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What’s the Difference Between AC & DC Power?

Do you know what kind of power your home runs on? Most people know about the two different kinds of electricity: AC and DC, but most couldn’t tell you what the difference is or where each of them is used in different situations. This isn’t a good thing, either, because the two types of power are immensely different from each other and using the wrong one in a certain situation could have disastrous consequences for your home or anything you plug into it.

What Are AC & DC Power?

AC and DC are actually abbreviations for two different types of electrical current: alternating current and direct current. Alternating current is what most people think of when they think of the power flowing through their walls and what they plug into. AC is also the type of power you find in the power lines over your head and the big electrical towers that span the country. While AC current does require a hot and neutral connection in order to work properly, the actual electrical energy comes from the flow of electrons quickly reversing direction, forward and backward, while traveling through a resistor. How quickly? A whopping 60 times per second, a measurement known as our power’s frequency.

Direct current, or DC power, is far simpler to understand. DC power simply involves electrons flowing in a closed circuit, and that flow of electrons through a resistor is what makes your devices work. Think of it sort of like a lazy river at your local water park. The water is like the electrons, constantly flowing in one direction. If you stick a water wheel in that river, the river’s current will cause it to turn, creating energy that can be used to perform work.

When Do We Use AC & DC Current?

AC and DC are different from each other, but we use both types of current in our modern society because each has their own advantages and disadvantages, thus making them great for their own applications. AC current is better for the power flowing through our walls because it can be easily scaled up to extremely high voltages without the risk of overheating wires. The voltage running across those lines attached to giant steel towers often exceeds hundreds of thousands of volts, but won’t lose too much of that voltage when it’s transmitted over extremely long distances.

DC current doesn’t do particularly well in this department—scaling it up involves a lot of heat and risk to power lines, and even scaled to high voltages only really has the ability to travel about a mile or two before it loses too much energy. If our homes ran on DC power rather than AC, we’d need to have power plants every couple of blocks or so to service a small number of people. Instead, since we use AC power, we can have one giant power plant that serves thousands of customers, and does so through the use of localized substations.

However, DC current has its advantages as well—it’s actually far safer than AC power, and puts you at far lower of an injury risk if you accidentally shock yourself. Likewise, it’s far more stable at lower voltage levels, which means it’s great for powering our devices. DC circuits are generally far simpler to design, more reliable, produce less heat, and are more stable, which makes them great for electronics or other things which we plug into our walls.

And we’re able to compromise and use both through devices known as rectifiers. A rectifier is a device which takes AC current from the wall and converts it into DC. Using other devices known as step-down converters or “buck” converters, we can then turn the higher voltage into low, stable numbers needed to power our devices smoothly and efficiently. In this way, both AC and DC current can actually work together in harmony.

If you need an electrical repair, pick up the phone and call the Ontario electricians from All Pro Plumbing, Heating, Air & Electrical at (909) 253-0664 today.