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Direct current (DC) is one-directional flow of electric charge. An electrochemical cell is a prime example of DC power. Direct current may flow through a conductor such as a wire, but can also flow through semiconductors, insulators, or even through a vacuum as in electron or ion beams. The electric current flows in a constant direction, distinguishing it from alternating current (AC). A term formerly used for this type of current was galvanic current.
The abbreviations AC and DC are often used to mean simply alternating and direct, as when they modify current or voltage .
Direct current may be converted from an alternating current supply by use of a rectifier, which contains electronic elements (usually) or electromechanical elements (historically) that allow current to flow only in one direction. Direct current may be converted into alternating current via an inverter.
Direct current has many uses, from the charging of batteries to large power supplies for electronic systems, motors, and more. Very large quantities of electrical energy provided via direct-current are used in smelting of aluminum and other electrochemical processes. It is also used for some railways, especially in urban areas. High-voltage direct current is used to transmit large amounts of power from remote generation sites or to interconnect alternating current power grids.
Direct current was produced in 1800 by Italian physicist Alessandro Volta's battery, his Voltaic pile.The nature of how current flowed was not yet understood. French physicist André-Marie Ampère conjectured that current travelled in one direction from positive to negative. When French instrument maker Hippolyte Pixii built the first dynamo electric generator in 1832, he found that as the magnet used passed the loops of wire each half turn, it caused the flow of electricity to reverse, generating an alternating current. At Ampère's suggestion, Pixii later added a commutator, a type of "switch" where contacts on the shaft work with "brush" contacts to produce direct current.
The late 1870s and early 1880s saw electricity starting to be generated at power stations. These were initially set up to power arc lighting (a popular type of street lighting) running on very high voltage (usually higher than 3000 volt) direct current or alternating current.This was followed by the widespread use of low voltage direct current for indoor electric lighting in business and homes after inventor Thomas Edison launched his incandescent bulb based electric "utility" in 1882. Because of the significant advantages of alternating current over direct current in using transformers to raise and lower voltages to allow much longer transmission distances, direct current was replaced over the next few decades by alternating current in power delivery. In the mid-1950s, high-voltage direct current transmission was developed, and is now an option instead of long-distance high voltage alternating current systems. For long distance undersea cables (e.g. between countries, such as NorNed), this DC option is the only technically feasible option. For applications requiring direct current, such as third rail power systems, alternating current is distributed to a substation, which utilizes a rectifier to convert the power to direct current.
The term DC is used to refer to power systems that use only one electrical polarity of voltage or current, and to refer to the constant, zero-frequency, or slowly varying local mean value of a voltage or current.For example, the voltage across a DC voltage source is constant as is the current through a direct current source. The DC solution of an electric circuit is the solution where all voltages and currents are constant. It can be shown that any stationary voltage or current waveform can be decomposed into a sum of a DC component and a zero-mean time-varying component; the DC component is defined to be the expected value, or the average value of the voltage or current over all time.
Although DC stands for "direct current", DC often refers to "constant polarity". Under this definition, DC voltages can vary in time, as seen in the raw output of a rectifier or the fluctuating voice signal on a telephone line.
Some forms of DC (such as that produced by a voltage regulator) have almost no variations in voltage, but may still have variations in output power and current.
A direct current circuit is an electrical circuit that consists of any combination of constant voltage sources, constant current sources, and resistors. In this case, the circuit voltages and currents are independent of time. A particular circuit voltage or current does not depend on the past value of any circuit voltage or current. This implies that the system of equations that represent a DC circuit do not involve integrals or derivatives with respect to time.
If a capacitor or inductor is added to a DC circuit, the resulting circuit is not, strictly speaking, a DC circuit. However, most such circuits have a DC solution. This solution gives the circuit voltages and currents when the circuit is in DC steady state. Such a circuit is represented by a system of differential equations. The solution to these equations usually contain a time varying or transient part as well as constant or steady state part. It is this steady state part that is the DC solution. There are some circuits that do not have a DC solution. Two simple examples are a constant current source connected to a capacitor and a constant voltage source connected to an inductor.
In electronics, it is common to refer to a circuit that is powered by a DC voltage source such as a battery or the output of a DC power supply as a DC circuit even though what is meant is that the circuit is DC powered.
In a DC circuit, a power source (e.g. a battery, capacitor, etc.) has a positive and negative terminal, and likewise, the load also has a positive and negative terminal. To complete the circuit, positive charges need to flow from the power source to the load. The charges will then return to the negative terminal of the load, which will then flow back to the negative terminal of the battery, completing the circuit. If either the positive or negative terminal is disconnected, the circuit will not be complete and the charges will not flow.
