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Power and EnergyPower | Calculations | Overheating | Energy
What is power?Power is the rate of using or supplying energy:
Electronics is mostly concerned with small quantities of power, so the power is often measured in milliwatts (mW), 1mW = 0.001W. For example an LED uses about 40mW and a bleeper uses about 100mW, even a lamp such as a torch bulb only uses about 1W.
The typical power used in mains electrical circuits is much larger, so this power may be
measured in kilowatts (kW), 1kW = 1000W. For example a typical mains lamp uses
60W and a kettle uses about 3kW.
Calculating power using current and voltageThere are three ways of writing an equation for power, current and voltage:
Calculating power using resistance and current or voltageUsing Ohm's Law V = I × R we can convert P = I × V to:
Wasted power and overheatingNormally electric power is useful, making a lamp light or a motor turn for example. However, electrical energy is converted to heat whenever a current flows through a resistance and this can be a problem if it makes a device or wire overheat. In electronics the effect is usually negligible, but if the resistance is low (a wire or low value resistor for example) the current can be sufficiently large to cause a problem.
You can see from the equation P = I² × R that for a given resistance the power depends on the current squared, so doubling the current will give 4 times the power.
Resistors are rated by the maximum power they can have developed in them without damage, but power ratings are rarely quoted in parts lists because the standard ratings of 0.25W or 0.5W are suitable for most circuits. Further information is available on the Resistors page.
Wires and cables are rated by the maximum current they can pass without overheating. They have a very low resistance so the maximum current is relatively large. For further information about current rating please see the Connectors and Cables page.
EnergyThe amount of energy used (or supplied) depends on the power and the time for which it is used:
A low power device operating for a long time can use more energy than a high power device operating for a short time. For example:
1kWh = 1kW × 1 hour = 1000W × 3600s = 3.6MJ
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