220 volts, 100 amps, 500 watts. Even the most basic units of electrical power jargon are confusing enough to give the average non-expert a headache.
A headache or a nasty shock, that is. While electrical power jargon may seem overly complicated and difficult to understand, the confusing words used to describe the different voltages, currents, and levels of resistance all relate to simple principles.
In this simple guide from neXpower, we’ll be learning about the four fundamental units of electrical power: watts, volts, ohms and amps.
But first, a lesson in plumbing…
What do electricity and water have in common? A lot, surprisingly. While it’s never a good idea to cross wires and pipes, you can learn a lot about electricity by imagining it as a simple water system.
The voltage of an electrical system is equivalent to the water pressure of the pipes in your home. The current of the system (measured in amps) is equivalent to the water flow rate – in this case, controlled by how far you turn the tap.
Finally, the resistance is equivalent to the diameter of the water pipes. The smaller the pipes, the smaller the quantity of water (or in our analogy, electricity) that can flow from one side to the other.
What about watts?
Before we explain how these three units relate to the wattage of a system, let’s keep going with our plumbing analogy.
Pretend you have a bathroom faucet connected to your home’s water tank using a standard pipe. If you increase the tank’s water pressure, what changes will happen at the faucet?
Changing the pressure (in electrical terms, the volts) makes more water flow out of the faucet. But what if instead of just changing the water pressure level in the tank, you also switched the standard pipe for one that’s twice as big?
This doubles the amount of water that flows out of the faucet. This is the equivalent of halving the resistance level in an electrical circuit – if the voltage is high enough, it will double the current.
Finally, let’s talk about watts. Watts are the unit used to measure the total amount of electrical power in a circuit. You can calculate the amount of watts in a circuit using a simple formula:
Watts = voltage (volts) x current (amps)
Watts, Amps, Ohms, and Volts: Breaking it down
Once you understand the water analogy, electrical power jargon becomes far easier to understand. Watts are the total power, amps are the current, volts are the level of pressure, and ohms are resistance.
Visualise the basic home plumbing system described above whenever you struggle to differentiate between these units. Since the fundamental principles of electricity and water are the same, you’ll find it very helpful!
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