Many people don't put much thought into electricity. We simply flip a switch or plug something in. In order for our electrical products, lighting and appliances to operate, however, our homes must be wired to bring power to these items. This not only means distributing power across the region and into your home, but also transporting it from room to room safely. Electricity is carried inside massive cables from the power plant to individual homes. The majority of power is distributed using a method known as "3-phase." Once the power is brought into the house, it may be broken down into single phase, or kept as 3-phase, allowing it to operate more efficiently and serve larger appliances and motors.
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The first electrical distribution systems were created by Nikola Tesla in 1888. Tesla worked for Westinghouse, and his work focused on single-phase wiring as well as the development of the transformer. The first use of 3-phase power came during an electricity convention in Germany in 1891. Today, 3-phase power is the most common method of electrical distribution throughout the world, though many homes are still wired as single-phase.
Under single-phase wiring systems, the different voltages of the electrical supply distributed will vary simultaneously. This system is common in homes because it is all that is necessary for powering simple lighting and appliances. With 3-phase wiring, the different voltages used will peak sequentially instead of simultaneously. Each peak is called a phase, and this system makes for a smoother and more seamless power distribution, allowing large appliances, motors and machines to be operated at once.
This system results in a more balanced and stable distribution, making it more reliable for the operation of larger electrical items. A balanced load will allow appliances to operate more quietly and with less vibration noise. Also, 3-phase is required for operating electric motors because of the very nature of these items, and it's an affordable alternative to 1-phase in that more power is distributed within the same amount of cable or wiring.
Though 3-phase power is more common in industrial and commercial applications, it can be used in homes under certain circumstances. It is useful for powering large central heating or cooling units, or walk-in freezers. This type of wiring is also popular in farm houses for powering equipment. In Europe, most home stoves are wired in 3-phase power, though many will be fed through a transformer to convert them to single-phase. This allows them to be used without rewiring the entire home.
The most common uses of 3-phase wiring come in the industrial sector, where large equipment can be run most effectively using this method. Any industries that rely on electric motors will need 3-phase wiring to operate. These motors are common within compressors, large fans and most assembly-line type equipment, making 3-phase wiring popular in many industrial sectors. While single-phase wiring can be adapted to allow these motors to work, they will cost less to operate if wired as 3-phase. In addition, they will vibrate less, resulting in a longer lifespan for equipment and quieter, more pleasant working conditions.