March 11, 2017

What is an Autotransformer? Explain Autotransformer Operation. What are the Limitations, Advantages, Disadvantages and Applications of Autotransformer?


An autotransformer (sometimes called autostep down transformer) is an electrical transformer with only one winding. In an autotransformer, portions of the same winding act as both the primary and secondary sides of the transformer. The winding has at least three taps where electrical connections are made. 

On load condition, a part of the load current is obtained directly from the supply and the remaining part is obtained by transformer action. An Auto transformer works as a voltage regulator.

Figure-1: Single-phase tapped autotransformer with an output voltage range of 40%–115% of input.


An autotransformer has a single winding with two end terminals, and one or more terminals at intermediate tap points, or it is a transformer in which the primary and secondary coils have part of, or all of their turns in common. The primary voltage is applied across two of the terminals, and the secondary voltage taken from two terminals, almost always having one terminal in common with the primary voltage. The primary and secondary circuits therefore have a number of windings turns in common. Since the volts-per-turn is the same in both windings, each develops a voltage in proportion to its number of turns. In an autotransformer part of the current flows directly from the input to the output, and only part is transferred inductively, allowing a smaller, lighter, cheaper core to be used as well as requiring only a single winding. However the voltage and current ratio of autotransformers can be formulated the same as other two-winding transformers:

One end of the winding is usually connected in common to both the voltage source and the electrical load. The other end of the source and load are connected to taps along the winding. Different taps on the winding correspond to different voltages, measured from the common end. In a step-down transformer the source is usually connected across the entire winding while the load is connected by a tap across only a portion of the winding. In a step-up transformer, conversely, the load is attached across the full winding while the source is connected to a tap across a portion of the winding.

As in a two-winding transformer, the ratio of secondary to primary voltages is equal to the ratio of the number of turns of the winding they connect to. For example, connecting the load between the middle and bottom of the autotransformer will reduce the voltage by 50%. Depending on the application, that portion of the winding used solely in the higher-voltage (lower current) portion may be wound with wire of a smaller gauge, though the entire winding is directly connected.

If one of the center-taps is used for the ground, then the autotransformer can be used as a balun to convert a balanced line (connected to the two end taps) to an unbalanced line (the side with the ground).


An autotransformer does not provide electrical isolation between its windings as an ordinary transformer does; if the neutral side of the input is not at ground voltage, the neutral side of the output will not be either. A failure of the isolation of the windings of an autotransformer can result in full input voltage applied to the output. Also, a break in the part of the winding that is used as both primary and secondary will result in the transformer acting as an inductor in series with the load (which under light load conditions may result in near full input voltage being applied to the output). These are important safety considerations when deciding to use an autotransformer in a given application.

Because it requires both fewer windings and a smaller core, an autotransformer for power applications is typically lighter and less costly than a two-winding transformer, up to a voltage ratio of about 3:1; beyond that range, a two-winding transformer is usually more economical.

In three phase power transmission applications, autotransformers have the limitations of not suppressing harmonic currents and as acting as another source of ground fault currents. A large three-phase autotransformer may have a "buried" delta winding, not connected to the outside of the tank, to absorb some harmonic currents.

In practice, losses mean that both standard transformers and autotransformers are not perfectly reversible; one designed for stepping down a voltage will deliver slightly less voltage than required if it is used to step up. The difference is usually slight enough to allow reversal where the actual voltage level is not critical.

Like multiple-winding transformers, autotransformers use time-varying magnetic fields to transfer power. They require alternating currents to operate properly and will not function on direct current.


  1. An autotransformer requires less Cu than a two-winding transformer of similar rating.
  2. An autotransformer operates at a higher efficiency than a two-winding transformer of similar rating.
  3. An autotransformer has better voltage regulation than a two-winding transformer of the same rating.
  4. An autotransformer has smaller size than a two-winding transformer of the same rating.
  5. An autotransformer requires smaller exciting current than a two-winding transformer of the same rating. 
It may be noted that these advantages of the autotransformer decrease as the ratio of transformation increases. Therefore, an autotransformer has marked advantages only for relatively low values of transformation ratio (i.e. values approaching 1).


  1. There is a direct connection between the primary and secondary. Therefore, the output is no longer d.c. isolated from the input.
  2. An autotransformer is not safe for stepping down a high voltage to a low voltage. As an illustration, Figure-2 shows 11000/230 V step-down autotransformer. If an open circuit develops in the common portion 2-3 of the winding, then full-primary voltage (i.e., 11000 V in this case) will appear across the load. In such a case, any one coming in contact with the secondary is subjected to high voltage. This could be dangerous to both the persons and equipment. For this reason, autotransformers are prohibited for general use.
  3. The short-circuit current is much larger than for the two-winding transformer of the same rating. It can be seen from Figure-2 that a short-circuited secondary causes part of the primary also to be short circuited. This reduces the effective resistance and reactance.
Figure-2: 11000/230 V step-down autotransformer.

Applications of Autotransformers:

(i) Power transmission and distribution

Autotransformers are frequently used in power applications to interconnect systems operating at different voltage classes, for example 132 kV to 66 kV for transmission. Another application in industry is to adapt machinery built (for example) for 480 V supplies to operate on a 600 V supply. They are also often used for providing conversions between the two common domestic mains voltage bands in the world (100 V—130 V and 200 V—250 V). The links between the UK 400 kV and 275 kV 'Super Grid' networks are normally three phase autotransformers with taps at the common neutral end.

On long rural power distribution lines, special autotransformers with automatic tap-changing equipment are inserted as voltage regulators, so that customers at the far end of the line receive the same average voltage as those closer to the source. The variable ratio of the autotransformer compensates for the voltage drop along the line.

A special form of autotransformer called a zig zag is used to provide grounding on three-phase systems that otherwise have no connection to ground. A zig-zag transformer provides a path for current that is common to all three phases (so-called zero sequence current).

(ii) Audio system

In audio applications, tapped autotransformers are used to adapt speakers to constant-voltage audio distribution systems, and for impedance matching such as between a low-impedance microphone and a high-impedance amplifier input.

(iii) Railways

In UK railway applications, it is common to power the trains at 25 kV AC. To increase the distance between electricity supply Grid feeder points they can be arranged to supply a 25-0-25 kV supply with the third wire (opposite phase) out of reach of the train's overhead collector pantograph. The 0 V point of the supply is connected to the rail while one 25 kV point is connected to the overhead contact wire. At frequent (about 10 km) intervals, an autotransformer links the contact wire to rail and to the second (antiphase) supply conductor. This system increases usable transmission distance, reduces induced interference into external equipment and reduces cost. A variant is occasionally seen where the supply conductor is at a different voltage to the contact wire with the autotransformer ratio modified to suit.

(iv) Autotransformers are used for reducing the voltage supplied to a.c. motors during the starting period.

(v) Autotransformers are used as a voltage regulator.

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Autotransformer – Operation, Limitations, Advantages, Disadvantages & Applications.


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