Popular Science Monthly/Volume 23/July 1883/Meters for Power and Electricity

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THE subject of this evening's discourse, "Meters for Power and Electricity," is unfortunately, from a lecturer's point of view, one of extreme difficulty; for it is impossible to fully describe any single instrument of the class without diving into technical and mathematical niceties which this audience might well consider more scientific than entertaining. If, then, in my endeavor to explain these instruments and the purposes which they are intended to fulfill, in language as simple and as untechnical as possible, I am not so successful as you have a right to expect, I must ask you to lay some of the blame on my subject and not all on myself.

I shall at once explain what I mean by the term "meter," and I shall take the flow of water in a trough as an illustration of my meaning. If we hang in a trough a weighted board, then, when the water flows past it, the board will be pushed back; when the current of water is strong, the board will be pushed back a long way; when the current is less, it will not be pushed so far; when the water runs the other way, the board will be pushed the other way. So, by observing the position of the board, we can tell how strong the current of water is at any time. Now, suppose we wish to know, not how strong the current of water is at this time or at that, but how much water altogether has passed through the trough during any time, as, for instance, one hour. Then, if we have no better instrument than the weighted board, it will be necessary to observe its position continuously, to keep an exact record of the corresponding rates at which the water is passing, every minute, or better every second, and to add up all the values obtained. This would, of course, be a very troublesome process. There is another kind of instrument which may be used to measure the flow of the water: a paddle-wheel or screw. When the water is flowing rapidly, the wheel will turn rapidly; when slowly, the wheel will turn slowly; and, when the water flows the other way, the wheel will turn the other way, so that, if we observe how fast the wheel is turning, we can tell how fast the water is flowing. If, now, we wish to know how much water altogether has passed through the trough, the number of turns of the wheel, which may be shown by a counter, will at once tell us. There are, therefore, in the case of water, two kinds of instruments, one which measures at a time, and the other during a time. The term meter should be confined to instruments of the second class only.

As with water so with electricity, there are two kinds of measuring instruments: one, of which the galvanometer may be taken as a type, which shows by the position of a magnet how strong a current of electricity is at a time; and the other, which shows how much electricity has passed during any time. Of the first, which are well understood, I shall say nothing; the second, the new electric meters and the corresponding meters for power, are what I have to speak of to-night.

It is hardly necessary for me to mention the object of making electric meters. Every one who has had to pay his gas bill once a quarter probably quite appreciates what the electric meters are going to do, and why they are at the present time attracting so much attention. So soon as you have electricity laid on in your houses, as gas and water are laid on now, so soon will a meter of some sort be necessary in order that the companies which supply the electricity may be able to make out their quarterly bills, and refer complaining customers to the faithful indications of their extravagance in the mysterious cupboard in which the meter is placed.

The urgent necessity for a good meter has called such a host of inventors into the field that a complete account of their labors is more than any one could hope to give in an hour. Since I am one of this host, I hardly like to pick out those inventions which I consider of value. I can not describe all; I can not act as a judge and say these only are worthy of your attention, and I do not think I should be acting fairly if I were to describe my own instruments only and ignore those of every one else. The only way I see out of the difficulty is to speak more particularly about my own work in this direction, and to speak generally on the work of others.

I must now ask you to give your attention for a few minutes to a little abstract geometry. We may represent any changing quantity, as, for instance, the strength of an electrical current, by a crooked line. For this purpose we must draw a straight line to represent time, and make the distance of each point of the crooked line above the straightPSM V23 D381 Concept of the flow of electricity.jpgFig .1line a measure of the strength of the current at the corresponding time. The size of the figure will then measure the quantity of electricity that has passed, for, the stronger the current is, the taller the figure will be, and the longer it lasts the longer the figure will be; either cause makes both the quantity of electricity and the size of the figure greater and in the same proportion: so the one is a measure of the other. Now, it is not an easy thing to measure the size of a figure, the distance round it tells nothing; there is, however, a geometrical method by which its size may be found. Draw another line, with a great steepness where the figure is tall, and with a less steepness where the height is less, and with no steepness or horizontal where the figure has no height. If this is done accurately, the height to which the new line reaches will measure the size of the figure first drawn; for, the taller the figure is, the steeper the hill will be: the longer the figure, the longer the hill; either cause makes both the size of the figure and the height of the hill greater, and in the same proportion: so the one is a measure of the other; and so, moreover, is the height of the hill, which can be measured by a scale, a measure of the quantity of electricity that has passed.

