What Is an Electrical Transformer and Why Would Modern Society Fall Apart Without It?

Power lines are everywhere. They line our streets, crisscross over our intersections, and even run under our feet.

And it’s no wonder – we live in a world where electricity and the appliances it powers are all around us.

But how does the incredibly high-voltage power that runs through these lines turn into a lower, more usable form when it enters our homes?

The answer is the electrical transformer. These ingenious devices help turn the supercharged electricity transferred through power lines into the kind that your toaster, electric toothbrush, and television can all safely use without shorting out, overheating, or even exploding.

We’ll take a closer look at how these instrumental pieces of technology work, as well as why they’re so important today.

But first…

A Few Basics About Electricity

As you may remember from your high school science classes, there are three critical metrics worth paying attention to when it comes to electricity and electricity transfer: voltage, current, and resistance.

Voltage is the power of a charge and is measured in volts while current can be thought of as how fast that charge is actually moving and is measured in amps.

When it comes to resistance, every material conducts electricity differently. Highly conductive materials allow electricity to flow through it easily, thereby not affecting its current. Materials with higher resistance, on the other hand, hold that current back. This force is measured in ohms.

How Does an Electrical Transformer Come into Play?

With an electrical transformer, the ultimate goal is to convert the ultra-high voltage that comes streaming in from the power plant and turn it into a lower-voltage, more usable form. After all, if you were to plug a high-voltage power line (which can be up to 69,000 volts in urban areas) directly into say, your phone charger (about 5 volts), let’s just say it wouldn’t be pretty.

An electrical transformer then takes that extra high voltage and tones it way down so you can actually take advantage of it.

But How Does It Work?

This is where it gets a bit complicated. When a fluctuating current (AC current) flows through a wire, it gives off a magnetic field that’s proportional to the strength of the amount of electricity. Similarly, when an electric wire is surrounded by a magnetic field, it actually generates an electric current.

Ultimately, these two laws can be used together to transfer one coil of wire’s electrical power to another through magnetism (also known as electromagnetic induction).

When you change the number of coils, it alters just how that energy is transferred. If, for instance, the primary wire has ten coils while the secondary has only five, the electricity produced in the second will have half as high of a voltage (along with twice as high of a current).

When a transformer takes the incoming electricity and lowers it, it’s called a step-down transformer. If it boosts the voltage, that’s called a step-up transformer.

Where Would We Be Without Electrical Transformers?

Thanks to the strange law of electromagnetic induction, we can actually use the incredibly high-voltage electricity that’s often running over our heads and under our feet.

In fact, without the ability to change the voltage of electricity as we do today, long-distance transfer and electricity usage in general as we know it would cease to exist!

Consider yourself lucky, then, that we live in a world with electrical transformers.

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