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Alternating Current (AC) vs Direct Current (DC)

Our electrical experts explain AC & DC

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What is Alternating Current?

Generally, electrical energy can be transmitted using two ways; either through direct current or alternating current. It should be noted that electrical current is a term used to describe the transfer of electrons through a conductor, such as a wire.

There are a lot of differences between alternating current (AC) and direct current (DC). However, the main difference is attributed to how the electrons move inside the conducting material. Typically, in AC, the electrons keep changing directions, sometimes making a forward movement before going backward and vice versa. On the other hand, in DC, the flow of electron is steady in one direction, which is always a forward movement. Of course, there are other differences which we all going to take a look at.

Interestingly, in the early 1800s, the DC versus AC discussion sparkled an ancient battle, nicknamed the war of currents, a scenario where two prominent personalities were embroiled in a tug of war, with each side trying to win clients.

Edison Thomas, a crusader of direct current, felt uneasy by Nikola Tesla’s cutting-edge technological invention of the alternating current. In a bid to try and gain control over his customer base, Edison opted to discredit alternating current and even resorted to misleading the people. Edison couldn’t imagine losing his royalties to this new promising invention, and even went further to electrocute stray dogs just to show how alternating current was that dangerous.

Despite his dogmatic approach, Edison was unable to prevent Tesla from realising his dream of powering his city, and the United States at large, with relatively cheaper and extremely efficient energy. Thanks to its potential benefits, the alternating current took over the mantle and reigned for a century and was heavily used in a broad range of settings, including commercial buildings, households, offices and apartments.

What is the difference between AC & DC current?

As we previously mentioned, direct current implies that power literally travels in a single direction. The flow of electrons is in a constant direction and does change at intervals. This is achieved by placing magnets that are steady on the wire to enable electron remain on a steady path. Direct current can be generated by sources such as solar cells, thermocouples and batteries.

In alternating current, the flow of electrons constantly changes, from backward to reverse and so forth. This is achieved by putting rotating magnets along the wire and as the polarisation of the magnets alternates so does the flow of electrons. Other notable differences include:

  • Regarding the capacity of electricity that can be transported, alternating current is relatively safe to transmit via large distances and provides more power as well. On the other hand, the voltage of the direct current cannot travel long distances and will begin to lose energy.
  • The frequency of AC can either be 60Hz or 50Hz, depending on the country. On the other hand, the frequency of the DC is always 0. Hertz (Hz) simply refers to the number of times per second the current is switching back and forth.
  • Alternating current can be obtained from mains and AC generators whereas direct current is obtained from a battery and solar panels.
  • The energy factor of alternating current lies between zero and one whereas that DC always one.
  • The severity AC thought to be dangerous whereas that of direct current can be excessively dangerous.
  • Alternating current is commonly used in factories, industries and homes.
  • Direct current is mostly used in electronic devices, an electroplating process and perhaps in electrolytic processes.
  • Alternating current cannot be stored. Direct current can be stored in cells and batteries.

What are the advantages of AC?

  • The magnitude or value of alternating current can easily be decreased without loss of energy.
  • The loss of energy during transmission is negligible.
  • It is relatively easy and cheaper to generate.
  • The variation of alternating current using either step up or step down transformers is extremely beneficial.
  • It can be economical to transmit over larger distances, especially for higher voltages.
  • AC machines are simpler and cheaper in design and cost respectively.

What are the advantages of DC?

  • In DC transmission, the potential stress on the conductors is relatively less hence it requires less insulation.
  • In direct current transmission, there is no either synchronising or stability issues.
  • There are no effects of capacitance, phase angle displacement on the lines.

Why is alternating current widely used?

It could be argued that the possibility to transport electricity across long distances is the most important factor that has made AC a popular choice. What’s more, it can be conveniently converted to lower or higher values using transformers. In general, the simplicity and the efficiency with which alternating current can be modulated and transmitted is still unrivalled and perhaps this is the primary reason why it is still the most preferred choice.

At Gordon’s Powers, we know that alternating current is the standard form of electricity used in Australian domestic households. Your powerpoint outlets provides a power supply between 220-240V AC, 50 Hz. Contact our friendly staff if you require any commercial or residential electrical work in Sydney such as powerpoint outlet installations. We are available 24/7 to conveniently restore your power swiftly and safely.

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