The first instrument that I made, which I have called a "cart" integrator, is a machine which, if the lower figure is traced out, will describe the upper. I will trace a circle, the instrument follows the curious bracket-shaped line that I have already made sufficiently black to be seen at a distance, the height of the new line measures the size of the circle, the instrument has squared the circle. This machine is a thing of mainly theoretical interest; my only object in showing it is to explain the means by which I have developed a practical and automatic instrument of which I shall speak presently. The guiding principle in the cart integrator is a little three-wheeled cart, whose front wheel is controlled by the machine. This, of course, is invisible at a distance, and therefore I have here a large front wheel alone. On moving this along the table, any twisting of its direction instantly causes it to deviate from its straight path; now, suppose I do not let it deviate, but compel it to go straight, then at once a great strain is put upon the table, which is urged the other way. If the table can move, it will instantly do so. A table on rollers is inconvenient as anPSM V23 D382 Representation of metering electric flow over time.jpgFig. 2. Fig. 3.instrument, let us therefore roll it round into a roller, then on moving the wheel along it the roller will turn and the amount by which it turns will correspond to the height of the second figure drawn by the cart integrator. If, therefore, the wheel is inclined by a magnet under the influence of an electric current, or by any other cause, the whole amount of which we wish to know, then the number of turns of the roller will tell us this amount; or to go back to our water analogy, if we had the weighted board to show current strength, and had not the paddle-wheel to show total quantity, we might use the board to incline a disk in contact with a roller, and then drag the roller steadily along by clock-work. The number of turns of the roller would give the quantity of water. Instruments that will thus add up continuously indications at a time, and so find amounts during a time, are called integrators.

The most important application that I have made at present of the integrator described is what I have called an engine-power meter.

The instrument is on the table, but, as it is far too small to be seen at a distance, I have arranged a large model to illustrate its action. The object of this machine is to measure how much work an engine has done during any time, and show the result on a dial, so that a workman may read it off at once without having to make any calculations.PSM V23 D382 A concept of an electric meter.jpgFig. 4.Before I can explain how work is measured, perhaps I had better say a few words about the meaning of the word "work." Work is done when pressure overcomes resistance, producing motion. Neither motion nor pressure alone is work. The two factors, pressure and motion, must occur together. The work done is found by multiplying the pressure by the distance moved. In an engine, steam pushes the piston first one way then the other, overcomes resistance, and does work. To find this, we must multiply the pressure by the motion at every instant and add all the products together. This is what the engine-power meter does, and it shows the continuously growing result on a dial. When the piston moves, it drags the cylinder along; where the steam presses, the wheel is inclined. Neither action alone causes the cylinder to turn, but when they occur together the cylinder turns, and the number of turns registered on a dial shows with mathematical accuracy how much work has been done.

In the steam-engine work is done in an alternating manner, and it so happens that this alternating action exactly suits the integrator. Suppose, however, that the action, whatever it may be, which we wish to estimate, is of a continuous kind, such for instance as the continuous passage of an electric current. Then if, by means of any device, we can suitably incline the wheel, so long as we keep pushing the cylinder along, so long will its rotation measure and indicate the result; but there must come a time when the end of the cylinder is reached. If, then, we drag it back again, instead of going on adding up, it will begin to take off from the result, and the hands on the dial will go backward, which is clearly wrong. So long as the current continues, so long must the hands on the dial turn in one direction. This effect is obtained in the instrument now on the table, the electric energy meter, in this way: Clock-work causes the cylinder to travel backward and forward by means of what is called a mangle-motion, but, instead of moving always in contact with one wheel, the cylinder goes forward in contact with one and back in contact with another on its opposite side. In this instrument the inclination of the wheels is effected by an arrangement of coils of wire, the main current passing through two fixed concentric solenoids, and a shunt current through a great length of fine wire on a movable solenoid, hanging in the space between the others. The movable portion has an equal number of turns in opposite directions, and is therefore unaffected by magnets held near it. The effect of this arrangement is that the energy of the current, that is, the quantity multiplied by the force driving it, or the electrical equivalent of mechanical power, is measured by the slope of the wheels, and the amount of work done by the current during any time, by the number of turns of the cylinder, which is registered on a dial. Professors Ayrton and Perry have devised an instrument which is intended to show the same thing. They make use of a clock, and cause it to go too fast or too slow by the action of the main on the shunt current; the amount of wrongness of the clock, and not the time shown, is said to measure the work done by the current, This method of measuring the electricity by the work it has done is one which has been proposed to enable the electrical companies to make out their bills.

