Carnegie Mellon researchers take a close look at the efficiency of AC vs. DC power

When we talk about improving the efficiency of energy consumption, it's oftentimes in reference to a new alternative type of renewable energy source. What goes overlooked is the way we actually receive electricity.

Traditionally, alternating current (AC) technology has been the main way to produce and utilize electric power. While Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse's innovative technology has been useful for the past hundred years or so, recent research indicates that perhaps AC circuits may not be the more economically friendly means of generating electrical power.

In a press release, internationally recognized research institute Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) announced that recent studies have shown that Thomas Edison's direct current (DC) technology may be more financially efficient for powering lights in commercial buildings.

As part of the study, CMU researchers used many different lighting systems and scenarios in a nearly 50,000-square-foot-building. They tested the efficiency of both lights powered through AC and DC power supplies, according to the release.

Executive director of CMU's Climate and Energy-Decision Making Center, Ines Azevedo, said in a statement that buildings with fluorescent light powered through DC circuitry produced energy readings that would cost the same – as or more than – AC grids. 

Interestingly though, DC power supplies were much more cost-effective with one change. By swapping regular lighting sources with light emitting diodes (LEDs), the study's researchers discovered that using DC as opposed to AC could save as much as $24,000. In addition, if the building is using solar photovoltaics (PV), its energy costs could drop by an extra $5,000 with DC instead of AC.

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