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DC Power Distribution

Electricity was first distributed in the form of DC power. DC current flows always in the same direction with the same voltage. This is illustrated in figure one. DC power can only be distributed a few miles with reasonable efficiency. The voltage throughout a DC power distribution system must be the same value. The power for use in homes needs a voltage level of around 120 volts. Therefore, the DC power must be generated and distributed at 120 volts. Very high currents must be generated and distributed to serve a significant number of households. Industry often requires higher voltages for larger electrical machines. Separate power lines must be used to carry the higher voltages from the power plant industrial sites. Some of the limitations of DC power distribution systems are listed below. (1) Separate conductors are required to carry each voltage from the generator to the consumer. (2) Large conductors must be used to carry the large currents in the distribution system. (3) Distribution distances are limited to a few miles because of high power loses in conductors. Thomas Edison was a strong proponent of DC power distribution systems. His company manufactured DC power systems in the early years of electrical power development. Edison opposed AC power distribution because of the greater danger of electrocution. DC voltage is no longer used to distribute power except within automobiles, boats and airplanes. Power only needs to be distributed a few meters in these applications. Automobiles, small boats, and small airplanes can operate on the single DC voltage available from a battery. Click on the AC Power Distribution tab at the top of this page to learn why transformers make AC power distribution efficient.

AC Power Distribution AC voltage varies in amplitude and periodically reverses direction. This is illustrated in figure one. The events shown in figure two repeat 60 times per second in USA power distribution systems. The events are slowed for illustration purposes. AC power generators are relatively simple in principle. A coil is rotated between the poles of a magnet. The magnet is most often an electromagnet in larger generators. The coil cuts across the magnetic lines of force as it rotates. Cutting across magnetic lines of force induce voltage into the rotating coil. The polarity of the induced voltage depends on the direction in which the lines are cut. We get one polarity on one half rotation of the coil while the opposite polarity is produced on the other half rotation. The voltage also varies as the coil rotates. Voltage production is large when the coil winding cuttings across the maximum field density near the magnetic poles. Voltage production is zero at the moment that the coil winding is moving parallel to the lines of magnetic force. Continued rotation produces sine waves of voltage. George Westinghouse developed the first AC power distribution systems. Westinghouse's system used discoveries and patents by Nikola Tesla. Transformers are a critical part of making an efficient AC power distribution system. Transformers can be used to step AC voltage up or down. This allows power to be generated at a reasonably high voltage level such at 10KV. Transformers can then be used to step voltage up to 100KV or more for efficient distribution over great distances. The voltage is then stepped down using

transformers to lower voltages for use in homes and businesses. Homes typically need 120V and 240V for lighting and appliances. Industry often uses 440V or higher voltages for large electrical machines. Transformers allow engineers to design the distribution system to keep voltage as high as reasonable for efficient distribution. Transformers are simply two coils wound on an iron core. The opening page of this program has an interactive transformer that illustrates voltage step-up and step-down. Another activity deals with transformers in greater detail. Why is higher voltage more efficient in distribution systems? The size of electrical conductors required in a situation is determined by the conductor current. Larger currents require larger conductors. Electrical power is the product of voltage and current as shown by the formula below. P=(I)(V) Efficient distribution is obtained by using the largest voltage possible in a situation. Large values of voltage allow small currents to produce the power level required. Smaller current means smaller conductors can be used to distribute the power. Let us consider the distribution of 1,000,000 Watts or 1MW of power. The current and voltage combinations listed below all produce 1MW. (1) 100V and 10,000A (2) 1KV and 1000A (3) 10KV and 100A (4) 100KV and 10A Clearly (4) is the best for distribution over long distances. A small lightweight conductor can carry 10A. Item (3) would require a conductor 10 times larger for efficient distribution. Notice that the required current becomes larger as the voltage becomes smaller. Sine Waves AC generators produce voltage that varies as a sine wave. Sine waves are illustrated in figure one at the bottom of this page. Each complete AC cycle consists of a positive alternation and a negative alternation. A complete cycle can be compared to a full circle of full rotation. Therefore, we often measure a cycle in degrees of rotation. A full cycle is 360. Halfway through a cycle is at 180 where the voltage is zero. We can identify specific points in a cycle by giving an angle. The voltage is positive for angles between 0 and 180. The voltage is negative for angles between 180 and 360. The voltage for any angle can be calculated using the formula below.

V = (Vp)(Sine ) Instantaneous voltage, V, is equal to peak voltage times the sine of the angle.
Example 1:

What is the voltage at 48 if peak voltage is 160V?

V = (Vp)(Sine ) = (160V)(Sine ) = (160V)(.7431) = 118.896V


Example 2: What is the voltage at 294 if peak voltage is 200V?

V = (Vp)(Sine ) = (200V)(Sine ) = (200V)(-.9135) = -182.7V


Two other important terms related to sine waves are frequency and period. Frequency is the number of cycles completed in one second. The unit for frequency is the Hertz. Power is distributed in the United States with 60 cycles being completed each second. Therefore, the frequency is 60 Hertz. This is often abbreviated as 60 Hz. Period is the time duration for one complete cycle. Period and frequency are related as reciprocals of each other. This is given in formula form below.

f = 1/P P = 1/f

Frequency is equal to 1 divided by period. Period is equal to 1 divided by frequency.

Example 3: What is the period of a 250 Hz sine wave?

P = 1/f = 1/250 = .004 seconds = 4mS


Example 4: What is the frequency of a sine wave with a period of 2.5 mS?

f = 1/P = 1/2.5mS = 1/.0025 S = 400 Hz


Click your mouse on the Radian button to see another way to measure rotation angles. Figure two illustrates radian measurement. The full cycle in figure two is divided into 2radians. The positive alternation occurs in radians. Radian measurement is often used in electrical engineering. Click your mouse on the Grad button to see a third way to measure angles. Figure three shows the use of grads to measure angular rotation. A complete cycle consists of 400 grads. The voltage reaches the maximum positive value in 100 grads.