How to Solve Parallel Circuits: 10 Steps

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How to Solve Parallel Circuits: 10 Steps
How to Solve Parallel Circuits: 10 Steps
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Solving parallel circuits is a simple process once you know the basic formulas and principles. When you connect two or more resistors side by side, the current can "choose" which way to go (this is like when cars tend to change lanes and drive alongside each other when the road splits into two parallel lanes). After reading these steps, you will be able to find out the voltage or voltage, current, and resistance between two or more resistors connected in parallel.

Help sheet

  • Total resistance RT for resistors in parallel: 1/RT = 1/R1 + 1/R2 + 1/R3 + …
  • The voltage between the different branches is always the same: VT = V1 = V2 = V3 = …
  • Current or total intensity: IT = I1 + I2 + I3 + …
  • Ohm's Law: V = IR

Steps

Part 1 of 3: Introduction to Parallel Circuits

Solve Parallel Circuits Step 1
Solve Parallel Circuits Step 1

Step 1. Identify the parallel circuits

A parallel circuit has two or more branches and they all lead from point A to point B. A simple stream of electrons splits to pass through several branches and then joins back into a single stream on the other side. In most problems that involve working with parallel circuits, you will be asked to identify the total voltage, resistance, or current across the circuit (from point A to point B).

Components "connected in parallel" are those that are located on a separate branch

Solve Parallel Circuits Step 2
Solve Parallel Circuits Step 2

Step 2. Understand how current and resistance work in parallel circuits

Imagine a highway with many lanes that has toll booths in each lane, which slow down traffic. If new lanes are built, the cars will have a new way to go, so traffic will always speed up even if you also add new toll booths in each of them. Similarly, adding a branch to a parallel circuit gives the current an alternate path to take. No matter how much resistance the new branch has, the total resistance of the circuit will decrease and the total current of the circuit will increase.

Solve Parallel Circuits Step 3
Solve Parallel Circuits Step 3

Step 3. Add the currents for each branch to find the total current

If you know the current of each of the branches, just add them together and you get the total current. This is the amount of current that flows through the circuit once all the branches are rejoined. In terms of a formula it would be: IT = I1 + I2 + I3 + …

Solve Parallel Circuits Step 4
Solve Parallel Circuits Step 4

Step 4. Calculate the total resistance

To find the total resistance (RT) across the circuit, solve the equation 1/RT = 1/R1 + 1/R2 + 1/R3 +… Where each R on the right side represents the resistance of one of the branches of the circuit.

  • For example, if the circuit has two resistors in parallel, each with 4Ω of resistance, then 1/RT = 1/ 4Ω + 1/ 4Ω → 1/RT = 1/ 2Ω → RT = 2Ω. In other words, two branches of equal strength are exactly twice as easy to traverse as a single branch.
  • If one of the branches has no resistance (0Ω), all the current goes through the branch. Total resistance is 0.
Solve Parallel Circuits Step 5
Solve Parallel Circuits Step 5

Step 5. Remember what voltage describes

Voltage is the difference in electrical potential between two points. Since it is the result of comparing two points, and not of examining the path of motion, the voltage will remain the same regardless of which branch is observed: VT = V1 = V2 = V3 = …

Solve Parallel Circuits Step 6
Solve Parallel Circuits Step 6

Step 6. Find the missing values with Ohm's law

Ohm's Law describes the relationship between voltage or voltage (V), current or intensity (I), and resistance (R): V = IR. If you know two of those values, use the formula to find the third.

  • Make sure all the values refer to the same section of the circuit. You can use Ohm's Law to examine the entire circuit (V = ITRT) or just one branch (V = I1R1).

Part 2 of 3: Sample Circuit

Solve Parallel Circuits Step 7
Solve Parallel Circuits Step 7

Step 1. Create a table to keep track of your work

If you have a parallel circuit with several unknown values, a table will help you organize your information. Here is an example table to create a circuit with three parallel branches. Note that branches are often indicated by an R followed by a subscript number.

R1 R2 R3 Total Units
V volts
I amps
R ohms
Solve Parallel Circuits Step 8
Solve Parallel Circuits Step 8

Step 2. Complete all the information given by the problem

For this example, a circuit powered by a 12 volt battery will be used. The circuit has three parallel branches with 2Ω, 4Ω, and 9Ω resistors. Add this information to the table:

R1 R2 R3 Total Units
V

Step 12.

volts
I amps
R

Step 2.

