Voltage - Hydraulic Analogy

Hydraulic Analogy

A simple analogy for an electric circuit is water flowing in a closed circuit of pipework, driven by a mechanical pump. This can be called a water circuit. Potential difference between two points corresponds to the water pressure difference between two points. If there is a water pressure difference between two points (due to the pump), then water flowing from the first point to the second will be able to do work, such as driving a turbine. In a similar way, work can be done by the electric current driven by the potential difference due to an electric battery: for example, the current generated by an automobile battery can drive the starter motor in an automobile. If the pump isn't working, it produces no pressure difference, and the turbine will not rotate. Equally, if the automobile's battery is flat, then it will not turn the starter motor.

This water flow analogy is a useful way of understanding several electrical concepts. In such a system, the work done to move water is equal to the pressure multiplied by the volume of water moved. Similarly, in an electrical circuit, the work done to move electrons or other charge-carriers is equal to "electrical pressure" (an old term for voltage) multiplied by the quantity of electrical charge moved. Voltage is a convenient way of measuring the ability to do work. In relation to "flow", the larger the "pressure difference" between two points (potential difference or water pressure difference) the greater the flow between them (either electric current or water flow).

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