In 1845, a German physicist, Gustav Kirchhoff developed a pair or set of rules or laws which deal with the conservation of current and energy within electrical circuits. These two rules are commonly known as Kirchhoff’s Circuit Laws with one of Kirchhoff’s laws dealing with the current flowing around a closed circuit, Kirchhoff’s Current Law, (KCL) while the other law deals with the voltage sources present in a closed circuit, Kirchhoff’s Voltage Law, (KVL).
Kirchhoff’s First Law – The Current Law, (KCL)
Kirchhoff’s Current Law or KCL, states that the “total current or charge entering a junction or node is exactly equal to the charge leaving the node as it has no other place to go except to leave, as no charge is lost within the node“. In other words the algebraic sum of ALL the currents entering and leaving a node must be equal to zero, I(exiting) + I(entering) = 0. This idea by Kirchhoff is commonly known as the Conservation of Charge.
Here, the 3 currents entering the node, I1, I2 and I3 are all positive in value and the 2 currents leaving the node, I4 and I5 are negative in value. Then this means we can also rewrite the equation as,
I1 + I2 + I3 – I4 – I5 = 0
The term Node in an electrical circuit generally refers to a connection or junction of two or more current carrying paths or elements such as cables and components. Also for current to flow either in or out of a node a closed circuit path must exist. We can use Kirchhoff’s current law when analysing parallel circuits.
Kirchhoff’s Second Law – The Voltage Law, (KVL)
Kirchhoff’s Voltage Law or KVL, states that “in any closed loop network, the total voltage around the loop is equal to the sum of all the voltage drops within the same loop” which is also equal to zero. In other words the algebraic sum of all voltages within the loop must be equal to zero. This idea by Kirchhoff is known as the Conservation of Energy.
Starting at any point in the loop continue in the same direction noting the direction of all the voltage drops, either positive or negative, and returning back to the same starting point. It is important to maintain the same direction either clockwise or anti-clockwise or the final voltage sum will not be equal to zero. We can use Kirchhoff’s voltage law when analysing series circuits.
When analysing either DC circuits or AC circuits using Kirchhoff’s Circuit Laws a number of definitions and terminologies are used to describe the parts of the circuit being analysed such as: node, paths, branches, loops and meshes. These terms are used frequently in circuit analysis so it is important to understand them.