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Wattmeter Wattmeter.jpg

The wattmeter is an instrument for measuring the electric power (or the supply rate of electrical energy) in watts of any given circuit. Electromagnetic wattmeters are used for measurement of utility frequency and audio frequency power; other types are required for radio frequency measurements.

Electric power the rate per unit of time at which electrical energy is transferred by an electric circuit

Electric power is the rate, per unit time, at which electrical energy is transferred by an electric circuit. The SI unit of power is the watt, one joule per second.

Electrical energy is energy derived from electric potential energy or kinetic energy. When used loosely, "electrical energy" refers to energy that has been converted from electric potential energy. This energy is supplied by the combination of electric current and electric potential that is delivered by an electrical circuit. At the point that this electric potential energy has been converted to another type of energy, it ceases to be electric potential energy. Thus, all electrical energy is potential energy before it is delivered to the end-use. Once converted from potential energy, electrical energy can always be called another type of energy.

The watt is a unit of power. In the International System of Units (SI) it is defined as a derived unit of 1 joule per second, and is used to quantify the rate of energy transfer. In dimensional analysis, power is described by .



Early wattmeter on display at the Historic Archive and Museum of Mining in Pachuca, Mexico WattmeterAcostaMexico.JPG
Early wattmeter on display at the Historic Archive and Museum of Mining in Pachuca, Mexico

The traditional analog wattmeter is an electrodynamic instrument. The device consists of a pair of fixed coils, known as current coils, and a movable coil known as the potential coil.

Electromagnetic coil electrical component

An electromagnetic coil is an electrical conductor such as a wire in the shape of a coil, spiral or helix. Electromagnetic coils are used in electrical engineering, in applications where electric currents interact with magnetic fields, in devices such as electric motors, generators, inductors, electromagnets, transformers, and sensor coils. Either an electric current is passed through the wire of the coil to generate a magnetic field, or conversely an external time-varying magnetic field through the interior of the coil generates an EMF (voltage) in the conductor.

The current coils are connected in series with the circuit, while the potential coil is connected in parallel. Also, on analog wattmeters, the potential coil carries a needle that moves over a scale to indicate the measurement. A current flowing through the current coil generates an electromagnetic field around the coil. The strength of this field is proportional to the line current and in phase with it. The potential coil has, as a general rule, a high-value resistor connected in series with it to reduce the current that flows through it.

Series and parallel circuits the two basic ways of connecting the components of an electrical circuit

Components of an electrical circuit or electronic circuit can be connected in series, parallel, or series-parallel. The two simplest of these are called series and parallel and occur frequently. Components connected in series are connected along a single conductive path, so the same current flows through all of the components but voltage is dropped (lost) across each of the resistances. In a series circuit, the sum of the voltages consumed by each individual resistance is equal to the source voltage. Components connected in parallel are connected along multiple paths so that the current can split up; the same voltage is applied to each component.

An analog signal is any continuous signal for which the time-varying feature (variable) of the signal is a representation of some other time varying quantity, i.e., analogous to another time varying signal. For example, in an analog audio signal, the instantaneous voltage of the signal varies continuously with the pressure of the sound waves. It differs from a digital signal, in which the continuous quantity is a representation of a sequence of discrete values which can only take on one of a finite number of values. The term analog signal usually refers to electrical signals; however, mechanical, pneumatic, hydraulic, human speech, and other systems may also convey or be considered analog signals.

Electromagnetic field Electric and magnetic fields produced by moving charged objects

An electromagnetic field is a physical field produced by electrically charged objects. It affects the behavior of charged objects in the vicinity of the field. The electromagnetic field extends indefinitely throughout space and describes the electromagnetic interaction. It is one of the four fundamental forces of nature.

The result of this arrangement is that on a DC circuit, the deflection of the needle is proportional to both the current (I) and the voltage (V), thus conforming to the equation P=VI.

Direct current Unidirectional flow of electric charge

Direct current (DC) is the unidirectional flow of an electric charge. A battery is a prime example of DC power. Direct current may flow through a conductor such as a wire, but can also flow through semiconductors, insulators, or even through a vacuum as in electron or ion beams. The electric current flows in a constant direction, distinguishing it from alternating current (AC). A term formerly used for this type of current was galvanic current.

Electric current flow of electric charge

An electric current is the rate of flow of electric charge past a point or region. An electric current is said to exist when there is a net flow of electric charge through a region. In electric circuits this charge is often carried by electrons moving through a wire. It can also be carried by ions in an electrolyte, or by both ions and electrons such as in an ionized gas (plasma).

