Watch
Watching this resources will notify you when proposed changes or new versions are created so you can keep track of improvements that have been made.
Favorite
Favoriting this resource allows you to save it in the “My Resources” tab of your account. There, you can easily access this resource later when you’re ready to customize it or assign it to your students.
Capacitors in AC Circuits: Capacitive Reactance and Phasor Diagrams
The voltage across a capacitor lags the current. Due to the phase difference, it is useful to introduce phasors to describe these circuits.
Learning Objectives

Apply Ohm's law to determine the rms current in the circuit containing only a capacitor

Explain the benefits of using a phasor representation
Key Points
 When a capacitor is connected to an alternating voltage, the maximum voltage is proportional to the maximum current, but the maximum voltage does not occur at the same time as the maximum current.
 If the AC supply is connected to a resistor, then the current and voltage will be proportional to each other. This means that the current and voltage will "peak" at the same time.
 The rms current in the circuit containing only a capacitor C is given by another version of Ohm's law to be
$I_{rms} = \frac{V_{rms}}{X_C}$ , where Xc is the capacitive reactance.
Term

rms
Root mean square: a statistical measure of the magnitude of a varying quantity.
Full Text
In the previous Atom on "Resistors in AC Circuits", we introduced an AC power source and studied how resistors behave in AC circuits. There, we used the Ohm's law (V=IR) to derive the relationship between voltage and current in AC circuits. In this and following Atoms, we will generalize the Ohm's law so that we can use it even when we have capacitors and inductors in the circuit. To get there, we will first introduce a very general, pictorial way of representing a sinusoidal wave, using phasor.
Phasor
The key idea in the phasor representation is that a complex, timevarying signal may be represented as the product of a complex number (that is independent of time) and a complex signal (that is dependent on time). Phasors separate the dependencies on A (amplitude),
Fig 3
A phasor can be seen as a vector rotating about the origin in a complex plane. The cosine function is the projection of the vector onto the real axis. Its amplitude is the modulus of the vector, and its argument is the total phase \omega t+\theta. The phase constant \theta represents the angle that the vector forms with the real axis at t = 0.
Capacitors in AC circuits
Earlier in a previous Atom, we studied how the voltage and the current varied with time. If the AC supply is connected to a resistor, then the current and voltage will be proportional to each other. This means that the current and voltage will "peak" at the same time. We say that the current and voltage are in phase.
When a capacitor is connected to an alternating voltage, the maximum voltage is proportional to the maximum current, but the maximum voltage does not occur at the same time as the maximum current. The current has its maximum (it peaks) one quarter of a cycle before the voltage peaks. Engineers say that the "current leads the voltage by 90^{∘}". This is shown in .
Fig 2
The current peaks (has its maximum) one quarter of a wave before the voltage when a capacitor is connected to an alternating voltage.
For a circuit with a capacitor, the instantaneous value of V/I is not constant. However, the value of V_{max}/I_{max} is useful, and is called the capacitive reactance (X_{C}) of the component. Because it is still a voltage divided by a current (like resistance), its unit is the ohm. The value of X_{C} (C standing for capacitor) depends on its capacitance (C) and the frequency (f) of the alternating current.
The capacitor is affecting the current, having the ability to stop it altogether when fully charged. Since an AC voltage is applied, there is an rms current, but it is limited by the capacitor. This is considered to be an effective resistance of the capacitor to AC, and so the rms current I_{rms} in the circuit containing only a capacitor C is given by another version of Ohm's law to be
Phase representation
Since the voltage across a capacitor lags the current, the phasor representing the current and voltage would be give as in . In the diagram, the arrows rotate in counterclockwise direction at a frequency
