What is a Power Supply?

Keith Koons

A power supply is a device that takes an incoming electrical current and amplifies it to levels required by various devices. In many instances, this type of device is also implemented to take the incoming electricity and deliver it across many other electronic devices, often at different preset levels. This device allows manufacturers to create electronics and machinery that can handle many different tasks from a single source of power, without the need for various adapters and additional hardware. Within other devices, a power supply is used to transform various types of power into a compatible format to be stored, like solar energy to electrical energy.

Solar panels are a type of power supply.
Solar panels are a type of power supply.

Perhaps the most common use of this type of device is within computer systems. As electricity enters the power supply, it is momentarily stored and then distributed to numerous functions throughout the system, allowing the motherboard, hard drive, and other various devices to receive electricity in order to function. Each one of these items requires a separate voltage, and it is delivered through specialized connectors that attach in a certain manner. For example, motherboards require either a 20-pin or a 24-pin power supply, and they are not interchangeable without the purchase of an additional adapter.

An automobile engine's alternator essentially serves as an electric generator.
An automobile engine's alternator essentially serves as an electric generator.

Modern vehicles also require a type of power supply in order to function, and it is referred to as an alternator. Although the wiring and design may be different, it essentially works in the exact same manner by taking incoming power and delivering it throughout the vehicle at the necessary levels. Alternators can be found on everything from lawn mowers to sea craft and industrial equipment, and without them, the devices would be rendered useless.

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The most common application for power supplies is in computers.
The most common application for power supplies is in computers.

Another common type of power supply can be found on windmills and solar panels, and its primary function is to convert various types of energy into electricity so that it can be stored and distributed across a grid. This is referred to as a generator, and it is often a free-standing object that is installed between the power source and the storage unit. Home and commercial generators, used during power outages, also work off of this same premise by transforming petroleum products into electrical energy by means of an engine. Many types of industrial tools also implement a type of generator. Other common types of power supplies are used within circuit breakers, battery-powered items and transformers.

Modern vehicles and mechanical engines need alternators for power.
Modern vehicles and mechanical engines need alternators for power.
Alternators charge a vehicle's battery and supply its electrical system with power.
Alternators charge a vehicle's battery and supply its electrical system with power.

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Discussion Comments


I am really interested in developing devices which include a mechanism for supplying their own power. It is likely that we have all seen these in the form of a flashlight that includes a hand crank. I am hoping that we can find ways to expand this technology in a logical direction.

I have heard of gyms which wire up their treadmills to store the energy produced by the constant motion and use this to power the run the lights or the machine itself. I have also heard of specialized clothing which will store the energy that you produce walking around and use this to power handheld devices like cell phone and MP3 players.

If we are going to have a sustainable energy future, we need to begin looking at ways to move away from massive and dirty sources of power to more sustainable and resourceful energy supplies.


Allow me to offer a humble tribute to the power supple for truly it is this which allows us to live such comfortable lives in the modern world. Look around you right now. You are working on a computer, you have lights running, your stereo is playing and maybe you have the microwave or stove on. So much of our lives are facilitated by the cheap and ubiquitous distribution of power throughout every area of our society. Even if you go camping you can take all kind of battery operated devices. The reason we are able to live such comfortable live is that we found ways to store and distribute energy that was previously wasted.


@anon164149 - If the power fialure is the result of a problem you have on site then you may be able to fic it. It the powe failure if the result of problems with the larger system of power generation in your area you may be out of luck.

On site, you can consult with an electrician to make sure that your building is wired correctly. You can test all of your equipment to make sure that is is receiving and using power efficiently. You can ask the elctric company to inspect the power lines running to your building to make sure there are no faults.

If the problem is larger than this there may not be an easy solution. If your local power company does not supply enough power to meet your needs you do not have a lot of options. There are other ways to generate power. But on a commercial scale none of them is cheap or easy. You may want to hire a consultant to show you practical ways of generating power on site.


my company is experiencing power failures. what alternatives could I use please?

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