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What does Volts, Amps, Ohms, and Watts mean?

The best way to explain these terms is to compare them to water.

Voltage (V) is the potential for energy to move and is equivalent to water pressure. Current (I) is a rate of flow and is measured in amps. Ohms (r) is a measure of resistance and is equivalent to the water pipe size.

These three terms are related to each other with a simple formula that reads, current is equal to the voltage divided by the resistance. I=V/r

Imagine you have a tank of water with a hose connected to the bottom of this tank.. What happens if you increase the pressure inside of this tank? The amount of water flowing out of the hose will also increase. The same is true when you increase voltage, more current will flow.

What happens if you connect a larger diameter hose to this tank? The flow rate will also increase because the resistance dropped. The same is true if you use a large gauge wire when moving current. The larger the wire the more current you can move through it with damaging the wire.

Watts is a measure of power. If you want to increase the speed of a turning water wheel you can do this in two different ways. The first way is to increase the water pressure. This will cause the water to hit the wheel with more force. The second is to increase the amount of water hitting the wheel by using a larger amount of water. The larger amount of water will weigh more and cause the water wheel to spin faster.

There is also a formula for power. It reads, power equals voltage multiplied by current. P=VI

A lot of times this is also displayed as W=VA or watts equals volts multiplied by amps.


Lets re-order this formula for an example: W=VA V=W/A A=W/V

This example will show why a higher DC voltage is best in large solar systems.

Lets say you have 1000 watts of loads to run. This is equal to: 83.3 amps at 12 volts 41.6 amps at 24 volts 20.8 amps at 48 volts 8.3 amps at 120 volts 4.1 amps at 240 volts

Knowing how much current is flowing to your load is very important in selecting the correct wire. We take the distance into consideration to calculate the voltage loss. Ideally we don't want to exceed a 3% voltage loss. The other half of this calculation is the current. You need a larger wire to move more current. If you have a choice the higher voltage is best.


These formulas are also useful in calculating AC wattage to determine an inverter size. All appliances have a face plate which contains all of its electrical data. Lets suppose you have a microwave oven. Often, the manufacturer will list an amp requirement on the electrical data face plate. If the rating is 8.3 amps. To find the wattage multiply this by the homes voltage of 120 volts. This equals 996 watts.

To take this one step further. Lets see how much power the microwave will use in one day. If you use the microwave for 2 hours a day. We multiply the hours per day by the watts to get watt-hours per day. 996*2=1992 watt-hours per day. When sizing a system this formula is very important in determining the total power you use per day.

I hope this helps clear things up.

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