With the exception of shunt regulators, all modern electronic voltage regulators operate by comparing the actual output voltage to some internal fixed reference voltage. Any difference is amplified and used to control the regulation element. This forms a negative feedback servo control loop. If the output voltage is too low, the regulation element is commanded to produce a higher voltage. For some regulators if the output voltage is too high, the regulation element is commanded to produce a lower voltage; however, many just stop sourcing current and depend on the current draw of whatever it is driving to pull the voltage back down. In this way, the output voltage is held roughly constant. The control loop must be carefully designed to produce the desired tradeoff between stability and speed of response.
In older electromechanical regulators, voltage regulation is easily accomplished by coiling the sensing wire to make an electromagnet. The magnetic field produced by the voltage attracts a moving ferrous core held back under spring tension or gravitational pull.
As the voltage increases, the magnetic field strength also increases, pulling the core towards the field and opening a mechanical power switch.
As the voltage decreases, the spring tension or weight of the core causes the core to retract, closing the switch allowing the power to flow once more.
If the mechanical regulator design is sensitive to small voltage fluctuations, the motion of the solenoid core can be used to move a selector switch across a range of resistances or transformer windings to gradually step the output voltage up or down, or to rotate the position of a moving-coil AC regulator.
Early automobile generators and alternators had a mechanical voltage regulator using one, two, or three relays and various resistors to stabilize the generator's output at slightly more than 6 or 12 V, independent of the engine's rpm or the varying load on the vehicle's electrical system. Essentially, the relay(s) employed pulse width modulation to regulate the output of the generator, controlling the field current reaching the generator (or alternator) and in this way controlling the output voltage produced.
The regulators used for generators (but not alternators) also disconnect the generator when it was not producing electricity, thereby preventing the battery from discharging back through the stopped generator. The rectifier diodes in an alternator automatically perform this function so that a specific relay is not required; this appreciably simplified the regulator design.
More modern designs now use solid state technology (transistors) to perform the same function that the relays perform in electromechanical regulators.
This is an older type of regulator used in the 1920s that uses the principle of a fixed-position field coil and a second field coil that can be rotated on an axis in parallel with the fixed coil.
When the movable coil is positioned perpendicular to the fixed coil, the magnetic forces acting on the movable coil balance each other out and voltage output is unchanged. Rotating the coil in one direction or the other away from the center position will increase or decrease voltage in the secondary movable coil.
This type of regulator can be automated via a servo control mechanism to advance the movable coil position in order to provide voltage increase or decrease. A braking mechanism or high ratio gearing is used to hold the rotating coil in place against the powerful magnetic forces acting on the moving coil.
The overall construction is extremely similar to the design of standard AC dynamo windings, with the primary difference being that the rotor does not spin in this device, and instead is held against spinning so the fields of the rotor and stator can act on each other to increase or decrease the line voltage.
An alternative method is the use of a type of saturating transformer called a ferroresonant transformer or constant-voltage transformer. These transformers use a tank circuit composed of a high-voltage resonant winding and a capacitor to produce a nearly constant average output with a varying input. The ferroresonant approach is attractive due to its lack of active components, relying on the square loop saturation characteristics of the tank circuit to absorb variations in average input voltage. Older designs of ferroresonant transformers had an output with high harmonic content, leading to a distorted output waveform. Modern devices are used to construct a perfect sinewave. The ferroresonant action is a flux limiter rather than a voltage regulator, but with a fixed supply frequency it can maintain an almost constant average output voltage even as the input voltage varies widely.
The ferro resonant transformers, which are also know as Constant Voltage Transformers (CVTs) or ferros are also a good surge suppressors, and it provides high isolation and an inherent shortcircuit protections.
It can operate with an input voltage range as wide as ±40% or more of the nominal voltage.
Output power factor remains in the range of 0.96 or higher from half to full load.
Because it regenerates an output voltage waveform, output distortion, which is typically less than 4%, is independent of any input voltage distortion, including notching.
Efficiency at full load is typically in the range of 89% to 93%. However, at low loads, efficiency can drop below 60% and no load losses can be as high as 20%. The current-limiting capability also becomes a handicap when a CVT is used in an application with moderate to high inrush current like motors, transformers or magnets. In this case, the CVT has to be sized to accommodate the peak current, thus forcing it to run at low loads and poor efficiency.
Minimum maintenance is required beyond annual replacement of failed capacitors. Redundant capacitors built into the units allow several capacitors to fail between inspections without any noticeable effect to the device's performance.
Output voltage varies about 1.2% for every 1% change in supply frequency. For example, a 2-Hz change in generator frequency, which is very large, results in an output voltage change of only 4%, which has little effect for most loads.
It accepts 100% single-phase switch-mode power supply loading without any requirement for derating, including all neutral components.
Input current distortion remains less than 8% THD even when supplying nonlinear loads with more than 100% current THD.
One of the draw back of CVT(constant voltage transformer) is its higher size and high audible humming sound.
If the stabilizer must provide more power, the shunt regulator output is only used to provide the standard voltage reference for the electronic device, known as the voltage stabilizer. The voltage stabilizer is the electronic device, able to deliver much larger currents on demand.
Linear regulators are based on devices that operate in their linear region (in contrast, a switching regulator is based on a device forced to act as an on/off switch). In the past, one or more vacuum tubes were commonly used as the variable resistance. Modern designs use one or more transistors instead. Linear designs have the advantage of very "clean" output with little noise introduced into their DC output, but are less efficient and unable to step-up or invert the input voltage like switched supplies.
Entire linear regulators are available as integrated circuits. These chips come in either fixed or adjustable voltage types.
Switching regulators rapidly switch a series device on and off. The duty cycle of the switch sets how much charge is transferred to the load. This is controlled by a similar feedback mechanism as in a linear regulator. Because the series element is either fully conducting, or switched off, it dissipates almost no power; this is what gives the switching design its efficiency. Switching regulators are also able to generate output voltages which are higher than the input, or of opposite polarity — something not possible with a linear design.
Like linear regulators, nearly-complete switching regulators are also available as integrated circuits. Unlike linear regulators, these usually require one external component: an inductor that acts as the energy storage element. (Large-valued inductors tend to be physically large relative to almost all other kinds of componentry, so they are rarely fabricated within integrated circuits and IC regulators — with some exceptions.)
The two types of regulators have their different advantages: