Basic Electrical Engineering

Alternating Current (AC): Most students of electricity begin their study with what is known as direct current (DC), which is electricity flowing in a constant direction, and/or possessing a voltage with constant polarity. DC is the kind of electricity made by a battery (with definite positive and negative terminals), or the kind of charge generated by rubbing certain types of materials against each other.

As useful and as easy to understand as DC is, it is not the only “kind” of electricity in use. Certain sources of electricity (most notably, rotary electro-mechanical generators) naturally produce voltages alternating in polarity, reversing positive and negative over time. Either as a voltage switching polarity or as a current switching direction back and forth, this “kind” of electricity is known as Alternating Current (AC): Figure below

distribution systems that are far more efficient than DC, and so we find AC used predominately across the world in high power applications. To explain the details of why this is so, a bit of background knowledge about AC is necessary. If a machine is constructed to rotate a magnetic field around a set of stationary wire coils with the turning of a shaft, AC voltage will be produced across the wire coils as that shaft is rotated, in accordance with Faraday’s Law of electromagnetic induction. This is the basic operating principle of an AC generator, also known as an alternator: Given Figure

                                          Alternator operation


  • DC stands for “Direct Current,” meaning voltage or current that maintains constant polarity or direction, respectively, over time.
  • AC stands for “Alternating Current,” meaning voltage or current that changes polarity or direction, respectively, over time.
  • AC electromechanical generators, known as alternators, are of simpler construction than DC electromechanical generators.
  • AC and DC motor design follows respective generator design principles very closely.
  • A transformer is a pair of mutually-inductive coils used to convey AC power from one coil to the other. Often, the number of turns in each coil is set to create a voltage increase or decrease from the powered (primary) coil to the unpowered (secondary) coil.
  • Secondary voltage = Primary voltage (secondary turns / primary turns)
  • Secondary current = Primary current (primary turns / secondary turns)