 What is Electric Current and How It Relates to Metering

What is Electric Current and How It Relates to Metering

By Stephen Schaefer
Stephen is a guest author for Peak Demand’s Knowledge Center and editor of Learn Metering found at www.learnmetering.com

What is electric current? A good question indeed. What is the unit of measure for electric current? How can we measure electric current? And finally how does it relate to metering? These are the questions that will be tackled in this post. So, let’s get started with the first one.

What is electric current?

Electric current is the flow of electrons in a circuit. It is also what is used to power our stuff. Remember that in a circuit we have both voltage and current available. But, without the current flow our electrical stuff does not move. So, now that you know that electric current is the flow of electrons in a circuit what is the unit of measure used?

What is the unit of measure?

Current is measured using what are known as amperes, or amps for short. This is typically notated as an “A” in formulas but can also be notated as an “I”. This “I” stands for intensity of current. As with any unit of measure amps can be smaller or larger. So, it is not uncommon to see milliamps or kiloamps. Milliamps is typically notated as mA and kiloamps as kA. So, now that you know the unit of measure, how do you measure amps?

How do you measure Amps?

Amps, or electric current, are measured using what is known as an ammeter. An ammeter can come in a couple of different varieties. There is the common clamp on ammeter. The clamp on ammeter comes with a spring loaded jaw that enables you to open the jaw and place it around the conductors. This places the ammeter in parallel with the circuit. Clamp on ammeters can be found in digital and analog variants.

Another type of ammeter is placed in series with the circuit. These are typically found on multimeters. Also, when an ammeter is placed in series in the circuit it typically is not able to measure a very substantial load. Make sure you read the specs on your meter before you place it in series in any circuit.

How does electric current relate to Metering?

Ah yes, finally, the meat of the article. Electric current is very important to metering. This is because we are essentially measuring the changes in current flow. Remember that using Ohm’s law and the power formula that Watts = Volts x Amps. This means that the amount of watts used are in direct proportion to the amount of current that is being used. As the amps go up, so does the watts. As the amps go down so do the watts.

We as meter techs should know how amps relates to watts and how to convert amps to watts. We should also know how to go the other way and convert watts to amps. This will help us in troubleshooting with customers. Let’s have an example.

A customer is complaining of a high bill. You go to the meter and notice it is spinning pretty fast. So, you take the cover off the meter base and check the amperage. Let’s say that it is 30 amps. How do you convert this 30 amps to watts? Using Ohm’s law we plug in the numbers. Assume this is a 240v service. W = 240 volts x 30 amps = 7,200 watts. Let’s convert that to kilowatts and divide 7,200 by 1,000. We get 7.2 kw. This means that whatever the customer has on is pulling 7.2 kw and if left on for one hour it will use 7.2 kwh. A load like this could mean that an appliance like the air conditioning is not functioning properly and is running all day.

Conclusion

Electric current is one of the most important units we have in metering. It is measured by using ammeters and its unit of measurement is the amp. Using Ohm’s law we can convert amps to watts and back again.