Sunday, 12 April 2009
Right now, in this very moment, you and I are immersed in an electric fluid that has been known throughout the ages as the fifth element - the aether. If you look around you though, you might be disappointed to find that there is no obvious sign of it. The Ancient Greeks believed the Universe to be made up of four primary elements - earth, wind, fire and water. These elements the eye can see, but they are nothing but manifestations of the invisible aether. In a funny kind of way, we are surrounded by the most obvious example of the aether. It's in our homes, on our streets, and all around the places in which we work; it's found on airport runways, and on boats out at sea, and it also resides in our brains and central nervous system - I am of course referring to electricity.
An electrical conductor can be thought of as a sponge which absorbs electric fluid straight out of the aether. The magnetic field which surrounds a copper wire carrying an electric current, is really indicative of the stress, or tension, that the wire is generating in the aether. The wire is only able to generate this tension with a power source (either an AC or DC supply). I think this tension arises out of a distortion of the aether. The power source is able to drive a force of repulsion through the aether, like the wake of a speeding boat, it tears a path through the aether. The nature of the aether is balance, the nature of electricity is balance, the electric fluid seeks to restore balance. So the aether folds in to relieve the tension. Once a state of perfect equilibrium is attained around the conductor, then no current will flow. A further inbalance, an increase in tension, is needed to induce the current once more.
This is how an AC supply works - it alternates between generating tension in the electric fluid, which we 'see' as an expanding magnetic field, and also as an expansion in potential difference (voltage), before it collapses into a state of equilibrium(zero point energy). In the UK, AC has a frequency of 50 Hz, therefore the magnetic field associated with the alternating current is expanding, collapsing and changing its polarity 100 times per second. The generator is sucking and blowing 100 times a second. This continual cycle, in an AC circuit at least, generates electric current.
Normal household electricity is a single-phase AC supply. (I will discuss 3 phase-systems in later posts, but the basics given here are still relative). Power stations produce electricity with the aid of a generator. A basic electric generator consists of a square loop of wire on an axle and two magnets. The axle is made to turn by falling water, wind or by steam from the heating of water by burning coal or oil or the heat from nuclear reactions. Spinning the axle moves the loop in the magnetic field, creating an electric current. To maintain a steady flow of current, the polarity of this loop is also alternated. Essentially, it is the number of times the wire loop rotates inside the generator, which designates the frequency of the supply. In the UK, the polarity of the loop of wire inside a generator is alternated 100 times a second. This site provides an excellent working illustration of a basic electric generator:
We are taught that power stations 'pump' the charges that are inside conductors, and it's this wiggle which gives us electricity in our home. I'm pretty sure this idea is wrong. Certainly for an AC circuit, I think the truth is far more stunning. I don't think it's as simple as saying that a turning generator produces electricity. I think of it more as the generator forcibly rotating the polarity of a magnetic field which induces electricity. It just so happens that this magnetic field belongs to an entire electric transmission system - the electric grid.
I think the grid acts as one enormous loop which induces the aether to condense at conductors. Try to think of the grid as being a U-shape, a bit like a skipping rope. The ends of the rope are held inside the power station, while the loop goes out, through the countryside, and into cities, and feeds our homes, and then returns to the power station. The generator is dictating the polarity of the skipping rope. In this way, the grid makes some semblance of being a U-shaped solenoid.
A basic solenoid is a coil of wire, usually in a cylindrical shape. A magnetic field is created by passing an electric current through it. A solenoid behaves like any other electromagnet; by changing the direction of the current the position of the north and south poles can be switched. When the coil is energized it pulls (or sometimes pushes) a metal rod called a plunger. Switching off the current to the coil releases the plunger to do mechanical work. The solenoid works by monopolising on the attraction that exists between unlike poles.
Inasmuch as unlike poles attract, the plunger is attracted toward the hole in the solenoid coil. This attraction tends to pull the plunger into the coil. The coil is sucking the plunger down. As the plunger is pulled into the coil, the magnetic field becomes increasingly shorter and the magnetic lines of force travel the shortest possible distance when the plunger centres itself in the coil. It is here, at the shortest distance between poles, the aether condenses. It is the very tip of the north pole reaching out for the very tip of the south pole, and vice versa, in the aether's desperation to realign itself, and restore equilibrium. It does so with such ferocity, it appears to squish the very fabric of space.
So, think of the electric grid as a solenoid in the shape of a U. The entire network of cables and conductors throughout the system represent the plunger. This obviously makes the plunger immobile, but you can start to imagine the strains, stresses and tensions taking place, as the in-rush of aether begs the conductors to move. At this stage we have an overall impression of compressive force, of suction, of constriction, perhaps. One also has to wonder at the impact from the demand for energy from every load on the grid - from factories, to office blocks, to every appliance in the home - it all needs a piece of the pie.
I picture an iron bar being bent into a U-shape (not by me! I can barely carry a bag of groceries), and seeing the tension and compression taking place throughout the bar. This might seem like a moot point, but the tension and compression are not actually taking place in the iron bar, they take place in the aether. It is the same thing with our grid - tension does not happen in the conductors per se, it all takes place in the aether. The aether prefers balance, and folds in to relieve the tension.
Either pole, north or south, both harness the forces of attraction and repulsion; both poles suck and blow. When the generator dictates a new polarity where the poles are unlike, and there is this fervent attraction for the opposite pole, it appears to suck the aether into conductors. As the generator turns it shall then reach a point where the polarity of the grid is held between two like poles. Two like poles repel. The natural balance of the aether is deformed and disturbed. Something moves out from the generator, and through the conductors, which drives the aether apart.
Magnetic attraction is nature's strong tendency. It can be achieved with only one magnet acting on any ferromagnetic body. As for the repulsion, two magnets are absolutely required. We could say that the magnetic repulsion is just an attempt of the magnets overturn the forces of repulsion into attraction. Is the electric grid being over-turned by a repulsive force to achieve an attraction? A repulsive force which moves out from the generator like a speeding boat, could look something like a shockwave, or even a "soliton". Waves are being made in this fluid in which we are immersed to create energy. Surf's up, dude.
This is something of an aside, but it has been said that an alternating current alternates not only the polarity of the magnetic field, but also the electric field. From experience though, I know that a live cable retains its polarity all the way from the transformer. The live conductor remains 'live' (that's the bloody cable we get a shock from), and the neutral conductor remains 'neutral'. These conductors do not swap polarity. I would summise that current moves out from both poles. It is only the polarity of the magnetic field which is alternated to produce electricity.
Industrial Electricity and Motor Controls By Mark R. Miller