Alternating Current (AC vs DC, pt. 3)

This is the third installment of four about Alternating Current and Direct Current.  Part one can be found here; part two can be found here.


AC, or Alternating Current, involves a system of power generation whose basic premise is to vibrate or shift the electrons of a wire both backwards and forwards – thus creating a current, or flow of electrons, without necessarily pushing them in OR out.  When analyzing what this ‘flow’ looks like, it is an infinite series of ‘sinusoidal’ waves, or mathematically exact valleys and crests.  This means that the energy is in a constant state of movement over time, either backwards or forwards; the push and pull making electricity move and encouraging an electron to pop out at the end of a conductor.


Now, while DC is a continuous stream of electrons flowing at a steady rate, AC is also flowing steadily – but whether it is pushing forwards or pulling back is the variable, and when combined with the fact that AC does this shifting back and forth 60 times a second you get some seriously ‘encouraged’ electrons popping off at the end.


One way this single stream of forwards and backwards moving gets turned into power for use and consumption is by using multiple ‘phases’; this means during power generation we create something that varies a little both up and down, but generally gives us relatively consistent production.  Three phase power vibrates so quickly backwards and forwards that its ‘waves’ overlap each other, kind of like this:


All of that backwards and forwards movement, in AC, translates into an almost seamless push of power (whether backwards or forwards becomes irrelevant, the electricity is moving) which makes almost constant current and power, like this:


In its simplest, most basic sense – this is how the electricity coming into our homes works and functions.  As mentioned before, Alternating Current and Direct Current became weapons in the Current Wars between Tesla and Edison.  Next week, we’ll discuss how futile that battle has become.

This is part three of four – please check back next week for the final and conclusive segment about AC vs. DC!


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This is an original article written by Mai Bjorklund for Swartz Electric. This article may not be copied whole or in part without the express permission of Swartz Electric, LLC.

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