Voltage difference in the electric potential between two points in space

Voltage, electric potential difference, electric pressure or electric tension is the difference in electric potential between two points. The difference in electric potential between two points in a static electric field is defined as the work needed per unit of charge to move a test charge between the two points. In the International System of Units, the derived unit for voltage is named volt. In SI units, work per unit charge is expressed as joules per coulomb, where 1 volt = 1 joule per 1 coulomb. The official SI definition for volt uses power and current, where 1 volt = 1 watt per 1 ampere. This definition is equivalent to the more commonly used 'joules per coulomb'. Voltage or electric potential difference is denoted symbolically by V, but more often simply as V, for instance in the context of Ohm's or Kirchhoff's circuit laws.

For AC power, current and voltage may not be in phase, owing to the delaying effects of circuit inductance or capacitance. On an AC circuit the deflection is proportional to the average instantaneous product of voltage and current, thus measuring active power, P=VI cos φ. Here, cosφ represents the power factor which shows that the power transmitted may be less than the apparent power obtained by multiplying the readings of a voltmeter and ammeter in the same circuit.

AC power

Power in an electric circuit is the rate of flow of energy past a given point of the circuit. In alternating current circuits, energy storage elements such as inductors and capacitors may result in periodic reversals of the direction of energy flow.

Inductance electrical property

In electromagnetism and electronics, inductance describes the tendency of an electrical conductor, such as coil, to oppose a change in the electric current through it. The change in current induces a reverse electromotive force (voltage). When an electric current flows through a conductor, it creates a magnetic field around that conductor. A changing current, in turn, creates a changing magnetic field, the surface integral of which is known as magnetic flux. From Faraday's law of induction, any change in magnetic flux through a circuit induces an electromotive force (voltage) across that circuit, a phenomenon known as electromagnetic induction. Inductance, , is defined as the ratio between this induced voltage, , and the rate of change of the current in the circuit.

Capacitance Ability of a body to store an electrical charge

Capacitance is the ratio of the change in an electric charge in a system to the corresponding change in its electric potential. There are two closely related notions of capacitance: self capacitance and mutual capacitance. Any object that can be electrically charged exhibits self capacitance. A material with a large self capacitance holds more electric charge at a given voltage than one with low capacitance. The notion of mutual capacitance is particularly important for understanding the operations of the capacitor, one of the three elementary linear electronic components.

The two circuits of a wattmeter can be damaged by excessive current. The ammeter and voltmeter are both vulnerable to overheating — in case of an overload, their pointers will be driven off scale — but in the wattmeter, either or even both the current and potential circuits can overheat without the pointer approaching the end of the scale. This is because the position of the pointer depends on the power factor, voltage and current. Thus, a circuit with a low power factor will give a low reading on the wattmeter, even when both of its circuits are loaded to the maximum safety limit. Therefore, a wattmeter is rated not only in watts, but also in volts and amperes.

Ammeter electric measuring instrument

An ammeter is a measuring instrument used to measure the current in a circuit. Electric currents are measured in amperes (A), hence the name. Instruments used to measure smaller currents, in the milliampere or microampere range, are designated as milliammeters or microammeters. Early ammeters were laboratory instruments which relied on the Earth's magnetic field for operation. By the late 19th century, improved instruments were designed which could be mounted in any position and allowed accurate measurements in electric power systems. It is generally represented by letter 'A' in a circle.

Voltmeter instrument used for measuring electrical potential difference

A voltmeter is an instrument used for measuring electrical potential difference between two points in an electric circuit. Analog voltmeters move a pointer across a scale in proportion to the voltage of the circuit; digital voltmeters give a numerical display of voltage by use of an analog to digital converter.

In electrical engineering, the power factor of an AC electrical power system is defined as the ratio of the real power absorbed by the load to the apparent power flowing in the circuit, and is a dimensionless number in the closed interval of −1 to 1. A power factor of less than one indicates the voltage and current are not in phase, reducing the instantaneous product of the two. Real power is the instantaneous product of voltage and current and represents the capacity of the electricity for performing work. Apparent power is the average product of current and voltage. Due to energy stored in the load and returned to the source, or due to a non-linear load that distorts the wave shape of the current drawn from the source, the apparent power may be greater than the real power. A negative power factor occurs when the device generates power, which then flows back towards the source.

