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04 September 2015

Electrical Systems: Understanding The Basic Terminology.

We rely on electricity every single moment of our lives. You using it right now to read this, you probably have a whole battery of electricity stored in your pocket. Even your brain is running on electricity! And with technology becoming increasingly pervasive, electricity won’t go away. It’s the perfect resource – harmless to the environment, efficient and relatively accessible.  But few of us have even a rudimentary understanding of how electrical systems work – what is the difference between a volt, and amp and a watt?

Let’s have a look at some basic electrical terms and what they mean.


An electrical system requires electrons to flow through a circuit. Imagine building up water pressure in a closed tank, and then attaching a hose. The water will rush through the hose. Similarly, electrons rush through the wires of a circuit. Rushing electrons are referred to as current. Electrical currents form a loop, rushing out of the battery or source of electricity, through the appliance, and then back to the source.

DC current

A direct current (DC) is a current that moves in a single direction. When you hook a battery up to a light, electricity passed out of the battery, through the filament of the lightbulb, and back into the battery. All of the electricity moves in a single direction, out of the positive outlet and back into the negative outlet. The direction the electricity moves is called polarity.


The voltage refers to the electrical pressure of electrons. Individual electrons repel each other because they both have a negative charge. This is similar to the way magnets repel each other. If you compress electrons into a very small space, you increase the pressure of the force pushing them apart. This is voltage. This pressure that forces electrons away from each other is what powers the mechanisms in electrical systems.  If you were to continually pump electrons into a battery, you would be increasing its voltage.

AC current

Alternating current changes the polarity of the current. Instead of moving from the start of the circuit through to the end, electricity in an AC current moves backwards and forward along the circuit. As the electricity changes from moving from one direction to another, the voltage (the pressure of the electrons) drops. So an AC current attached to a lightbulb actually turns the light on and off repeatedly. The increase and decrease of the voltage happens so fast that we can’t detect the flashing of a lightbulb with the human eye (but you may notice it in slow motion videos). If the power changes directions very quickly it has a high frequency. Frequency is measured by the amount of times the polarity changes on a second. This is called hertz, and is usually set at 50. So a regular lightbulb flashes 50 times per second.


Resistance refers to how much a circuit slows down the movement of electrons through a circuit. If electrons are being pushed into a circuit with high resistance, the voltage will increase, because the electrons have less room to spread out.  


Amps refers to the volume of electrons moving through a circuit. If you have high ampage and high resistance, you’ll have very high voltage.


Watts refer to the overall effectiveness of the current. How much work are the electrons doing, and how well can the power the appliance they need to power.

There you go; an explanation of some of the basic terms used when talking about electrical systems. These are the most basics explanations, the very beginning of a complex and dangerous system. For all your electrical needs, call a professional on 13TASK to speak to a Taskforce expert anywhere in Australia.