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Electric power is usually produced by electric generators, but can also be supplied by sources such as electric batteries. It is generally supplied to businesses and homes by the electric power industry through an electric power grid. 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
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. From the standpoint of electric power, components in an electric circuit can be divided into two categories:
Some devices can be either a source or a load, depending on the voltage or current through them. For example, a rechargeable battery acts as a source when it provides power to a circuit, but as a load when it is connected to a battery charger and is being recharged.
Since electric power can flow in either direction, either into or out of a component, a convention is needed for which direction represents positive power flow. Electric power flowing out of a circuit into a component is arbitrarily defined to have a positive sign, while power flowing into a circuit from a component is defined to have a negative sign. Thus passive components have positive power consumption. This is called the passive sign convention.
where R is the electrical resistance.
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
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:
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:
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
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Electrical energy 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:
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.
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.
A battery is a device consisting of one or more electrochemical cells that convert stored chemical energy into electrical energy. 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, with 6% annual growth.
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.
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.