Alternating current, is an electric current which periodically reverses direction, whereas direct current flows only in one direction. A common source of DC power is a cell in a flashlight. The abbreviations AC and DC are often used to mean simply alternating and direct, the usual waveform of alternating current in most electric power circuits is a sine wave. In certain applications, different waveforms are used, such as triangular or square waves, audio and radio signals carried on electrical wires are also examples of alternating current. These types of alternating current carry information encoded onto the AC signal and these currents typically alternate at higher frequencies than those used in power transmission. Electrical energy is distributed as alternating current because AC voltage may be increased or decreased with a transformer, use of a higher voltage leads to significantly more efficient transmission of power. The power losses in a conductor are a product of the square of the current and this means that when transmitting a fixed power on a given wire, if the current is halved, the power loss will be four times less. Power is often transmitted at hundreds of kilovolts, and transformed to 100–240 volts for domestic use, high voltages have disadvantages, such as the increased insulation required, and generally increased difficulty in their safe handling. In a power plant, energy is generated at a convenient voltage for the design of a generator, near the loads, the transmission voltage is stepped down to the voltages used by equipment. Consumer voltages vary somewhat depending on the country and size of load, the voltage delivered to equipment such as lighting and motor loads is standardized, with an allowable range of voltage over which equipment is expected to operate. Standard power utilization voltages and percentage tolerance vary in the different mains power systems found in the world, high-voltage direct-current electric power transmission systems have become more viable as technology has provided efficient means of changing the voltage of DC power. HVDC systems, however, tend to be expensive and less efficient over shorter distances than transformers. Three-phase electrical generation is very common, the simplest way is to use three separate coils in the generator stator, physically offset by an angle of 120° to each other. Three current waveforms are produced that are equal in magnitude and 120° out of phase to each other, if coils are added opposite to these, they generate the same phases with reverse polarity and so can be simply wired together. In practice, higher pole orders are commonly used, for example, a 12-pole machine would have 36 coils. The advantage is that lower rotational speeds can be used to generate the same frequency, for example, a 2-pole machine running at 3600 rpm and a 12-pole machine running at 600 rpm produce the same frequency, the lower speed is preferable for larger machines. If the load on a system is balanced equally among the phases. Even in the worst-case unbalanced load, the current will not exceed the highest of the phase currents
A schematic representation of long distance electric power transmission. C=consumers, D=step down transformer, G=generator, I=current in the wires, Pe=power reaching the end of the transmission line, Pt=power entering the transmission line, Pw=power lost in the transmission line, R=total resistance in the wires, V=voltage at the beginning of the transmission line, U=step up transformer.
High voltage transmission lines deliver power from electric generation plants over long distances using alternating current. These lines are located in eastern Utah.