Electrical network

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File:Ohm's Law with Voltage source.svg
A simple electric circuit made up of a voltage source and a resistor.
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An electrical network is an interconnection of electrical elements such as resistors, inductors, capacitors, transmission lines, voltage sources, current sources, and switches.

An electrical circuit is a network that has a closed loop, giving a return path for the current. A network is a connection of two or more components, and may not necessarily be a circuit.

Electrical networks that consist only of sources (voltage or current), linear lumped elements (resistors, capacitors, inductors), and linear distributed elements (transmission lines) can be analyzed by algebraic and transform methods to determine DC response, AC response, and transient response.

A network that also contains active electronic components is known as an electronic circuit. Such networks are generally nonlinear and require more complex design and analysis tools.

Design methods

To design any electrical circuit, either analog or digital, electrical engineers need to be able to predict the voltages and currents at all places within the circuit. Linear circuits, that is, circuits with the same input and output frequency, can be analyzed by hand using complex number theory. Other circuits can only be analyzed with specialized software programs or estimation techniques.

Circuit simulation software such as VHDL allows engineers to design circuits without the time, cost and risk of error involved in building circuit prototypes.

Electrical laws

A number of electrical laws apply to all electrical networks. These include

  • Kirchhoff's current law: The sum of all currents entering a node is equal to the sum of all currents leaving the node.
  • Kirchhoff's voltage law: The directed sum of the electrical potential differences around a loop must be zero.
  • Ohm's law: The voltage across a resistor is equal to the product of the resistance and the current flowing through it (at constant temperature).
  • Norton's theorem: Any network of voltage and/or current sources and resistors is electrically equivalent to an ideal current source in parallel with a single resistor.
  • Thévenin's theorem: Any network of voltage and/or current sources and resistors is electrically equivalent to a single voltage source in series with a single resistor.

Other more complex laws may be needed if the network contains nonlinear or reactive components. Non-linear self-regenerative heterodyning systems can be approximated. Applying these laws results in a set of simultaneous equations that can be solved either by hand or by a computer.

Network simulation software

More complex circuits can be analyzed numerically with software such as SPICE or symbolically using software such as SapWin.

Linearization around operating point

When faced with a new circuit, the software first tries to find a steady state solution, that is, one where all nodes conform to Kirchhoff's Current Law and the voltages across and through each element of the circuit conform to the voltage/current equations governing that element.

Once the steady state solution is found, the operating points of each element in the circuit are known. For a small signal analysis, every non-linear element can be linearized around its operation point to obtain the small-signal estimate of the voltages and currents. This is an application of Ohm's Law. The resulting linear circuit matrix can be solved with Gaussian elimination.

Piecewise-linear approximation

Software such as the PLECS interface to Simulink uses piecewise-linear approximation of the equations governing the elements of a circuit. The circuit is treated as a completely linear network of ideal diodes. Every time a diode switches from on to off or vice versa, the configuration of the linear network changes. Adding more detail to the approximation of equations increases the accuracy of the simulation, but also increases its running time.

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
Look up electrical circuit in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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