Watts Up?

We are steeped in all things solar as the new system and the rewiring of the house near completion simultaneously. I have been getting lessons in electricity.

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Our 5-gallon water cooler is supposed to be able to help me get it.


I walk over to the cooler in the corner of the kitchen, slip my plastic glass under the spigot and poke the release button with my thumb. Water gushes into my glass because I filled the cooler this morning. When the level in the cooler is low, the water pressure out the spigot is low, too.

Still, I’m startled by the power, recognize instantly there is some principal of electricity here that the Bearded One was trying to decipher just last night, but I really didn’t get it. He walks by as I fill my glass.

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“Pretty good amps,” I say as the glass fills in seconds.

“No…” he says, smiling sweetly at my effort. “The amperage is the same as it was before you filled the cooler.  Amps are the spigot.”

I’m going to understand this, I say to myself. Even if it’s just that Amps are the spigot.

Back in August, our contractor friend Tom, in a thoughtful, poetic moment after working on the solar system all day, tried to explain electrical terms – Volts, Watts, and Amps — to the Bearded One and me. He sat back in his chair on the lanai and said, “Electricity flows like water.”

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The Bearded One sipped his Coke and said, “We’re making electricity fountains.”

Tom said, “Wattage equals current. Voltage equals how fast the water is moving.” Then he smiled, thought a second and added, “Amperage is how narrow the channel is.”

“Oooo,” I said and raced inside for my notebook. I had to write it down, it was so beautiful. Perhaps, some day, I would understand electrical language, I remember thinking. Not yet.

Then last night I was looking at ceiling fans on line trying to find the ones Tom mentioned that used only 14 watts. Fans can be real energy suckers.

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There was only one that did this – Aeratron – and all the rest were much much higher, 58 watts and up. I showed this to the Bearded One.

While he was studying the Aeratron description, I ran upstairs to get my notebook. I glanced out the window to the southwest where, at midnight last night, I could see the glow from the slow-moving lava flow 8 miles away lighting up the low clouds like a football stadium.

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Anyway, I found the water analogy in my notebook and ran back to recite.

“That’s a really good way to put it,” he said.  “But Voltage and Wattage still confuse me.”  He looks a moment at my written notes.

“Amps are the spigot,” he says. “The spigot didn’t change.”

“No, it’s the same spigot.”  I begin to sip.

“It’s just the tube size. The spigot. How much the system can carry.”

“I understand,” I say, and I do. “Amps are the spigot. But the water pressure increased, so is that more watts or volts?”

“The increased water in the cooler is Volts,” he says. “Volts are electrical potential. And Watts are just a combination of volts and amps!”

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I stare hard at him. “Amps are the spigot. Volts are gallons of water in the cooler. And Watts are how hard it comes out, as a result of the first two things.”

“Yes,” he says. “There’s also Resistance, how much the system itself is altering the flow, and that’s measured in Ohms.  Guess that’s the Zen part of electricity.”

I close my eyes, say “OMMMMM” Buddha-style and back out of the room, completely forgetting my nice full glass of water.


16 responses to “Watts Up?

  1. If you were here, or the BO, or even Tom and kept reciting this recipe to me every time I used water or electricity at some point it would have to sink in – wouldn’t it? Though that is the closest I have ever come to understanding the mystery of electricity – which has to be a ‘Whoo-hoo’ moment, yes?

    I am impressed with how quickly the lava flow has become part of the scene. This is surely a sign that you are becoming naturalised. Nearly Hawaiian. Accepting of the flow. Whoo-hoo! 🙂 Arohanui xoxo

    • Accepting the flow, yes. Puna is dealing with it, as it has in the past. One alternate route is ready now, for when the lava crosses the highway. It’s just a two-lane gravel road, but it’s something. I feel honored and lucky to be here to witness these hurricanes and lavacanes. 🙂 The aloha comes out in such ways.

