How Fast Does Electricity Travel


While thinking about all the electrical appliances and electricity in general, have you ever thought about how fast electricity travels?

This might sound like an academic question. But you might have encountered a situation where you thought about how long it would take for your bulb to light once you switched it on. Thinking, right? That deals with the speed of light too.

So, if you have become curious about the speed of electricity, this article is for you.

What is electricity?

Before we get to the speed of electricity, let’s discuss what exactly it is. It will help you understand the speed and other associated factors. Electricity is basically the flow of electrons in an electrical field. Mostly, electricity in homes transfers through copper wire.

how fast does electricity travel infographic

Speed of electricity through the conductor:

You must know here that the flow of electricity through a conductor differs from the flow without it. Within the conductor, electricity flows with the speed of light. Numerically, it is 670,616,629 miles per hour.

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Speed of electricity through a particular electrical field:

Now talking about the speed of electricity through a specific electric field, you’ll find the electrons move a bit slower than the speed of electricity. This is known as drift velocity.

The electromagnetic wave created by an electric field in the conductor affects its propagation speed. You can expect it to move at approximately 90% of the speed of light.

What causes the difference?

When considering the conductor only, the electrons follow a random path, thus propagating with as much speed as possible. However, when an electrical field is introduced to the same conductor, the electrons no longer have a net velocity.

At DC Voltage, the drift velocity of the electron will propagate equal to the electrical field. In the case of AC Voltage, the electrons show no net movement. The electrons only oscillate over a few micrometres.

Summing up:

Theoretically, electricity travels at the speed of light. However, the actual speed might be a bit lower due to multiple factors, including the presence of the electric field. This is why your bulb switches on just as you put your switch on. It also indicates that you must be vigilant with the electricity as it can be dangerous.

Also Read: What is IC Rating for lighting?