In some DC circuit applications, polarity does not matter, which means you can connect positive and negative backwards and the circuit will still be complete and the load will still function normally. However, in most DC applications, polarity does matter, and connecting the circuit backwards will result in the load not working properly.
DC is commonly found in many extra-low voltage applications and some low-voltage applications, especially where these are powered by batteries or solar power systems (since both can produce only DC).
Most electronic circuits or devices require a DC power supply.
Domestic DC installations usually have different types of sockets, connectors, switches, and fixtures from those suitable for alternating current. This is mostly due to the lower voltages used, resulting in higher currents to produce the same amount of power.
It is usually important with a DC appliance to observe polarity, unless the device has a diode bridge to correct for this.
EMerge Alliance is the open industry association developing standards of DC power distribution in hybrid houses and commercial buildings.[ citation needed ]
Most automotive applications use DC. An automotive battery provides power for engine starting, lighting, the ignition system, the climate controls, and the infotainment system among others. The alternator is an AC device which uses a rectifier to produce DC for battery charging. Most highway passenger vehicles use nominally 12 V systems. Many heavy trucks, farm equipment, or earth moving equipment with Diesel engines use 24 volt systems. In some older vehicles, 6 V was used, such as in the original classic Volkswagen Beetle. At one point a 42 V electrical system was considered for automobiles, but this found little use. To save weight and wire, often the metal frame of the vehicle is connected to one pole of the battery and used as the return conductor in a circuit. Often the negative pole is the chassis "ground" connection, but positive ground may be used in some wheeled or marine vehicles. In a battery electric vehicle, there are usually two separate DC systems. The "low voltage" DC system typically operates at 12V, and serves the same purpose as in an internal combustion engine vehicle. The "high voltage" system operates at 300-400V (depending on the vehicle), and provides the power for the traction motors. Increasing the voltage for the traction motors reduces the current flowing through them, increasing efficiency.
Telephone exchange communication equipment uses standard −48 V DC power supply. The negative polarity is achieved by grounding the positive terminal of power supply system and the battery bank. This is done to prevent electrolysis depositions. Telephone installations have a battery system to ensure power is maintained for subscriber lines during power interruptions.
Other devices may be powered from the telecommunications DC system using a DC-DC converter to provide any convenient voltage.
Many telephones connect to a twisted pair of wires, and use a bias tee to internally separate the AC component of the voltage between the two wires (the audio signal) from the DC component of the voltage between the two wires (used to power the phone).
High-voltage direct current (HVDC) electric power transmission systems use DC for the bulk transmission of electrical power, in contrast with the more common alternating current systems. For long-distance transmission, HVDC systems may be less expensive and suffer lower electrical losses.
Applications using fuel cells (mixing hydrogen and oxygen together with a catalyst to produce electricity and water as byproducts) also produce only DC.
Light aircraft electrical systems are typically 12 V or 24 V DC similar to automobiles.
A diode is a two-terminal electronic component that conducts current primarily in one direction. It has low resistance in one direction and high resistance in the other.
A high-voltage direct current (HVDC) electric power transmission system uses direct current (DC) for electric power transmission, in contrast with the more common alternating current (AC) transmission systems.
A rectifier is an electrical device that converts alternating current (AC), which periodically reverses direction, to direct current (DC), which flows in only one direction. The reverse operation is performed by an inverter.
In electricity generation, a generator is a device that converts motion-based power or fuel-based power into electric power for use in an external circuit. Sources of mechanical energy include steam turbines, gas turbines, water turbines, internal combustion engines, wind turbines and even hand cranks. The first electromagnetic generator, the Faraday disk, was invented in 1831 by British scientist Michael Faraday. Generators provide nearly all the power for electrical grids.
A diode bridge is a bridge rectifier circuit of four diodes that is used in the process of converting alternating current (AC) from the input terminals to direct current on the output terminals. Its function is to convert the negative voltage portions of the AC waveform to positive voltage, after which a low-pass filter can be used to smooth the result into DC.
A thyristor is a solid-state semiconductor device with four layers of alternating P- and N-type materials used for high-power applications. It acts as a bistable switch. There are two designs, differing in what triggers the conducting state. In a three-lead thyristor, a small current on its gate lead controls the larger current of the anode-to-cathode path. In a two-lead thyristor, conduction begins when the potential difference between the anode and cathode themselves is sufficiently large. The thyristor continues conducting until the voltage across the device is reverse-biased or the voltage is removed, or through the control gate signal on newer types.
