Electrical Myths – Single phase is Really 2-Phase – Short #157

In this short podcast, Bryan busts the common electrical myth that single-phase 240v power is really two-phase power.

When power goes into a structure that runs 240v appliances, we may understand that two 120v sine waves are 180 degrees out of phase with each other, but that isn’t 100% accurate. If we were to use an oscilloscope to watch the electrical sine waves, we would see two sine waves 180 degrees out of phase because the transformers are center-tapped. Center-tapping creates a neutral center point that becomes our reference.

The transformer has two sides: a primary and a secondary. The number of wraps on each side is proportional to the other, and the number of wraps also dictates whether a transformer steps the voltage up or down. However, when you use the center tap as a reference, that also makes the voltage appear to be halved.

In many residential structures, a single phase of power goes into the transformer from the power company. If you were to use the center tap as your reference on each side of that transformer, you would read 120v; the two 120v readings add up to 240v. However, if you were to use the other side as the reference (as in a corner-tapped transformer), you would read 240v.

On an oscilloscope, you would see the same thing; using the center tap as the reference, you would see two 120v sine waves completely opposite each other. If you were to measure completely across the transformer, however, you would see a single 240v wave, which is larger.

Remember: only one phase comes from the power company. We only appear to get two separate waves because of our available point of reference.


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One response to “Electrical Myths – Single phase is Really 2-Phase – Short #157”

  1. Great info. giving us the stright scoop on facts and theory. Good things to know. Thank you Bryan.

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