891. Why is alternating current better than direct current? — MK, California
The genius of George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla in the late 1800's was to realize that producing alternating current made it possible to transfer power easily from one electric circuit to another with the help of an electromagnetic device called a transformer. When an alternating electric current passes through the primary wire coil of a transformer, the changing magnetic and electric fields that this current produces transfer power from that primary current to the current passing through another coil of wire—the secondary coil of the transformer. While no electric charges move between these two wires, electric power does. With the help of a transformer, it's possible for a generating plant to move power from a large current of relatively low energy electric charges—low voltage charges—to a small current of relatively high-energy electric charges—high voltage charges. This small current of high voltage electric charges can move with relatively little power loss through miles and miles of high voltage transmission lines and can go from the generating plant to a distant city without wasting much power. Upon arrival at the city, this current can pass through the primary coil of another transformer and its power can be transferred to a large current of relatively low voltage charges flowing through the secondary coil of that transformer. The latter current can then deliver this electric power to your neighborhood. A transformer can't transfer power between two circuits if those circuits operate with direct current. Edison tried to use direct current in his power delivery systems and fought Westinghouse and Tesla tooth and nail for years. Edison even invented the electric chair to "prove" that alternating current was much more dangerous than direct current. Still, Westinghouse and Tesla won out in the end because they had the better idea.