How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Electric Power Distribution
Page 2 of 8 (73 Questions and Answers)

245. What causes large electric resistances?
Thin wires or wires made of poor conductors. Some metals are simply better at carrying current without wasting energy than other metals. It has to do with how often a charge bounces off of a metal atom and loses energy. Copper, Silver, and Aluminum are good conductors while stainless steel and lead are pour conductors. Metals tend to become better conductors as you cool them and worse as you heat them. Semiconductors such as carbon (graphite) are poor conductors but have the reverse temperature effect. At low temperature they are poor conductors but become good conductors at high temperature.

246. What does voltage rise mean?
When current flows through a battery or the secondary of a transformer, its receives power. Each charge leaves the battery with more energy than it had when it arrived. Since the energy of each charge has increased, the voltage (energy per charge) of the current has increased. Thus the current passing through the battery experiences a rise in voltage or a "voltage rise".

247. What is resistance?
Resistance is the measure of how much an object impedes the flow of electricity. The higher an object's resistance, the less current will flow through it when you expose it to a particular voltage drop. To use the water analogy, resistance resembles a constriction in a pipe. The narrower the pipe (higher the resistance), the harder it is to push water through that pipe. If you keep the water pressure constant (constant voltage drop) as you narrow the pipes (increase the resistance), then less water will flow (the current will drop).

248. What is the difference between current and voltage?
Current is the measure of how many charges are flowing through a wire each second. A 1-ampere current involves the movement of 1 Coulomb of charge (6,250,000,000,000,000,000 elementary charges) per second. Voltage is the measure of how much energy each charge has. A 1-volt charge carries 1 Joule of energy per Coulomb of charge. To use water in a pipe as an analogy, current measures the amount of water flowing through the pipe and voltage measures the pressure (or energy per liter) of that water.

249. What is the difference between single-phase and three-phase electric power?
In single-phase power, current flows to and from a device through a pair of wires. The direction of the current flow changes with time, reversing smoothly 120 times a second in the US or 100 times a second in Europe (60 or 50 full cycles of reversal, over and back, each second respectively). In its simplest form, one of the two wires is called "neutral" and its voltage is always close to 0 volts (meaning that it has essentially no net electric charge on it). The other wire is called "power" and its voltage fluctuates from positive to negative to positive many times a second (meaning that its net electric charge varies from positive to negative to positive). The difference in voltage between "neutral" and "power" propels current through the device.

In three-phase power, current flows to and from a device through a group of three wires. These three wires are often called "X", "Y", and "Z", and each one is a power wire with a voltage that fluctuates from positive to negative to positive many times a second. (A fourth wire, "neutral", with a voltage of approximately 0 volts, may also be used.) But while the voltages of the three power wires fluctuate up and down the same number of times each second, they do not reach their maximum or minimum voltages at the same time. They reach their peaks one after the next in an equally spaced sequence: first "X", then "Y", then "Z", and then "X" again and so on. Because these three wires or "phases" rarely have the same voltages, currents can and do flow between any pair of them. It is such current flows that power the devices that use three-phase electric power. The natural sequencing of the three phases is particularly useful for devices that perform rhythmic tasks. For example, three-phase electric motors often turn in near synchrony with the rising and falling voltages of the phases.

Another advantage of three-phase electric power is that there is never a time when all three phases are at the same voltage. In single-phase power, whenever the two phases have the same voltage there is temporarily no electric power available. That's why single-phase electric devices must store energy to carry them over those dry spells. However, in three-phase power, a device can always obtain power from at least one pair of phases.

250. What is the difference, if any, between appliances with a 2 prong plug and a 3 prong plug?
In the 2 prong system, current travels to the appliance through one prong and leaves through the other prong. The roles of the two prongs interchange every 120th of a second. In the 3-prong system, there is one extra prong and that connects the frame of the appliance to the ground (the earth). This extra connection is a safety feature. If a wire comes loose inside the appliance and touches the frame, the frame can deliver charge and current to you through your hand and you can deliver it to the ground through your feet or your other hand. The earth is very large and a large amount of charge can flow into it without repelling further charge. Moreover most electrical systems are actually connected to the ground at some point. So if current can travel out of the circuit feeding power to the appliance and travel through you and into the ground, it will. You'll get a shock. The ground connection (the extra prong) allows this extra current to flow to ground so easily that a huge current is drawn out of the power source, causing the fuse or circuit breaker in that power source to break the connection. When that power connection is broken, no power can flow to the appliance at all and you can't get a shock from it. Plastic appliances often omit the extra prong because they have nothing dangerous to touch on their exteriors.

251. What is the hum you hear when walking under large power lines?
The electric currents in those lines are reversing 120 times a second in the United States (60 full cycles of reversal, over and back, each second). That means that the electrostatic forces between the charges they carry and anything nearby reverse 120 time a second and the magnetic forces that they exert on one another when currents flow through them turn on and off as well. You hear all of the motions that are caused by the pulsating electric and magnetic forces.

252. What is the purpose of the iron core in a transformer?
The iron core of a transformer stores energy as power is being transferred from the primary circuit to the secondary circuit. This energy is stored as the magnetization of that iron. The transformer needs to store that energy for roughly one half cycle of the alternating current or about 1/120th of a second. The more iron there is in the transformer, the more energy it can store and the more power the transformer can transfer from the primary circuit to the secondary circuit. Without any iron, the energy must be stored directly in empty space, again as a magnetization. But space isn't as good at storing magnetic energy as iron is so the iron increases the power-handling capacity of a transformer. Without the iron, the transformer must operate at much higher frequencies of alternating current in order to transfer reasonable amounts of power.

253. What makes alternating current alternate?
The pump for alternating current (usually an electrical generator) creates electric fields that reverse their directions 120 times a second (60 full cycles of reversal, over and back, each second). This reversal pushes the current backward and forward through the wires connecting to this power source. The currents direction of flow alternates and so does its voltage.

254. When going from 12 volts to 240 volts, is the point that with higher voltage the power transfer proceeds with fewer particles?
Yes. If you use higher voltages, you can transfer the same amount of power with a small current of charged particles. The energy lost in the transmission through wires increases as the square of the amount of current through those wires so reducing that current is very important.
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