All this talk about solar electricity, solar panels for sale, energy conservation and so forth has got me thinking of the day I got strated on my journey on going green.
If you’re starting and you’re like me, I bet you have a ton of questions and you’re confused on what to do. The best place to start, in my case at least, was to take a look at my old notes on how electricity works.
Knowing the basics of electricity is similar to building a solid foundation for a building. Everything will eventually refer back to it, so setting up a good solid understanding of electricity is IMO fundamental to any future solar or energy projects.
What is Electricity?
So let’s get started. If you remember your physics or chemistry class, you know that matter is made up of atoms. And smaller still atoms are made up of protons, neutrons and electrons. If you’re thinking electricity got it’s name from electrons you would be right!
Electrons are not part of the nucleus of the atom and are tiny particles orbiting it. For some elements electrons stay within the atom and do not transfer to other atoms. These are called electrical insulators like wood, plastic, styrofoam and air. Anything that does not conduct electricity falls under this category.
Things that conduct electricity are mostly called metal. These are atoms wherein they have electrons that can freely move about and transfer from one atom to another. This movement of the atom transfers energy or electricity from one to the other.
Amperes (Amps) and Voltage (Volts)
Whenever you hear of electricity the terms amps and voltage readily comes to mind. In simpler terms, all you need to know about amperes is that it is the measure of how many electrons passes through a certain point at a given time. It is the rate of flow or current.
While voltage is the driving force or pressure between two points that pushes those number of electrons. A voltage of 50volts can be lethal.
What are Watts?
I didn’t forget watts. Watts is by definition a unit of measurement for energy conversion.
The formula for watts is:
1W = 1V x 1A = 1 joule of energy per second
To understand energy conversion and how it relates to wattage, lets take a look at a 100watt light bulb and a 50watt light bulb. A 100 watt light bulb needs 100 joules of energy per second to be powered up, while a 50 watt light bulb only needs 50 joules of energy per second.
Making practical use of all these
With the above simple formula you can measure any wattage of any electric consuming object. Take for example a lightbulb, if you live in a country that has 120 volt outlets like the US, you simply have to measure the current or amps that flows out of the outlet to the light bulb to determine the wattage of the light bulb. If the current measures up to be 0.5 amp, you got yourself a 0.5amp x 120volts = 60watt light bulb
With some basic understanding of what electricity is or how it is generated, we now take a look at the application of electricity or making use of electricity. Since we know we electrons can move from one place to another, we can make use of this energy.
In order to make electrons move we simply need a negative terminal connected to the positive terminal. The electrons will move from the negative end to the positive end. And in between these two ends we can place an object like a light bulb, an ipod or an electric toothbrush and the electrons will pass by these and make it work… all just to get to the other side.
This is a simple diagram but it is the basics of every electric circuit there is. And one thing to keep in mind is that whatever you want the electrons to do, you can.
More Voltage, Current and Resistance
Moving on with our electricity basics, we have another term that we need to deal with, Resistance. If we analogize that the current is similar to the flowrate of water, voltage the pressure at which water is pushed from one point to another, resistance is the diameter of the pipeline the water if flowing in.
where I = current, V = voltage, r = resistance
With greater resistance, albeit a smaller pipeline the less the current will be. While the bigger the pipeline or the less the resistance, the more the current or flow of electricity will be.
Power and Kilowatt-hours
If you’re wondering how you get billed by power companies, this is it. Power companies charge not by the watts, but by the power we consume. Power is simply work over a certain time period.
So for electricity, power is Watt x Hours or 1000watts x hours to get kilowatts.
If you have a 1.5 kilowatt water heater and you leave it on for 1 hour, it will use up 1.5 kilowatt-hours. And if your power company charges you at 5 cents per kilowatt-hour you get billed 7.5cents for every hour you use that water heater.
So before I make this post any longer, this concludes the first part of electricity basics 101. Stay tune for the next post for some more electricity basics to get you started on the path to green living.