A typical wattmeter in educational labs has two voltage coils (pressure coils) and a current coil. The two pressure coils can be connected in series or parallel to change the ranges of the wattmeter. The pressure coil can also be tapped to change the meter's range. If the pressure coil has range of 300 volts, the half of it can be used so that the range becomes 150 volts.


Siemens electrodynamometer, circa 1910, F = Fixed coil, D = Movable coil, S = Spiral spring, T = Torsion head, M = Mercury cups, I = Index needle Siemens electrodynamometer.png
Siemens electrodynamometer, circa 1910, F = Fixed coil, D = Movable coil, S = Spiral spring, T = Torsion head, M = Mercury cups, I = Index needle
Prodigit Model 2000MU (UK version), shown in use and displaying a reading of 10 watts being consumed by the appliance Plug-in Power & Energy Monitor in UK Domestic Mains Socket.jpeg
Prodigit Model 2000MU (UK version), shown in use and displaying a reading of 10 watts being consumed by the appliance

Electronic wattmeters are used for direct, small power measurements or for power measurements at frequencies beyond the range of electrodynamometer-type instruments.


A modern digital wattmeter samples the voltage and current thousands of times a second. For each sample, the voltage is multiplied by the current at the same instant; the average over at least one cycle is the real power. The real power divided by the apparent volt-amperes (VA) is the power factor. A computer circuit uses the sampled values to calculate RMS voltage, RMS current, VA, power (watts), power factor, and kilowatt-hours. The readings may be displayed on the device, retained to provide a log and calculate averages, or transmitted to other equipment for further use. Wattmeters vary considerably in correctly calculating energy consumption, especially when real power is much lower than VA (highly reactive loads, e.g. electric motors). Simple meters may be calibrated to meet specified accuracy only for sinusoidal waveforms. Waveforms for switched-mode power supplies as used for much electronic equipment may be very far from sinusoidal, leading to unknown and possibly large errors at any power. This may not be specified in the meter's manual.

Precision and accuracy

There are limitations to measuring power with inexpensive wattmeters, or indeed with any meters not designed for low-power measurements. This particularly affects low power (e.g. under 10 watts), as used in standby; readings may be so inaccurate as to be useless (although they do confirm that standby power is low, rather than high). [1] The difficulty is largely due to difficulty in accurate measurement of the alternating current, rather than voltage, and the relatively little need for low-power measurements. The specification for the meter should specify the reading error for different situations. For a typical plug-in meter the error in wattage is stated as ±5% of measured value ±10 W (e.g., a measured value of 100W may be wrong by 5% of 100 W plus 10 W, i.e., ±15 W, or 85–115 W); and the error in kW·h is stated as ±5% of measured value ±0.1 kW·h. [2] If a laptop computer in sleep mode consumes 5 W, the meter may read anything from 0 to 15.25 W, without taking into account errors due to non-sinusoidal waveform. In practice accuracy can be improved by connecting a fixed load such as an incandescent light bulb, adding the device in standby, and using the difference in power consumption. [1] This moves the measurement out of the problematic low-power zone.

Radio frequency

Instruments with moving coils can be calibrated for direct current or power frequency currents up to a few hundred hertz. At radio frequencies a common method is a rectifier circuit arranged to respond to current in a transmission line; the system is calibrated for the known circuit impedance. Diode detectors are either directly connected to the source, or used with a sampling system that diverts only a portion of the RF power through the detector. Thermistors and thermocouples are used to measure heat produced by RF power and can be calibrated either directly or by comparison with a known reference source of power. [3] A bolometer power sensor converts incident radio frequency power to heat. The sensor element is maintained at a constant temperature by a small direct current. The reduction in current required to maintain temperature is related to the incident RF power. Instruments of this type are used throughout the RF spectrum and can even measure visible light power. For high-power measurements, a calorimeter directly measures heat produced by RF power. [3]

Watthour meters

Itron OpenWay wattmeter with two-way communications for remote reading, in use by DTE Energy Itron OpenWay Electricity Meter with Two-Way Communications.JPG
Itron OpenWay wattmeter with two-way communications for remote reading, in use by DTE Energy

An instrument which measures electrical energy in watt hours is essentially a wattmeter which accumulates or averages readings. Digital electronic instruments measure many parameters and can be used where a wattmeter is needed: volts, current,in amperes, apparent instantaneous power, actual power, power factor, energy in [k]W·h over a period of time, and cost of electricity consumed.

