrical Engineer, I must commend the author of this. It was well explained. Thanks for sharing!
I have read several of the articles graciously made available without Premium membership. I have been tempted to sign up for that subscription. I suspect there are many others who have done the same.
Perhaps it would encourage Premium participation if you made available a snapshot glimpse of what the Premium features contain. A list of monthly article titles would be good. Better would be the titles with a one or two sentence overview for each. Best would be the title, overview, and a count of associated diagrams or charts within the article. It is always easier to spend money when one feels assured of value.
Thank you for the effort and for all the content you already offer. -Scott Davis | Electrical Plans Examiner
You made a good point Scott
This is an excellent web site, sometimes, you cannot down load pdf, to review it. However, excellent topics……..