The other method is to measure the amount of electricity that has passed, without regard to the work done. There are three lines on which inventors have worked for this purpose: The first, which has been used in every laboratory ever since electricity has been understood, is the chemical method. When electricity passes through a salt solution, it carries metal with it. and deposits it on the plate by which the electricity leaves the liquid. The amount of metal deposited is a measure of the quantity of electricity. Mr. Sprague and Mr. Edison have adopted this method; but, as it is impossible to allow the whole of a strong current to pass through a liquid, the current is divided; a small proportion only is allowed to pass through. Provided that the proportion does not vary, and that the metal never has any motions on its own account, the increase in the weight of one of the metal plates measures the quantity of electricity.

The next method depends on the use of some sort of integrating machine, and this, being the most obvious method, has been attempted by a large number of inventors. Any machine of this kind is sure to go, and is sure to indicate something, which will be more nearly a measure of the electricity as the skill of the inventor is greater.

Meters for electricity of the third class are dynamical in their action, and I believe that what I have called the vibrating meter was the first of its class. It is well known that a current passing round iron makes it magnetic. The force which such a magnet exerts is greater when the current is greater, but it is not simply proportional; if the current is twice or three times as strong, the force is four times or nine times as great; or, generally, the force is proportional to the square of the current. Again, when a body vibrates under the influence of a controlling force, as a pendulum under the influence of gravity, four times as much force is necessary to make it vibrate twice as fast, and nine times to make it vibrate three times as fast; or, generally, the square of the number measures the force. I will illustratePSM V23 D384 Concept of measuring electricity volume.jpgFig. 5this by a model. Here are two sticks nicely balanced on points, and drawn into a middle position by pieces of tape to which weights may be hung. They are identical in every respect. I will now hang a one-pound weight to each tape, and let the pieces of wood swing. They keep time together absolutely. I will now put two pounds on one tape. It is clear that the corresponding stick is going faster, but certainly not twice as fast. I will now hang on four pounds. One stick is going at exactly twice the pace of the other. To make one go three times as fast, it is obviously useless to put on three pounds, for it takes four to make it go twice as fast. I will hang on nine pounds. One now goes exactly three times as fast as the other. I will now put four pounds on the first, and leave the nine pounds on the second: the first goes twice while the second goes three times. If instead of a weight we use electro-magnetic force to control the vibrations of a body, then twice the current produces four times the force; four times the force produces twice the rate; three times the current produces nine times the force; nine times the force produces three times the rate, and so on: or the rate is directly proportional to the current strength. There is on the table a working meter made on this principle. I allow the current that passes through to pass also through a galvanometer of special construction, so that you can tell by the position of a spot of light on a scale the strength of the current. At the present time there is no current; the light is on the zero of the scale, the meter is at rest. I now allow a current to pass from a battery of the new Faure-Sellon-Volckmar cells which the Storage Company have kindly lent me for this occasion. The light moves through one division on the scale, and the meter has started. I will ask you to observe its rate of vibration. I will now double the current; this is indicated by the light moving to the end of the second division on the scale: the meter vibrates twice as fast. Now the current is three times as strong, now four times, and so on. You will observe that the position of the spot of light and the rate of vibration always correspond. Every vibration of the meter corresponds to a definite quantity of electricity, and causes a hand on a dial to move on one step. By looking at the dial, we can see how many vibrations there have been, and therefore how much electricity has passed. Just as the vibrating sticks in the model in time come to rest, so the vibrating part of the meter would in time do the same, if it were not kept going by an impulse automatically given to it when required. Also, just as the vibrating sticks can be timed to one another by sliding weights along them, so the vibrating electric meters can be regulated to one another so that all shall indicate the same value for the same current, by changing the position or weight of the bobs attached to the vibrating arm.

