Building Design and Construction

Electrical Power

In many ways, transmission of electricity in buildings is analogous to water-supply distribution. Water flows through pipes, electricity through wires or other conductors.
Voltage is equivalent to pressure; wire resistance, to pipe friction; and electric current, or flow of electrons, to water droplets.
The hydraulic analogy is limited to only very elementary applications with electric flow like direct current, which always flows in the same direction. The analogy does not hold for alternating current, which reverses flow many times per second without apparent inertia drag. Direct-current systems are simple two-wire circuits, whereas alternating current uses two, three, or four wires and the formulas are more complex. Any attempt to apply the hydraulic analogy to alternating currents would be more confusing than helpful. The mathematical concepts are the only guides that remain true over the whole area of application.
Ampere (abbreviated A) is the basic unit for measuring flow of current. The unit flowing is an electric charge called a coulomb. An ampere is equivalent to a flow of one coulomb per second.
One source of direct current is the battery, which converts chemical energy into electric energy. By convention, direct current flows from the positive terminal to the negative terminal when a conductor is connected between the terminals. The voltage between battery terminals depends on the number of cells in the battery.
For a lead-plate-sulfuric-acid battery, this voltage is about 1.5 to 2 V per cell.
For high voltages, a generator is required. A generator is a machine for converting mechanical energy into electrical energy. The basic principle involved is illustrated by the simple experiment of moving a copper wire across the magnetic field between a north pole and south pole of a magnet. In a generator, the rotor is wound with coils of wire and the magnets are placed around the stator in pairs, two, four, six, and eight. When the coil on the rotor passes through the magnetic field under a south pole, current flows in one direction. When the same coil passes  through the north-pole field, the current reverses. For this reason, all generators produce alternating current. If direct current is required, the coils are connected to contacts on the rotor, which transfer the current to brushes arranged to pick up the current flowing in one direction only. The contacts and brushes comprise the commutator.
If the commutator is omitted, the generator is an alternator, producing alternating current.
See also Conversion of AC to DC in Art. 15.3.

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