What's the Difference Between AC & DC Power?

Much like the rock band, AC and DC power have a long an interesting history. Like DVD and Blue Ray (or VHS and Betamax for the older ilk), the two have long been embroiled in a battle for supremacy. Due to their ability to provide power in different ways, however, the two appear to be more recently coming together to exist in harmony.

The Differences in AC Current vs DC Current

Direct current, developed by Thomas Edison and the standard of America’s early foray into the world of electricity, involves the use of current that runs in a single direction. Unfortunately, its inability to be easily converted into higher/lower voltages led others to look to alternative solutions: Namely Nikola Tesla’s AC current. Alternating and reversing direction 60 times per second (50 in Europe), AC current could be converted to different voltages more easily using a transformer. The “War of the Currents” ensued as the inventors battled for relevance (and royalties) in the future of America’s electrical infrastructure. In the end George Westinghouse partnered with Tesla, leading AC into American homes nationwide. However, in recent years, DC has seen a bit of a renaissance. Why?

Application Powers the Need for AC vs DC Current

While both AC and DC current deliver electricity, the way in which that electricity arrives at its end destination differs. What are your appliances and electronics eating?

  • AC
    Your home or office receives electricity in the form of wave-like AC current, which is capable of changing direction and voltage from higher to lower current with the aid of transformers. In your home it is eaten by corded appliances small and large, from your HVAC to your TV and dishwasher.
  • DC
    The consistent and constant voltage of DC power supplies electronics that use a battery, such as your mobile device or smartphone. Like the battery powering your kid’s remote control car, the smooth, steady electrical current of DC power always flows in the same direction, between positive and negative terminals.
  • AC/DC
    Your laptop uses a combination of both types of electric current, beginning with AC from the outlet to your charging cord, to be converted into DC via the bulky little box (a power adapter) between the outlet and the end that plugs into your computer to recharge the battery. Some vehicles likewise use a combination of AC/DC current.

The Future of AC/DC

While we can’t foretell the future of the famed rock band, AC and DC current are expected to continue their rivalry, albeit in a far more friendly manner. Homes and businesses across the nation will continue to be powered predominantly by AC power. With the rise of LEDs, solar cells, electric vehicles, and mobile electronics, however, advancements in DC are on the rise, with methods continually under development for transporting and converting DC to higher and lower voltages with less electricity loss. The potential resolution to the “War of the Currents”? The couple working side-by-side in homes and businesses across the U.S.

Experiencing a “War of the Currents” in your own home or business as electrical devices vie for a waning power supply? Give peace a chance with an electrical box or service upgrade from Mr. Electric today.

Want to know more about electrical current? Check out this blog on electrical troubleshooting from Mr. Handyman, a Neighborly company.