Fig 4
Phasor diagram for an AC circuit with a capacitor
Assign just this concept or entire chapters to your class for free.
Key Term Reference
 AC
 Appears in these related concepts: Safety Precautions in the Household, Phase Angle and Power Factor, and Transformers
 Component
 Appears in these related concepts: Motion with Constant Acceleration, Adding and Subtracting Vectors Using Components, and Wavelength, Freqency in Relation to Speed
 DC
 Appears in these related concepts: Resistors in AC Circuits, Resistors and Capacitors in Series, and Impedance
 Law
 Appears in these related concepts: Newton and His Laws, Mechanical Work and Electrical Energy, and Models, Theories, and Laws
 Ohm's law
 Appears in these related concepts: Energy Usage, Current and Voltage Measurements in Circuits, and Ohm's Law
 alternating current
 Appears in these related concepts: Education and the Professions, The Second Industrial Revolution, and The Inventions of the Telephone and Electricity
 atom
 Appears in these related concepts: The Law of Multiple Proportions, Stable Isotopes, and John Dalton and Atomic Theory
 capacitance
 Appears in these related concepts: Capacitors with Dielectrics, Capacitance, and ParallelPlate Capacitor
 capacitor
 Appears in these related concepts: Combinations of Capacitors: Series and Parallel, Introduction and Importance, and ParallelPlate Capacitor
 circuit
 Appears in these related concepts: Forced Vibrations and Resonance, Photon Energies of the EM Spectrum, and Flow Rate and Velocity
 complex numbers
 Appears in these related concepts: The Wave Function, Addition, Subtraction, and Multiplication, and Complex Numbers
 current
 Appears in these related concepts: Reporting LongTerm Liabilities, The Battery, and Magnetic Force Between Two Parallel Conductors
 diagram
 Appears in these related concepts: Motion Diagrams, The Third Law, and Power
 inductor
 Appears in these related concepts: Energy in a Magnetic Field, RL Circuits, and Inductance
 instantaneous
 Appears in these related concepts: Rotational Kinetic Energy: Work, Energy, and Power, Polarization, and Instananeous Velocity: A Graphical Interpretation
 magnitude
 Appears in these related concepts: Friction: Static, Multiplying Vectors by a Scalar, and Components of a Vector
 ohm
 Appears in these related concepts: Poiseuille's Equation and Viscosity, Electric Potential Energy and Potential Difference, and Humans and Electric Hazards
 phase
 Appears in these related concepts: The Kinetic Molecular Theory of Matter, The Phase of Orbitals, and The Production of Electromagnetic Waves
 phasor
 Appears in these related concepts: Resonance in RLC Circuits, Inductors in AC Circuits: Inductive Reactive and Phasor Diagrams, and Phasors
 plane
 Appears in these related concepts: Scalars vs. Vectors, Shape and Volume, and Shape
 power
 Appears in these related concepts: What is Power?, Sources of Power, and Power
 reactance
 Appears in this related concept: Cathode Ray Tube, TV and Computer Monitors, and the Oscilloscope
 resistance
 Appears in these related concepts: Resistors in Parallel, Resisitors in Series, and Ecosystem Dynamics
 resistor
 Appears in these related concepts: Charging a Battery: EMFs in Series and Parallel, The Loop Rule, and Different Types of Currents
 rms current
 Appears in these related concepts: RLC Series Circuit: At Large and Small Frequencies; Phasor Diagram and Root Mean Square Values
 rms voltage
 sinusoidal
 Appears in these related concepts: Driven Oscillations and Resonance, Position, Velocity, and Acceleration as a Function of Time, and Sinusoidal Nature of Simple Harmonic Motion
 voltage
 Appears in these related concepts: Conductors, The Millikan OilDrop Experiment, and The Nernst Equation
 wave
 Appears in these related concepts: Particle in a Box, Waves, and Properties of Waves and Light
Sources
Boundless vets and curates highquality, openly licensed content from around the Internet. This particular resource used the following sources:
Cite This Source
Source: Boundless. “Capacitors in AC Circuits: Capacitive Reactance and Phasor Diagrams.” Boundless Physics. Boundless, 21 Jul. 2015. Retrieved 09 Oct. 2015 from https://www.boundless.com/physics/textbooks/boundlessphysicstextbook/inductionaccircuitsandelectricaltechnologies22/accircuits162/capacitorsinaccircuitscapacitivereactanceandphasordiagrams5846271/