ELECTRIC POWER FLOWS FROM GENERATOR TO CONSUMER? (William J. Beaty)
November 15, 2010 Leave a comment
Wrong. Electric power cannot be made to flow. Power is defined as “flow of energy.” Saying that power “flows” is silly. It’s as silly as saying that the stuff in a moving river is named “current” rather than named “water.” Water is real, water can flow, flows of water are called currents, but we should never make the mistake of believing that water’s motion is a type of substance. Talking of “current” which “flows” confuses everyone. The issue with energy is similar. Electrical energy is real, it is sort of like a stuff, and it can flow along. When electric energy flows, the flow is called “electric power.” But electric power has no existence of its own. Electric power is the flow rate of another thing; electric power is an energy current. Energy flows, but power never does, just as water flows but “water current” never does. The above issue affects the concepts behind the units of electrical measurement. Energy can be measured in Joules or Ergs. The rate of flow of energy is called Joules per second. For convenience, we give the name “power” to this Joule/sec rate of flow, and we measure it in terms of Watts. This makes for convenient calculations. Yet Watts have no physical, substance-like existence. The Joule is the fundamental unit, and the Watt is a unit of convenience which means “joule per second.” I believe that it is a good idea to teach only the term “Joule” in early grades, to entirely avoid the “watt” concept. Call power by the proper name “joules per second”. Only introduce “watts” years later, when the students feel a need for a convenient way to state the “joules per second” concept. Unfortunately many textbooks do the reverse, they keep the seemingly-complex “Joule” away from the kids, while spreading the “watt” concept far and wide! Later they try to explain that joules are simply watt-seconds! (That’s watts TIMES seconds, not watts per second.) If you aren’t quite sure that you understand watt-seconds, stop thinking backwards and think like this: Joules are real, a flow of Joules is measured in Joules per second, and “Watts” should not interfere with these basic ideas.