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Electrical Power

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Title: Electrical Power  
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Electrical Power

Electric power is the rate at which electric energy is transferred by an electric circuit. The SI unit of power is the watt, one joule per second.

Electric power is usually produced by electric generators, but can also be supplied by chemical sources such as electric batteries. Electric power is generally supplied to businesses and homes by the electric power industry. Electric power is usually sold by the kilowatt hour (3.6 MJ) which is the product of power in kilowatts multiplied by running time in hours. Electric utilities measure power using an electricity meter, which keeps a running total of the electric energy delivered to a customer.


Electric power, like mechanical power, is the rate of doing work, measured in watts, and represented by the letter P. The term wattage is used colloquially to mean "electric power in watts." The electric power in watts produced by an electric current I consisting of a charge of Q coulombs every t seconds passing through an electric potential (voltage) difference of V is

P = \text{work done per unit time} = \frac {QV}{t} = IV \,


Q is electric charge in coulombs
t is time in seconds
I is electric current in amperes
V is electric potential or voltage in volts

Electric power is equal to work unit.


Electric power is transformed to other forms of power when electric charges move through an electric potential (voltage) difference, which occurs in electrical components in electric circuits. When electric charges move through a potential difference from a high voltage to a low voltage, the energy in the potential is converted to kinetic energy of the charges, which perform work on the device. Devices in which this occurs are called passive devices or loads; they consume electric power, converting it to other forms such as mechanical work, heat, light, etc. Examples are electrical appliances, such as light bulbs, electric motors, and electric heaters.

If the charges are forced to move by an outside force in the direction from a lower potential to a higher, work is being done on the charges, so power is transferred to the electric current from some other type of energy, such as mechanical energy or chemical energy. Devices in which this occurs are called active devices or power sources; sources of electric current, such as electric generators and batteries.

Passive sign convention

Main article: Passive sign convention

In electronics, which deals with more passive than active devices, electric power consumed in a device is defined to have a positive sign, while power produced by a device is defined to have a negative sign. This is called the passive sign convention.

Resistive circuits

In the case of resistive (Ohmic, or linear) loads, Joule's law can be combined with Ohm's law (V = I·R) to produce alternative expressions for the dissipated power:

P = I^2 R = \frac{V^2}{R},

where R is the electrical resistance.

Alternating current

Main article: AC power

In alternating current circuits, energy storage elements such as inductance and capacitance may result in periodic reversals of the direction of energy flow. The portion of power flow that, averaged over a complete cycle of the AC waveform, results in net transfer of energy in one direction is known as real power (also referred to as active power). That portion of power flow due to stored energy, that returns to the source in each cycle, is known as reactive power. The real power P in watts consumed by a device is given by

P = {1 \over 2}V_p I_p \cos \theta = V_{rms}I_{rms} \cos \theta \,


Vp is the peak voltage in volts
Ip is the peak current in amperes
Vrms is the root-mean-square voltage in volts
Irms is the root-mean-square current in amperes
θ is the phase angle between the current and voltage sine waves

The relationship between real power, reactive power and apparent power can be expressed by representing the quantities as vectors. Real power is represented as a horizontal vector and reactive power is represented as a vertical vector. The apparent power vector is the hypotenuse of a right triangle formed by connecting the real and reactive power vectors. This representation is often called the power triangle. Using the Pythagorean Theorem, the relationship among real, reactive and apparent power is:

\mbox{(apparent power)}^2 = \mbox{(real power)}^2 + \mbox{(reactive power)}^2

Real and reactive powers can also be calculated directly from the apparent power, when the current and voltage are both sinusoids with a known phase angle θ between them:

\mbox{(real power)} = \mbox {(apparent power)}\cos(\theta)
\mbox{(reactive power)} = \mbox {(apparent power)}\sin(\theta)

The ratio of real power to apparent power is called power factor and is a number always between 0 and 1. Where the currents and voltages have non-sinusoidal forms, power factor is generalized to include the effects of distortion.

Electromagnetic fields

Electrical power flows wherever electric and magnetic fields exist together and fluctuate in the same place. The simplest example of this is in electrical circuits, as the preceding section showed. In the general case, however, the simple equation P = IV must be replaced by a more complex calculation, the integral of the cross-product of the electrical and magnetic field vectors over a specified area, thus:

P = \int_S (\mathbf{E} \times \mathbf{H}) \cdot \mathbf{dA}. \,

The result is a scalar since it is the surface integral of the Poynting vector.

Electric power supply

Main article: power supply

Electricity generation

The fundamental principles of electricity generation were discovered during the 1820s and early 1830s by the British scientist Michael Faraday. His basic method is still used today: electricity is generated by the movement of a loop of wire, or disc of copper between the poles of a magnet.[1]

For electric utilities, it is the first process in the delivery of electricity to consumers. The other processes, electricity transmission, distribution, and electrical power storage and recovery using pumped-storage methods are normally carried out by the electric power industry.

Electricity is most often generated at a power station by electromechanical generators, primarily driven by heat engines fueled by chemical combustion or nuclear fission but also by other means such as the kinetic energy of flowing water and wind. There are many other technologies that can be and are used to generate electricity such as solar photovoltaics and geothermal power.

Battery power

Main article: battery (electricity)

A battery is a device consisting of one or more electrochemical cells that convert stored chemical energy into electrical energy.[2] Since the invention of the first battery (or "voltaic pile") in 1800 by Alessandro Volta and especially since the technically improved Daniell cell in 1836, batteries have become a common power source for many household and industrial applications. According to a 2005 estimate, the worldwide battery industry generates US$48 billion in sales each year,[3] with 6% annual growth.[4]

There are two types of batteries: primary batteries (disposable batteries), which are designed to be used once and discarded, and secondary batteries (rechargeable batteries), which are designed to be recharged and used multiple times. Batteries come in many sizes, from miniature cells used to power hearing aids and wristwatches to battery banks the size of rooms that provide standby power for telephone exchanges and computer data centers.

Electric power industry

The electric power industry provides the production and delivery of power, in sufficient quantities to areas that need electricity, through a grid connection. The grid distributes electrical energy to customers. Electric power is generated by central power stations or by distributed generation.

Many households and businesses need access to electricity, especially in developed nations, the demand being scarcer in developing nations. Demand for electricity is derived from the requirement for electricity in order to operate domestic appliances, office equipment, industrial machinery and provide sufficient energy for both domestic and commercial lighting, heating, cooking and industrial processes. Because of this aspect of the industry, it is viewed as a public utility as infrastructure.

See also

Energy portal


  • Reports on August 2003 Blackout, North American Electric Reliability Council website

External links

  • U.S. Department of Energy: Electric Power

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