alternating current and direct current
An alternating current (AC) is an electric current whose direction reverses cyclically, as opposed to direct current, whose direction remains constant. The usual waveform of an AC power circuit is a sine wave, as this results in the most efficient transmission of energy. However in certain applications different waveforms are used, such as triangular or square waves.
Used generically, AC refers to the form in which electricity is delivered to businesses and residences. However, audio and radio signals carried on electrical wires are also examples of alternating current. In these applications, an important goal is often the recovery of information encoded (or modulated) onto the AC signal.
Direct current (DC or “continuous current”) is the unidirectional flow of electric charge. Direct current is produced by such sources as batteries, thermocouples, solar cells, and commutator-type electric machines of the dynamo type. Direct current may flow in a conductor such as a wire, but can also be through semiconductors, insulators, or even through a vacuum as in electron or ion beams. In direct current, the electric charges flow in the same direction, distinguishing it from alternating current (AC). A term formerly used for direct current was Galvanic current.
Direct current may be obtained from an alternating current supply by use of a current-switching arrangement called a rectifier, which contains electronic elements (usually) or electromechanical elements (historically) that allow current to flow only in one direction. Direct current may be made into alternating current with an inverter or a motor-generator set.