See also

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Galvanometer instrument to measure electric current

A galvanometer is an electromechanical instrument used for detecting and indicating an electric current. A galvanometer works as an actuator, by producing a rotary deflection, in response to electric current flowing through a coil in a constant magnetic field. Early galvanometers were not calibrated, but their later developments were used as measuring instruments, called ammeters, to measure the current flowing through an electric circuit.

Multimeter Electronic measuring instrument that combines several measurement functions in one unit

A multimeter or a multitester, also known as a VOM (volt-ohm-milliammeter), is an electronic measuring instrument that combines several measurement functions in one unit. A typical multimeter can measure voltage, current, and resistance. Analog multimeters uses a microammeter with a moving pointer to display readings. Digital multimeters have a numeric display, and may also show a graphical bar representing the measured value. Digital multimeters are now far more common due to their cost and precision, but analog multimeters are still preferable in some cases, for example when monitoring a rapidly varying value.

Electricity meter

An electricity meter, electric meter, electrical meter, or energy meter is a device that measures the amount of electric energy consumed by a residence, a business, or an electrically powered device.

In electronics, a shunt is a device which creates a low-resistance path for electric current, to allow it to pass around another point in the circuit. The origin of the term is in the verb 'to shunt' meaning to turn away or follow a different path.

True RMS converter

When measuring the value of an alternating current signal it is often necessary to convert the signal into a direct current signal of equivalent value which is known as the root mean square (RMS) value. Most low-cost instrumentation and signal converters carry out this conversion by filtering the signal into an average rectified value and applying a correction factor.

SWR meter Measurement device for radio equipment

The SWR meter or VSWR meter measures the standing wave ratio in a transmission line. The meter can be used to indicate the degree of mismatch between a transmission line and its load, or evaluate the effectiveness of impedance matching efforts.

A solenoid voltmeter is a specific type of voltmeter electricians use to test electrical power circuits.

In electrical and electronic engineering, a current clamp or current probe is an electrical device with jaws which open to allow clamping around an electrical conductor. This allows measurement of the current in a conductor without the need to make physical contact with it, or to disconnect it for insertion through the probe. Current clamps are typically used to read the magnitude of alternating current (AC) and, with additional instrumentation, the phase and waveform can also be measured. Some clamps meters can measure currents of 1000 A and more. Hall effect and vane type clamps can also measure direct current (DC).

Kill A Watt

The Kill A Watt is an electricity usage monitor manufactured by Prodigit Electronics and sold by P3 International. It measures the energy used by devices plugged directly into the meter, as opposed to in-home energy use displays, which display the energy used by an entire household. The LCD shows voltage; current; true, reactive, and apparent power; power factor ; energy consumed in kWh; and hours connected. Some models display estimated cost.

Transformer types

A variety of types of electrical transformer are made for different purposes. Despite their design differences, the various types employ the same basic principle as discovered in 1831 by Michael Faraday, and share several key functional parts.

Optical power meter Optical fibre

An optical power meter (OPM) is a device used measure the power in an optical signal. The term usually refers to a device for testing average power in fiber optic systems. Other general purpose light power measuring devices are usually called radiometers, photometers, laser power meters, light meters or lux meters.

Electrostatic voltmeter Tool to measure electrostatic potentials

Electrostatic voltmeter can refer to an electrostatic charge meter, known also as surface DC voltmeter, or to a voltmeter to measure large electrical potentials, traditionally called electrostatic voltmeter.

Class of accuracy in electrical measurements

In electrical engineering class of accuracy is a figure which represents the error tolerance of a measuring device.

Instrument transformers are high accuracy class electrical devices used to isolate or transform voltage or current levels. The most common usage of instrument transformers is to operate instruments or metering from high voltage or high current circuits, safely isolating secondary control circuitry from the high voltages or currents. The primary winding of the transformer is connected to the high voltage or high current circuit, and the meter or relay is connected to the secondary circuit.

Short-circuit test

The purpose of a short-circuit test is to determine the series branch parameters of the equivalent circuit of a real transformer.


  1. 1 2 US Lawrence Livermore laboratory, Standby Power, measuring standby
  2. Data listed in text from manual for inexpensive plug-in electricity meter Brennenstuhl PM230. The lowest measurable current is given as 0.02 A, which corresponds to about 5 W at 230 VAC
  3. 1 2 Joseph J. Carr, RF Components and Circuits, Newnes, 2002 ISBN   978-0-7506-4844-8 pages 351-370

Wikisource-logo.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Wattmeter"  . Encyclopædia Britannica . 28 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.