The effect of voltage drop on electrical appliances
Electronic appliances to be CE-marked can be tested for voltage drop from the mains with an EMC test. It is important to learn about, for example, the reaction pattern of the voltage monitoring.
The Danish power grid (the mains supply) delivers a voltage that is mostly completely stable and without disturbances. Most private homes rarely need to reset the alarm clock and refrigerator because of power outages.
When CE marking electronic appliances, all appliances are tested with a small selection of voltage dips and power outages, as a kind of minimum clarification of the function, if such a disturbance should one day occur.
Steep pulse edges featured prominently in the latest standard
EMC testing for CE marking entails several tests with voltage variation and voltage outages. The test standard is EN/IEC 61000-4-11.
The standard clarifies that:
- The drop from full voltage to 0 V must be performed with a very steep flank.
- Especially the fall time for voltage drop-outs must be between 1 μs and 5 μs.
- Peak current from the test generator should not be less than 500 A.
These are strict requirements, and even for modern testing equipment, the requirements mean that the generator has to contain a special semiconductor switch to be able to deliver a large and fast current pulse.
The standard contains an entire paragraph arguing that the steep edges do occur if an appliance suddenly short-circuits the mains voltage, so it quickly drops to 0 V. When this occurs, the impedance of the network is very low, which equals a large power availability.
Figure 1 shows an example of a steep voltage drop (the drop time appears to be 1 ms or shorter), whereas when the voltage returns to normal, this occurs more smoothly.
Reservoir capacitors are drained of energy
When electronics are tested for network outages, the power supply loses part of its ability to maintain a constant voltage.
Modern switched-mode power supplies can easily keep up as the voltage drops, but at some lower voltage, it is no longer possible to still provide the correct output voltage when the input voltage is missing. This may lead to a reset or stop of the electronics.
If the voltage has been zero for a while, the reservoir capacitors in the power supply can be completely drained of energy. Then they must be recharged before the power supply operates normally again.
Test more to learn about the response pattern of voltage monitoring
Most circuits detect when the mains voltage disappears and can save vital data or assume a safe state. However, the combination of the changed grid voltage and the duration of the drop-out should be tested, so that the response pattern of the voltage monitoring circuit is known. Therefore, the developers should test far more combinations of voltage and duration than the minimum required by the product standards.
Product standards usually indicate Performance criterion C for voltage outages. This means that it is acceptable for the electronics to be restarted by an operator after an outage. However, it is, of course, more advantageous for a user if the electronics can restore itself without the need for external intervention.
This article has been published in SPM Magasinet, August 2019.