Home > Clint's Blog > Hi, I Don’t Understand Basic Electricity

Hi, I Don’t Understand Basic Electricity

August 28th, 2007

According to an article on Gizmodo, Larry Page, Google founder and Billionaire tree-hugger, is sick and tired of “inefficient power supplies in servers eating up boatloads of his profits” so he’s calling for home computers and servers to have everything run at 12VDC. This would eliminate the hodgepodge of 5VDC and 12VDC mixed systems located within PCs today.

Of course Gizmodo’s sources at Treehugger.com (no that’s not a joke) bit on the story hook line and sinker, presumably because they don’t understand basic electricity or because they missed the point of the statement. In either case they began fantasizing about everything in a home running on 12V systems and the “elimination of annoying wall warts”. The original source for this ridiculous extrapolation of the Google push for PC power supply standardization (a good thing) is Lee Felsenstein, designer of the Osborne 1 the portable sewing machine-styled battery-powered PC (talk about living off your legacy) and an “industry pioneer”. His exact words?

I imagine a standard low-voltage distribution system inside buildings having alternate energy supplies like solar… Google’s proposal would make that a practicality”

Um, no Google really didn’t say that and your extrapolation is both impractical, dangerous and foolish. There is a VERY good reason Tesla ultimately beat out Edison in the whole AC vs DC thing.

Here’s a few basic tips for those of you thinking it’s a good idea to switch from 120V systems or append direct 12VDC systems for our alarm clocks, PCs, televisions and other electronic devices:

  • P=IV, or Power = Current (amps) x Voltage. Lower the voltage and you need to raise the amperes to compensate. Last time I checked, my electrical bill was rated in kW hours, so if the required power is the same then you aren’t saving any money, just changing the math. Current potential isn’t the same as actual current use.
  • Have you looked under the hood of your vehicle lately? Why don’t you stick your tongue on your car battery and ground yourself? See the size of those cables coming off the main terminals? Those 0 gauge cables are going to be what you require in your home to carry any amount of amperage to drive a DC-based power supply system
  • High current and lower voltage is NOT “safer” as Gizmodo’s Charlie White proposes, especially when you’re talking about switching to a DC system. Even when constrained to lower power products (meaning we’d have to run BOTH in residential and commercial buildings) you are introducing a dangerous DC current scenario with enough amperage to cause concern.
  • “It would save 40 billion kwh over three years, worth $5 Billion” – I think while this statement is probably realistic if implemented across all PCs in the world, taken into a global financial context that’s hardly a green move and nothing more than a drop in the bucket for environmental concerns. The real winner is convenience and increased standardization – which is typically a good thing and drives down prices. This savings would likely take a decade or more to be realized and be eclipsed within a week once the added costs and manufacturing “carbon footprints” of running dual AC/DC power into homes was taken into consideration. The law of unintended consequences is rarely taken into effect – and it needs to be when considering, even briefly, industry-wide change.

Remember, these same people thought Segways were going to change the world…

To summarize: changing PC standard DC voltages = good. Adding DC into homes = bad. Tesla was right and anyone disagreeing with this would be well-served to do a little bit more research into the economics and math of the issue.

Liked it? Take a second to support AV Rant on Patreon!

Categories: Clint's Blog Tags:
Comments are closed.