Thursday, May 23, 2013

How much AC power do you need to support your DC output?

You may know the maximum rated output power of your DC power supply, but do you know how much AC input power is needed to support the DC output of the power supply? Probably not. Since no power supply is 100% efficient, you know you will need more input power than the output power produced, but how much more? The answer depends primarily on the efficiency of the power supply (since efficiency here is power out divided by power in).There are 2 main sources of losses contributing to the efficiency, or perhaps I should say “inefficiency”, of a power supply:

  1. Overhead power loss– this is the power consumed by the power supply that is not directly related to the output power conversion. It is the amount of power consumed by the internal circuits that are needed just to provide the basic internal functions of the power supply, such as front panel display control, internal bias supplies, cooling fans, and microprocessor control. This power is dissipated as heat inside the power supply and is therefore not available to flow to the output. Some of this power is consumed even when the output is providing no power.
  2. Power conversion loss – this is the power lost in the power conversion circuitry. All of the output power flows through the power conversion circuitry, but as it does so, some heat is generated. The power lost as heat is not available to flow to the output.

A power supply’s efficiency is typically specified at the maximum output power point and includes losses associated with both the overhead power and power conversion circuitry. Most power supply vendors will publish the maximum expected AC input current, watts, and/or volt-amperes for their products so you should be able to get this information from the vendor’s documentation. But let’s consider an example based just on the output power rating and efficiency.

A power supply rated for 2000 W of output power with an efficiency of 80% will require 2000 W / 0.8 = 2500 W of AC input power. In the United States, the standard AC line voltage is 120 Vac. At a nominal voltage of 120 Vac, the AC input current would be 2500 W / 120 Vac = 20.8 Aac which is more than a standard outlet can provide (15 A maximum is a typical rating for an outlet). If the AC input line voltage sags a little making it lower, the input current would be even higher! To accommodate the AC input of this 2000 W power supply, there are several alternatives:

  1. Use a less-common receptacle (outlet) and plug rated for more than 20 A.
  2. Have an electrician hard-wire the AC input connection to the AC mains ensuring the wires and AC mains branch circuit can handle the higher current (no outlet would be used).
  3. If the power supply is rated for it, power the power supply from a higher AC input voltage, such as 208 Vac or 240 Vac to reduce the current required. This solution will also require a less-common receptacle and plug (middle receptacles in photo).

Many very high-power supplies (a few kW and above) require a 3-phase AC input voltage to accommodate the larger amount of output power (orange receptacle shown at top of photo).

One of my colleagues, Bob Zollo, wrote an article entitled “Do You Have Enough AC For Your DC?” that appeared in Electronic Design on May 7, 2013. For some additional information about this topic, take a look at the article:

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