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  • Compare and contrast the voltage and the electromagnetic force of an electric power source.
  • Describe what happens to the terminal voltage, current, and power delivered to a load as internal resistance of the voltage source increases (due to aging of batteries, for example).
  • Explain why it is beneficial to use more than one voltage source connected in parallel.

When you forget to turn off your car lights, they slowly dim as the battery runs down. Why don’t they simply blink off when the battery’s energy is gone? Their gradual dimming implies that battery output voltage decreases as the battery is depleted.

Furthermore, if you connect an excessive number of 12-V lights in parallel to a car battery, they will be dim even when the battery is fresh and even if the wires to the lights have very low resistance. This implies that the battery’s output voltage is reduced by the overload.

The reason for the decrease in output voltage for depleted or overloaded batteries is that all voltage sources have two fundamental parts—a source of electrical energy and an internal resistance    . Let us examine both.

Electromotive force

You can think of many different types of voltage sources. Batteries themselves come in many varieties. There are many types of mechanical/electrical generators, driven by many different energy sources, ranging from nuclear to wind. Solar cells create voltages directly from light, while thermoelectric devices create voltage from temperature differences.

A few voltage sources are shown in [link] . All such devices create a potential difference    and can supply current if connected to a resistance. On the small scale, the potential difference creates an electric field that exerts force on charges, causing current. We thus use the name electromotive force , abbreviated emf.

Emf is not a force at all; it is a special type of potential difference. To be precise, the electromotive force (emf) is the potential difference of a source when no current is flowing. Units of emf are volts.

A set of four photographs. The first one shows a row of tall windmills. The second shows water gushing out of the open shutters of a hydroelectric dam. The third shows a set of five batteries of different sizes that can supply voltage to electric circuits. The fourth photograph shows a solar farm.
A variety of voltage sources (clockwise from top left): the Brazos Wind Farm in Fluvanna, Texas (credit: Leaflet, Wikimedia Commons); the Krasnoyarsk Dam in Russia (credit: Alex Polezhaev); a solar farm (credit: U.S. Department of Energy); and a group of nickel metal hydride batteries (credit: Tiaa Monto). The voltage output of each depends on its construction and load, and equals emf only if there is no load.

Electromotive force is directly related to the source of potential difference, such as the particular combination of chemicals in a battery. However, emf differs from the voltage output of the device when current flows. The voltage across the terminals of a battery, for example, is less than the emf when the battery supplies current, and it declines further as the battery is depleted or loaded down. However, if the device’s output voltage can be measured without drawing current, then output voltage will equal emf (even for a very depleted battery).

Internal resistance

As noted before, a 12-V truck battery is physically larger, contains more charge and energy, and can deliver a larger current than a 12-V motorcycle battery. Both are lead-acid batteries with identical emf, but, because of its size, the truck battery has a smaller internal resistance r size 12{r} {} . Internal resistance is the inherent resistance to the flow of current within the source itself.

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Source:  OpenStax, General physics ii phy2202ca. OpenStax CNX. Jul 05, 2013 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11538/1.2
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