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The wattmeter is an electrodynamic instrument for measuring the electric power or the supply rate of electrical energy of any given circuit. The device consists of a pair of fixed coils, known as current coils, and a movable coil known as the potential coil.

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.

The result of this arrangement is that on a dc circuit, the deflection of the needle is proportional to both the current and the voltage, thus conforming to the equation W=VA or P=EI. On an ac circuit the deflection is proportional to the average instantaneous product of voltage and current, thus measuring true power, and possibly (depending on load characteristics) showing a different reading to that obtained by simply multiplying the readings showing on a stand-alone voltmeter and a stand-alone ammeter in the same circuit.

The two circuits of a wattmeter are likely to 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,...
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