AC vs. DC - The Battle of Currents Part-I
Posted on March 08 2019
Electricity! Though it be in the form of AC or DC, we use it today as a basic need of life. Majority of our appliances run through electricity; imagine a life without electricity. No electrical power means no heating or cooling systems, no TV, no internet and no refrigeration, simply put a mess! But wait, do you guys even know how does the magic of electricity work? And what about the “war of currents”? Yes, that is a real thing. If you don't know about it, no worries. Here is the complete and easy understanding of everything related to your electrical power system, and why was there a “war of currents."
High power modern electrical lines. via iea
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What is AC and DC power?
First the basics — understanding the different mode of power. Alternating Current (AC) and Direct Current (DC) are two different types of current that are used to power up your electronic devices. In DC, the flow of electrons that is responsible for powering up devices is unidirectional, whilst in AC the electrons change direction by 180-degrees — moving back and forth to provide energy for any electrical equipment.
Current modes via water analogy. via sparkfun
For a better explanation of AC and DC supply to the public out there, consider water as energy that flows and power up your devices. So water flowing from a raised water tank is then a representation of the DC system as shown in the figure above. On the other hand, consider a closed water pipe system with water inside it; a mechanical crank with the piston moving the water back and forth is then the representation of AC (see fig above).
Why do we have two types of electrical power?
Both of these of current have their own advantages, AC is economical and convenient, whilst DC is more stable and used by our electronics including computers and control panels — more detailed advantages discussed in another blog. But why do we even have two different power modes in the first place? Now, this is a very interesting question that has a history of events as an answer, so sit back relax, get your cup of coffee or tea, and read...
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DC Power Plants and the First Light Bulb
Dating back to the late 19th century, Thomas Edison was a well-known inventor worldwide. His inventions included the phonograph, the movie camera, and many other products. During his career, he had patented up to a thousand ideas and products. In 1878, he succeeded in making the first ever incandescent light bulb, and being the brilliant businessman he was, he realized this to be a business idea.
Thomas Edison, the inventor of light bulb. via treehugger
From light bulbs, he wanted to build an electrical system in the entire country. Customers would get power supply from a designated power system and light bulbs in their house would illuminate and lighten up, erasing all the darkness and candle businesses. Electrical energy would flow in a wide-spread network of wires that would carry power for running the light bulbs (and later other electronics as well). For his system, Edison used the steam engines which generated DC power to supply electrical energy to customers in the city.
DC Power faces a major issue
Edison soon started to install this lightening system for his customers and the business was rolling well until he found out that a major issue - after about a mile's distance from the DC source, there wasn't enough energy transmitted in the electric wires to even light up a bulb. This means every customer had to live within about a miles' radius from the power plant in order to receive sufficient usable energy.
A gasoline DC generator. via IEEE-PES
This energy loss was called line loss and here is why; electrical wires have a certain amount of resistance, and the added manufacturing impurities add to the resistance of electrical energy flowing through the wires. As long as the wire is short e.g. a wire used inside a house, the resistance is small and not much power and energy is lost due to the resistance. But when high voltage DC power is transmitted over long lengths, where the wire becomes long too, the resistance adds and becomes sufficient enough to dissipate all the energy as heat in the surround, and we call it line losses.
The Arrival of the solution man — Tesla
This was a major hindrance in expanding Edison's business and achieving his dream of spreading electrical energy nationwide. Edison had no working solution for this problem. Although Edison tried and vouched for installing power plants in each corner of the city (by a distance of one mile from each other), this was just not practical enough. Imagine having a power station just around every corner of the city!
Nikola Tesla. via procaffenation
1884 is when Nikola Tesla arrived in the USA, with him be brought the knowledge of AC power that would eventually solve Edison's power supply issue. At the beginning of his time in the USA, he worked with Edison on his inventions and making new products.
So what did Tesla do to solve such a major problem? and why are our house powered with AC these days? CONTINUE READING HERE. Got some questions? Don't worry, just leave us a comment below and we will help you with your queries.