May 24, 2022
In this short podcast episode, Bryan talks even more about sine waves and center-tapped transformers.
Power is generated at the power plant when an energy source (such as steam) is used to drive a drive shaft. The resulting current can be mapped as sine waves, which actually represent points on a circle; there is a rotational magnetic field around stationary conductors, and the sine waves allow us to envision the positive and negative alternations as the rotation happens.
Center-tapped transformers use “neutral” as a reference point. The secondary winding on a center-tapped transformer may have 240v power, but the center tap splits that 240v power into two legs of 120v power. There are two sine waves completely out of phase with each other, so we get 240v from peak to peak. Both sine waves cross at neutral.
Even though the split-phase power consists of two separate sine waves, an oscilloscope would interpret the voltage as a single up-and-down wave with a higher peak and a lower valley. Center-tapped transformers do not necessarily create another phase of power; they merely turn neutral into a reference. If we were to measure that split-phase power as a single 120v sine wave with an oscilloscope, we would have to use neutral as our reference. To measure the separate sine waves for a total of 240v, we would need three probes: a reference at neutral and one reference on each side.
Many European countries only use a single sine wave; center-tapped transformers are not commonplace in those countries, and neither is split-phase power. However, the split-phase power in the USA allows for more versatility; we can supply power to 120v appliances where we would otherwise need to use 240v ones.
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