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Single-Phase vs. Three-Phase Power Explained

Single phase power is used in most homes and small businesses because it is relatively simple and inexpensive to install. Commercial and industrial businesses with greater electricity needs prefer three phase power because it is more efficient and less expensive to operate. But what exactly is the difference between single-phase and 3-phase power?

1-Phase vs 3-Phase

To illustrate the difference between single phase and three phase, imagine a lone paddler in a canoe. He can only move himself forward while his paddle moves through the water. When he lifts the paddle out of the water to prepare for the next stroke, the power supplied to the canoe is zero.

Now picture the same canoe with three paddlers. If their strokes are synchronized so each is separated by 1/3 of a stroke cycle, the canoe receives constant and consistent propulsion across the water. More power is supplied and the canoe moves across the water more smoothly and efficiently.

Single Phase Power

  • Single phase electricity is used in most homes and small businesses

  • Able to supply ample power for most smaller customers, including homes and small, non-industrial businesses

  • Adequate for running motors up to about 5 horsepower; a single phase motor draws significantly more current than the equivalent 3-phase motor, making 3-phase power a more efficient choice for industrial applications

3-Phase Power

  • Common in large businesses, as well as industry and manufacturing around the globe

  • Increasingly popular in power-hungry, high-density data centers

  • Expensive to convert from an existing single phase installation, but 3-phase allows for smaller, less expensive wiring and lower voltages, making it safer and less expensive to run

  • Highly efficient for equipment designed to run on 3-phase


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