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    Tuesday, August 7, 2012


    How Does an Electronic Load Regulate It’s Input Voltage, Current, and Resistance?

    In a sense electronic loads are the antithesis of power supplies, i.e. they sink or absorb power while power supplies source power. In another sense they are very similar in the way they regulate constant voltage (CV) or constant current (CC). When used to load a DUT, which inevitably is some form of power source, conventional practice is to use CC loading for devices that are by nature voltage sources and conversely use CV loading for devices that are by nature current sources. However most all electronic loads also feature constant resistance (CR) operation as well. Many real-world loads are resistive by nature and hence it is often useful to test power sources meant to drive such devices with an electronic load operating in CR mode.


    To understand how CC and CV modes work in an electronic load it is useful to first review a previous posting I wrote here, entitled “How Does a Power Supply Regulate It’s Output Voltage and Current?”. Again, the CC and CV modes are very similar in operation for both a power supply and an electronic load. An electronic load CC mode operation is depicted in Figure 1.


    Figure 1: Electronic load circuit, constant current (CC) operation


    The load, operating in CC mode, is loading the output of an external voltage source. The current amplifier is regulating the electronic load’s input current by comparing the voltage on the current shunt against a reference voltage, which in turn is regulating how hard to turn on the load FET. The corresponding I-V diagram for this CC mode operation is shown in Figure 2. The operating point is where the output voltage characteristic of the DUT voltage source characteristic intersects the input constant current load line of the electronic load.


    Figure 2: Electronic load I-V diagram, constant current (CC) operation


    CV mode is very similar to CC mode operation, as depicted in Figure 3.  However, instead of monitoring the input current with a shunt voltage, a voltage control amplifier compares the load’s input voltage, usually through a voltage divider, against a reference voltage. When the input voltage signal reaches the reference voltage value the voltage amplifier turns the load FET on as much as needed to clamp the voltage to the set level.


    Figure 3: Electronic load circuit, constant voltage (CV) operation


    A battery being charged is a real-world example of a CV load, charged typically by a constant current source. The corresponding I-V diagram for CV mode operation is depicted in figure 4.


    Figure 4: Electronic load I-V diagram, constant voltage (CV) operation


    But how does an electronic load’s CR mode work? This requires yet another configuration, as depicted in figure 5. While CC and CV modes compare current and voltage against a reference value, in CR mode the control amplifier compares the input voltage against the input current so that one is the ratio of the other, now regulating the input at a constant resistance value.  With current sensing at 1 V/A and voltage sensing at 0.2 V/V, the electronic load’s resulting  input resistance value is 5 ohms for its CR mode operation in Figure 5.


    Figure 5: Electronic load circuit, constant resistance (CR) operation


    An electronic load’s CR mode is well suited for loading a power source that is either a voltage or current source by nature. The corresponding I-V diagram for this CR mode for loading a voltage source is shown in Figure 6. Here the operating point is where the output voltage characteristic of the DUT voltage source intersects the input constant resistance characteristic of the load.


    Figure 6: Electronic load I-V diagram, constant resistance (CR) operation


    As we have seen here an electronic load is very similar in operation to a power supply in the way it regulates to maintain constant voltage or constant current at its input.  However many real-world loads exhibit other characteristics, with resistive being most prevalent. As a result most all electronic loads are alternately able to regulate their input to maintain a constant resistance value, in addition to constant voltage and constant current.