The other meter of this class, Dr. Hopkinson's, depends on the fact that centrifugal force is proportional to the square of the angular velocity. He therefore allows a little motor to drive a shaft faster and faster, until centrifugal force overcomes electro-magnetic attraction, when the action of the motor ceases. The number of turns of the motor is a measure of the quantity of electricity that has passed.

I will now pass on to the measurement of power transmitted by belting. The transmission of power by a strap is familiar to every one in a treadle sewing-machine or an ordinary lathe. The driving force depends on the difference in the tightness of the two sides of the belt, and the power transmitted is equal to this difference multiplied by the speed; a power-meter must, therefore, solve this problem—it must subtract the tightness of one side from the tightness of the other side, multiply the difference by the speed at every instant, and add all the products together, continuously representing the growing amount on a dial. I shall now show for the first time an instrument that IPSM V23 D386 Concept of measuring electric flow.jpgFig. 6.have devised, that will do all this in the simplest possible manner. I have here two wheels connected by a driving-band of India-rubber, round which I have tied every few inches a piece of white silk ribbon. I shall turn one a little way, and hold the other. The driving-force is indicated by a difference of stretching: the pieces of silk are much farther apart on the tight side than they are on the loose. I shall now turn the handle, and cause the wheels to revolve; the motion of the band is visible to all. The India-rubber is traveling faster on the tight side than on the loose side, nearly twice as fast; this must be so, for, as there is less material on the tight side than on the loose, there would be a gradual accumulation of the India-rubber round the driven pulley, if they traveled at the same speed; since there is no accumulation, the tight side must travel the fastest. Now, it may be shown mathematically that the difference in the speeds is proportional both to the actual speed and to the driving strain; it is therefore a measure of the power or work being transmitted, and the difference in the distance traveled is a measure of the work done. I have here a working machine which shows directly on a dial the amount of work done; this I will show in action directly. Instead of India-rubber, elastic steel is used. Since the driving-pulley has the velocity of the tight side, and the driven of the loose side of the belt, the difference in the number of their turns, if they are of equal size, will measure the work. This difference I measure by differential gearing which actuates a hand on a dial. I may turn the handle as fast as I please; the index does not move, for no work is being done. I may hold the wheel and produce a great driving-strain; again the index remains at rest, for no work is being done. I now turn the handle quickly, and lightly touch the driven wheel with my finger. The resistance, small though it is, has to be overcome; a minute amount of work is being done, the index creeps around gently. I will now put more pressure on my finger, more work is being done, the index is moving faster; whether I increase the speed or the resistance, the index turns faster; its rate of motion measures the power, and the distance it has moved, or the number of turns, measures the work done. That this is so I will show by an experiment. I will wind up in front of a scale a seven-pound weight; the hand has turned one third around; I will now wind a twenty-eight pound weight up the same height; the hand has turned four thirds of a turn. There are other points of a practical nature with regard to this invention which I can not now describe.

There is one other class of instruments which I have developed, of which time will let me say very little. The object of this class of instruments is to divide the speed with which two registrations are being effected, and continuously record the quotient. In the instrument on the table two iron cones are caused to rotate in time with the registrations; a magnetized steel reel hangs on below. This reel turns about, and runs up or down the cones until it finds a place at which it can roll at ease. Its position at once indicates the ratio of the speeds which will be efficiency, horse-power per hour, or one thing in terms of another. Just as the integrators are derived from the steering of an ordinary bicycle, so this instrument is derived from the double steering of the "Otto" bicycle.

Though I am afraid that I have not succeeded in the short time at my disposal in making clear all the points on which I have touched, yet I hope that I have done something to remove the very prevalent opinion that meters for power and electricity do not exist.

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  1. Address at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, delivered Friday, March 2, 1883.