      I’d say that electricity it is still a complete and total mystery…I have a bit more grip on electricity words, is all. And I just love a good analogy!
      Aloha and Arohanui xxoo

  2. I have always had trouble with the whole amps/volts/watts/ohms thing. I think I get it, and then it’s clear that I do not. What I know about electricity is this: don’t put your finger in a light socket; don’t put a knife in an electrical outlet; and turn off the breaker before working on the circuit. Oh, and don’t operate your hairdryer while in the bathtub.
    Good thing I have other skills and talents. 😉

    • Electricity is still a major mystery, Becky, and I won’t be wiring anything any time soon. 🙂 I looked up hair dryers to see their watts….2000! Stay way clear of that bathtub. Love to you!

  3. I would be backing out too Ms Christy, backing out and reciting “OMMM” very loudly with my fingers in my ears. I learned something from my horticulture diploma lecturer once that changed the way that I look at the world. I was trying to get my head around some form of algebra and asked him for the umpteenth time “why…WHY does that equal that?!” and he said (with a sigh) “I don’t know, but it just “does” and the sooner you learn to accept that the better!” Sometimes I just don’t get it. I don’t get it but that doesn’t stop it from being there/existing so my understanding is not commensurate with the existence of my conundrum (apparently my brain is able to cough up the “C” words this morning 😉 ). Sometimes you just need to know that something “IS” and accept that :). I think that’s where “I” would be with all of this electricity = water stuff. Lubbly jubbly that you are close to having your electricity + your water and everything is stabilising. I am hoping that the lava flow isn’t endangering anyone? You picked the right place on the mountain to live girl! 😉 Hugs from sunny Sidmouth 🙂

    • Aloha Fran! “Sometimes I just don’t get it.” Yes, yes, me, too!:) And I must say that I have no deep understanding of electricity now, but I just LOVE a good analogy. Plus, with our lives revolving around sources of power lately, it’s hard to avoid wanting to get it just a teeney tiny bit. lol

      The lava flow isn’t endangering anyone, no. The vog (sulfur dioxide), which we hardly ever get here, was fairly high yesterday because of a southerly wind and we could smell it. People with lung troubles suffer. But no one is in harm’s way. It’s a slow happening. Hugs back to you from hot Hawaii! xxoo

  4. Christine Widman

    Here today I have been using them body wise in clapping away the 6 pigeons that have decided a free meal under our mesquite tree is more peaceful than pecking away on asphalted parking lots for crumbs.
    Watt this does to me is Amp me up at their bunching out the doves and the quail.
    So I use all my voltage in discharging them from under the bird feeder. CLAP CLAP CLAP!!! GO AWAY!!!!
    Then of course I suddenly need OHMS OHMS OHMS to calm all the electrical charges running through my body.

  5. Christine Widman

    I may have done it…
    Pigeons are gone…all the little sparrows and finches are again flitting about in the mesquite tree, the quail and the doves are back pecking and bobbing in the dirt….
    I think I’ve turned a negative charge into positive energy.

    • Ha! The Age of Enbrightenment. I read this to the B.O. His response: “Christine has a whole battery of thoughts on this and is Everready to communicate them.” Love you! xxoo

  6. Love this electricity lesson! The picture helps me especially :o)

  7. I have rented some of my space to a machine shop, if you need anything special let me know watt it is, I make it will wrap it up and send it, time for it to go the other way?

    • Clay — Greetings. Much thanks for the fine electrical stuff offer. I think we have all that stuff in hand. Just waiting on the specialized set of breakers that we paid to ship priority Fed Ex — but they put it on a barge that will take 6 weeks to get here. This distills the essence of an island economy. No helmet law here, and a lot of sunburned biker heads. Peace, Keith

  8. Great post 😀. The mystery of electricity eh. I’m with Becky, just know to be real careful around it and not mix electricity with water! Bad Feng shui 😉

  9. My skimpy knowledge of electricity comes from using conductive thread to make LEDs glow when attached to a battery. I recommend a Snap Circuits set if you want to start at a basic level. I watched two 5th graders work with two 1st graders on one of those kits today. All were learning.

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