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In alternating current (AC, also ac) the movement (or flow) of electric charge periodically reverses direction. An electric charge would for instance move forward, then backward, then forward, then backward, over and over again. In direct current (DC), the movement (or flow) of electric charge is only in one direction.

Used generically, AC refers to the form in which electricity is delivered to businesses and residences. The usual waveform of an AC power circuit is a sine wave, however in certain applications, different waveforms are used, such as triangular or square waves. Audio and radio signals carried on electrical wires are also examples of alternating current. In these applications, an important goal is often the recovery of information encoded (or modulated) onto the AC signal.

AC power supply frequencies[]

The frequency of the electrical system varies by country; most electric power is generated at either 50 or 60 Hz. See List of countries with mains power plugs, voltages and frequencies. Some countries have a mixture of 50 Hz and 60 Hz supplies, notably Japan.

A low frequency eases the design of low speed electric motors, particularly for hoisting, crushing and rolling applications, and commutator-type traction motors for applications such as railways, but also causes a noticeable flicker in incandescent lighting and an objectionable flicker in fluorescent lamps. 16⅔ Hz power is still used in some European rail systems, such as in Austria, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. The use of lower frequencies also provided the advantage of lower impedance losses, which are proportional to frequency. The original Niagara Falls generators were built to produce 25 Hz power, as a compromise between low frequency for traction and heavy induction motors, while still allowing incandescent lighting to operate (although with noticeable flicker); most of the 25 Hz residential and commercial customers for Niagara Falls power were converted to 60 Hz by the late 1950s, although some 25 Hz industrial customers still existed as of the start of the 21st century.

Off-shore, military, textile industry, marine, computer mainframe, aircraft, and spacecraft applications sometimes use 400 Hz, for benefits of reduced weight of apparatus or higher motor speeds.

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