Step 4.

Step 9.

ohms
Solve Parallel Circuits Step 9
Solve Parallel Circuits Step 9

Step 3. Copy the stress value in each of the branches

Remember that the voltage of the entire circuit is equal to the voltage that passes through each of the branches of the parallel circuit.

R1 R2 R3 Total Units
V

Step 12.

Step 12.

Step 12.

Step 12.

volts
I amps
R 2 4 9 ohms
Solve Parallel Circuits Step 10
Solve Parallel Circuits Step 10

Step 4. Use Ohm's Law to find the current in each branch

Each column of the graph shows voltage or voltage, current, and resistance. This means that as long as you have the other two values in the same column, you can calculate the remaining value. In case you need a reminder, Ohm's Law states that V = IR. The missing value in this example is current, so you can rearrange the formula as follows: I = V / R.

R1 R2 R3 Total Units
V 12 12 12 12 volts
I 12/2 = 6 12/4 = 3 12/9 = ~1, 33 amps
R 2 4 9 ohms
492123 11 1
492123 11 1

Step 5. Solve the sum to get the total current

The total current is easy to find, because it is equal to the sum of the currents of each branch.

R1 R2 R3 Total Units
V 12 12 12 12 volts
I 6 3 1, 33 6 + 3 + 1, 33 = 10, 33 amps
R 2 4 9 ohms
492123 12 1
492123 12 1

Step 6. Solve the operations to obtain the total resistance

You can find it in two different ways. The first is to use the resistance row and calculate it using the formula 1/RT = 1/R1 + 1/R2 + 1/R3However, it is usually easier to solve it using Ohm's Law and the total values of V and I. To calculate the resistance, you must rearrange the terms of Ohm's Law as follows: R = V / I

R1 R2 R3 Total Units
V 12 12 12 12 volts
I 6 3 1, 33 10, 33 amps
R 2 4 9 12 / 10, 33 = ~1, 17 ohms

Part 3 of 3: Additional Calculations

Solve Parallel Circuits Step 7
Solve Parallel Circuits Step 7

Step 1. Calculate the power

In any circuit, the power P = IV. If you have already calculated the power together with each of the branches, the total power is equal to the sum of all the power values of the branches (P1 + P2 + P3 + …).

Solve Parallel Circuits Step 8
Solve Parallel Circuits Step 8

Step 2. Find the total resistance for a two-limb circuit

If there are exactly two resistors in parallel, you can simplify that equation by replacing it with the "product over sum" equation:

  • RT = R1R2 / (R1 + R2)
Solve Parallel Circuits Step 9
Solve Parallel Circuits Step 9

Step 3. Find the total resistance when all resistors are identical

If all the resistors in the parallel circuit have the same resistance value, the equation becomes much simpler: RT = R1 / N, where N is the number of resistors.

For example, two identical resistors in parallel provide ½ of the total resistance of a single resistor. Eight identical resistors provide ⅛ of the total resistance

Solve Parallel Circuits Step 10
Solve Parallel Circuits Step 10

Step 4. Calculate the current of the branches without voltage

This equation, called Kirchhoff's Current Divider Law, allows you to solve for the currents in each individual branch even if you don't know the circuit voltage. You must know the resistance of each branch and the total current of the circuit:

  • Two resistors in parallel: I1 = ITR2 / (R1 + R2)
  • More than two resistors in parallel: To solve for I1, find the combined resistance of all resistors besides R1. Remember to use the formula for resistors in parallel. Now use the equation above, but replacing R2 with your answer.

Advice

  • In a parallel circuit, the same voltage is always applied across all resistors.
  • You may have been taught that Ohm's Law states that E = IR or V = AR. They are just different notations, but they mean the same thing.
  • Total resistance is also known as "equivalent resistance".
  • If you don't have a calculator, it can be difficult to find the total resistance from R1, R2, etc. Instead, use Ohm's Law to find the current flowing through each branch.
  • Whenever you must solve parallel and series circuits, solve the parallels first. Then you will have the series circuits, which are much easier to solve.

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