In the study of DC circuits, the student of electricity comes across a term meaning the opposite of resistance: conductance. It is a useful term when exploring the mathematical formula for parallel resistances: Rparallel = 1 / (1/R1 + 1/R2 + . . . 1/Rn). Unlike resistance, which diminishes as more parallel components are included in the circuit, conductance simply adds. Mathematically, conductance is the reciprocal of resistance, and each 1/R term in the “parallel resistance formula” is actually a conductance.

Whereas the term “resistance” denotes the amount of opposition to flowing electrons in a circuit, “conductance” represents the ease of which electrons may flow. Resistance is the measure of how much a circuit resists current, while conductance is the measure of how much a circuit conducts current. Conductance used to be measured in the unit of mhos, or “ohms” spelled backward. Now, the proper unit of measurement is Siemens. When symbolized in a mathematical formula, the proper letter to use for conductance is “G”.

Reactive components such as inductors and capacitors oppose the flow of electrons with respect to time, rather than with a constant, unchanging friction as resistors do. We call this time-based opposition, reactance, and like resistance we also measure it in the unit of ohms.

As conductance is the complement of resistance, there is also a complementary expression of reactance, called susceptance. Mathematically, it is equal to 1/X, the reciprocal of reactance. Like conductance, it used to be measured in the unit of mhos, but now is measured in Siemens. Its mathematical symbol is “B”, unfortunately the same symbol used to represent magnetic flux density.

The terms “reactance” and “susceptance” have a certain linguistic logic to them, just like resistance and conductance. While reactance is the measure of how much a circuit reacts against change in current over time, susceptance is the measure of how much a circuit is susceptible to conducting a changing current.

If one were tasked with determining the total effect of several parallel-connected, pure reactances, one could convert each reactance (X) to a susceptance (B), then add susceptances rather than diminish reactances: Xparallel = 1/(1/X1 + 1/X2 + . . . 1/Xn). Like conductances (G), susceptances (B) add in parallel and diminish in series. Also like conductance, susceptance is a scalar quantity.

When resistive and reactive components are interconnected, their combined effects can no longer be analyzed with scalar quantities of resistance (R) and reactance (X). Likewise, figures of conductance (G) and susceptance (B) are most useful in circuits where the two types of opposition are not mixed, i.e. either a purely resistive (conductive) circuit, or a purely reactive (susceptive) circuit. In order to express and quantify the effects of mixed resistive and reactive components, we had to have a new term: impedance, measured in ohms and symbolized by the letter “Z”.

To be consistent, we need a complementary measure representing the reciprocal of impedance. The name for this measure is admittance. Admittance is measured in (guess what?) the unit of Siemens, and its symbol is “Y”. Like impedance, admittance is a complex quantity rather than scalar. Again, we see a certain logic to the naming of this new term: while impedance is a measure of how much alternating current is impeded in a circuit, admittance is a measure of how much current is admitted.

Given a scientific calculator capable of handling complex number arithmetic in both polar and rectangular forms, you may never have to work with figures of susceptance (B) or admittance (Y). Be aware, though, of their existence and their meanings.

Lessons In Electric Circuits copyright (C) 2000-2020 Tony R. Kuphaldt, under the terms and conditions of the CC BY License.

See the Design Science License (Appendix 3) for details regarding copying and distribution.

Revised July 25, 2007

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