A power supply is an electrical device that supplies electric power to an electrical load. The main purpose of a power supply is to convert electric current from a source to the correct voltage, current, and frequency to power the load. As a result, power supplies are sometimes referred to as electric power converters. Some power supplies are separate standalone pieces of equipment, while others are built into the load appliances that they power. Examples of the latter include power supplies found in desktop computers and consumer electronics devices. Other functions that power supplies may perform include limiting the current drawn by the load to safe levels, shutting off the current in the event of an electrical fault, power conditioning to prevent electronic noise or voltage surges on the input from reaching the load, power-factor correction, and storing energy so it can continue to power the load in the event of a temporary interruption in the source power.
An alternator is an electrical generator that converts mechanical energy to electrical energy in the form of alternating current. For reasons of cost and simplicity, most alternators use a rotating magnetic field with a stationary armature. Occasionally, a linear alternator or a rotating armature with a stationary magnetic field is used. In principle, any AC electrical generator can be called an alternator, but usually the term refers to small rotating machines driven by automotive and other internal combustion engines.
A power inverter, inverter, or invertor is a power electronic device or circuitry that changes direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC). The resulting AC frequency obtained depends on the particular device employed. Inverters do the opposite of rectifiers which were originally large electromechanical devices converting AC to DC.
A DC connector is an electrical connector for supplying direct current (DC) power.
Power electronics is the application of electronics to the control and conversion of electric power.
A mercury-arc valve or mercury-vapor rectifier or (UK) mercury-arc rectifier is a type of electrical rectifier used for converting high-voltage or high-current alternating current (AC) into direct current (DC). It is a type of cold cathode gas-filled tube, but is unusual in that the cathode, instead of being solid, is made from a pool of liquid mercury and is therefore self-restoring. As a result mercury-arc valves, when used as intended, are far more robust and durable and can carry much higher currents than most other types of gas discharge tube. Some examples have been in continuous service, rectifying 50-ampere currents, for decades.
Electric power is the rate of transfer of electrical energy within a circuit. Its SI unit is the watt, the general unit of power, defined as one joule per second. Standard prefixes apply to watts as with other SI units: thousands, millions and billions of watts are called kilowatts, megawatts and gigawatts respectively.
A dynamo is an electrical generator that creates direct current using a commutator. Dynamos were the first electrical generators capable of delivering power for industry, and the foundation upon which many other later electric-power conversion devices were based, including the electric motor, the alternating-current alternator, and the rotary converter.
An electric power system is a network of electrical components deployed to supply, transfer, and use electric power. An example of a power system is the electrical grid that provides power to homes and industries within an extended area. The electrical grid can be broadly divided into the generators that supply the power, the transmission system that carries the power from the generating centers to the load centers, and the distribution system that feeds the power to nearby homes and industries.
An HVDC converter converts electric power from high voltage alternating current (AC) to high-voltage direct current (HVDC), or vice versa. HVDC is used as an alternative to AC for transmitting electrical energy over long distances or between AC power systems of different frequencies. HVDC converters capable of converting up to two gigawatts (GW) and with voltage ratings of up to 900 kilovolts (kV) have been built, and even higher ratings are technically feasible. A complete converter station may contain several such converters in series and/or parallel to achieve total system DC voltage ratings of up to 1,100 kV.
In electrical engineering, the passive sign convention (PSC) is a sign convention or arbitrary standard rule adopted universally by the electrical engineering community for defining the sign of electric power in an electric circuit. The convention defines electric power flowing out of the circuit into an electrical component as positive, and power flowing into the circuit out of a component as negative. So a passive component which consumes power, such as an appliance or light bulb, will have positive power dissipation, while an active component, a source of power such as an electric generator or battery, will have negative power dissipation. This is the standard definition of power in electric circuits; it is used for example in computer circuit simulation programs such as SPICE.
This article provides information on the following six methods of producing electric power.
This glossary of electrical and electronics engineering is a list of definitions of terms and concepts related specifically to electrical engineering and electronics engineering. For terms related to engineering in general, see Glossary of engineering.
This glossary of power electronics is a list of definitions of terms and concepts related to power electronics in general and power electronic capacitors in particular. For more definitions in electric engineering, see Glossary of electrical and electronics engineering. For terms related to engineering in general, see Glossary of engineering.