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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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!”
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.