Amps, volts, watts, and ohms are key concepts in electrical systems. While it may seem complex, you don’t need an engineering degree to understand electricity. Electricity flows like water through a hose: electrons move through a conductor, typically a wire. To clarify these concepts, we’ll use the water and hose analogy to explain each one individually.

## What Are Amps?

The ampere (amp) measures electrical current, the rate at which electrons flow through a conductor, represented by “I” in equations. The unit is named after French physicist André-Marie Ampère, a pioneer of electromagnetism.

In a water analogy, electrical current corresponds to the flow rate of water through a hose.

Inside your home’s service panel, or breaker box, you’ll find circuit breakers labeled 15, 20, and 30 amps. Higher amperage allows more electricity to flow. Large appliances like air conditioners connect to 30-amp circuits, while most outlets use 20-amp or 15-amp circuits. Running too many appliances on the same circuit will trip the breaker, cutting off power to prevent overheating.

## What Are Volts?

Volts, represented by “V,” measures the electric potential that drives electricity through a system. They reflects the speed of electrons moving through a circuit and is measured in volts. olts are named after the Italian physicist Alessandro Volta.

In a water analogy, voltage is like water pressure, which moves water through a hose, similar to how it pushes electrons through a conductor.

In the United States, electrical power is delivered to homes at two voltages: 120 volts and 240 volts. Large appliances like air conditioners and electric ranges use 240 volts, while smaller devices like light bulbs and cell phone chargers operate at 120 volts.

## What Are Ohms?

Named after German physicist and mathematician Georg Simon Ohm, ohms measure electrical resistance in a conductor and are represented by “R” in equations. Resistance slows the flow of electrons.

In a water analogy, it equates to hose diameter. A wide hose offers little resistance and allows quick water flow. Similarly, conductors with low resistance, like copper wire, enable easy electron flow.

## What Are Watts?

Wattage is the most familiar unit of electricity, measuring the power an electric device consumes in watts, represented by “P” in equations. Watts are named after James Watt, the Scottish engineer who popularized the steam engine.

Using a water analogy, wattage can be increased by either raising the water flow or pressure. Similarly, in an electrical system, you can raise power by increasing current or voltage.

To calculate wattage, multiply voltage (V) by amperage (A): V x A = W. Higher electron movement and greater circuit volume result in higher wattage. For instance, running a vacuum uses 400 to 900 watts, while ringing a doorbell requires only 2 to 4 watts.

## Voltage, Current, Resistance

Ohm’s Law relates voltage, current, and resistance through the equation V = I x R (where V is voltage in volts, I is current in amps, and R is resistance in ohms). Increasing voltage while keeping resistance constant causes current to rise.

Using a hose analogy: increasing pressure allows more water to flow. Conversely, if resistance increases while voltage stays steady, current decreases. This is similar to pinching a hose; a reduced diameter results in less water output.

## Electrical Efficiency

In an electrical system, increasing current or voltage raises power.

For example, a 6-volt light bulb connected to a 6-volt battery produces 100 watts. Using the formula I = P/V, the required current is: I = 100 W / 6 V = 16.67 amps. If you use a 12-volt battery and bulb instead: I = 100 W / 12 V = 8.33 amps. This setup achieves the same power with half the current, reducing copper losses in wires since resistance consumes more power as current increases.

The relationship is expressed as P = I²R, indicating that higher resistance or increased current leads to greater power loss in wires. Using higher voltage is thus more efficient for electrical systems, improving electric motor efficiency as well.

In the 1990s, this concept prompted automakers to consider shifting from traditional 12-volt systems to higher-voltage (42 volts) systems for better wiring efficiency due to rising electric amenities in cars. However, manufacturers opted against this switch because they improved efficiencies using digital technology at lower voltages. Today’s hybrid and fully electric vehicles typically operate between 450 and 650 volts for powerful motors while maintaining efficient wiring solutions.