3 phase electricity is referred to alternating current. It is best described as the timing of the electron movements. It is the most common delivery method worldwide because it is a cheaper and easier way to transmit power from one place to another. While this method of electrical transmission is popular in industrial, commercial and institutional power systems, most homes only use single-phase power.
What does it mean?
If wires are in "phase", it means that timing of the electron movement, back and forth, is the same. The electrons are "in step" or "in time".
To transmit and distribute alternating current, it is more efficient to use 3 circuits that are out of sequence. This idea was discovered by Nikola Tesla (1856 -1943). Much of its efficiency is because there is always voltage (electrons moving) in at least one wire.
He found that it is an arrangement that fits in very nicely with generator design. The 120° phasing separation allows close to the optimum spacing and size of the copper conductors around the stator bore. The compatible generator is the cheapest form to make.
This type of power is designed especially for large electrical loads where the total electrical load is divided among the three separate phasing sequences. As a result, the wire and transformers will be less expensive than if these large loads were carried on a single system.
Generators usually have three separate windings, each producing its own separate single-phase voltage. Since these windings are staggered around the generator circumference, each of the voltages is "out of phase" with one another. That is, each of the three reaches the maximum and minimum points in the AC cycle at different times.
Power is generated at electric utilities in this way. But, if this power is better than single phase, why not four, five or six phase? Theoretically, these would be even better, but equipment manufacturers would have to build motors to use it, and that just wouldn't be cost effective given the installed base of equipment that must continue to be powered.
The word is often abbreviated using the Greek letter "phi" and is written as a zero with a slash mark through it.
The most important class of load is the electric motor. An induction motor has a simple design, inherently high starting torque, and high efficiency. Such motors are applied in industry for pumps, fans, blowers, compressors, conveyor drives, and many other kinds of motor-driven equipment. A motor will be more compact and less costly than a motor of the same voltage class and rating; and AC motors above 10 HP (7.5 kW) are uncommon. Three phase motors will also vibrate less and hence last longer than motor of the same power used under the same conditions.
Large air conditioning, etc. equipment use motors for reasons of efficiency, economy and longevity.
Resistance heating loads such as electric boilers or space heating may be connected to systems. Electric lighting may also be similarly connected. These types of loads do not require the revolving magnetic field characteristic of motors but take advantage of the higher voltage and power level usually associated with distribution. Fluorescent lighting systems also benefit from reduced flicker if adjacent fixtures are powered from different.
Large rectifier systems may have inputs; the resulting DC current is easier to filter (smooth) than the output of a rectifier. Such rectifiers may be used for battery charging, electrolysis processes such as aluminum production, or for operation of DC motors.
An interesting example of a load is the electric arc furnace used in steelmaking and in refining of ores.
In much of Europe stoves are designed to allow for a feed. Usually the individual heating units are connected between phase and neutral to allow for connection to a supply where this is all that is available.