Direct current (DC) is the unidirectional flow of electric charge. Direct current is produced by such sources as batteries, thermocouples, solar cells, and commutator-type electric machines of the dynamo type. Direct current may flow in a conductor such as a wire, but can also be through semiconductors, insulators, or even through a vacuum as in electron or ion beams. The electric charge flows in a constant direction, distinguishing it from alternating current (AC). A term formerly used for direct current was galvanic current.
Direct current may be obtained from an alternating current supply by use of a current-switching arrangement called a rectifier, which contains electronic elements (usually) or electromechanical elements (historically) that allow current to flow only in one direction. Direct current may be made into alternating current with an inverter or a motor-generator set.
The first commercial electric power transmission (developed by Thomas Edison in the late nineteenth century) used direct current. Because of significant historical advantages of alternating current over direct current in transforming and transmission, electric power distribution was nearly all alternating current until a few years ago. In the mid 1950s, HVDC transmission was developed, which is now replacing the older high voltage alternating current systems. For applications requiring direct current, such as third rail power systems, alternating current is distributed to a substation, which utilizes a rectifier to convert the power to direct current. See War of Currents.
Direct current is used to charge batteries, and in nearly all electronic systems as the power supply. Very large quantities of direct-current power are used in production of aluminum and other electrochemical processes. Direct current is used for some railway propulsion, especially in urban areas. High voltage direct current is used to transmit large amounts of power from remote generation sites or to interconnect alternating current power grids.
Within electrical engineering, the term DC is used to refer to power systems that use only one polarity of voltage or current, and to refer to the constant, zero-frequency, or slowly varying local mean value of a voltage or current. For example, the voltage across a DC voltage source is constant as is the current through a DC current source. The DC solution of an electric circuit is the solution where all voltages and currents are constant. It can be shown that any stationary voltage or current waveform can be decomposed into a sum of a DC component and a zero-mean time-varying component; the DC component is defined to be the expected value, or the average value of the voltage or current over all time.
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