# Are Wire Current Ratings Different in AC than in DC?

Lets say I have a 1.5 mm^2 wire (between 14 and 15 AWG) and I have to use it in two different circuits, will the current carrying capacity of the wire change? One circuit is 240V AC and the other is for a 12V DC application.

• Related: 1, 2, 3 Aug 24 '15 at 9:06

Well you didn't specify the frequency of the AC and I know you probably meant 50 or 60 Hz but there is such a phenomena as skin effect. As frequency rises the electrons tend to congregate in the outer skin of the conductor with very little conduction taking place along the centre section. This means that the wire's electrical resistance rises because the cross sectional area of the copper wire is under-utilized.

See this wiki article for skin effect. Also note that there is also a phenomena called proximity effect and this is very similar to skin effect but for parallel cables carrying the same current.

Here's a pretty graph of skin effect depth versus frequency: -

At 50Hz, (red vertical line in graph), copper has a skin depth of about 10mm and this means that if you are trying to pass really large currents (and calculate that you need a copper wire of 40mm diameter), the middle 20mm is under-utilized and the cable may overheat a tad.

At 1kHz a copper conductor's skin depth is only 2mm. At 1MHz the depth is below 0.1mm. This is why circuits that use high frequency ac tend to adopt a "litz" wire approach. Litz wire

Two conductors carrying current in the same direction create magnetic fields which force the electrons in each conductor to occupy the the most distant areas of each respective cable.

• @ignacio - why did you delete your answer, if 50/60 Hz is assumed (and no doubt this is reasonable) then your answer is valid because the wire diameter in the question means skin effect will barely be measurable. Aug 24 '15 at 8:30
• Eh, your answer is much more complete and as such is pretty much a superset of my answer. Aug 24 '15 at 9:04
• Is there a source for that image? Aug 27 '20 at 0:50
• @VoltageSpike do you mean the P-effect image? There is a legend across the middle but I just checked and it appears defunct for a website? I found the same image on quora. Or do you mean the top image? Aug 27 '20 at 7:49

The answer is no, the "current rating" of wire is not difference for AC and DC though 240V AC circuits would commonly fall under the domain of regulatory codes, such as the National Electrical Code in the US, which do dictate current ratings, 12V DC applications typically would not. The actual current capacity, whether AC or DC is different for solid vs stranded and stranded wire can be either standard or fine strand with fine strand having the highest current carrying capacity for a given gauge and solid wire having the least. The rating is also dependent on the jacket material. For example, identical 12 gauge wire with a TW jacket is "rated" for 25 amps but with a THHN jacket the rating is 30 amps. Obviously there are other factors to consider when sizing wire but I think this answers OP question.

Unfortunately what is not discussed here is the temperature rating of the wire insulation and how it is applied to determine wire ampacity. If the terminals of the equipment being connected are only rated for 75degC wire, then the ampacity of the wire must be taken from the 75degC table no matter whether it is rated 75degC or 90degC. In addition NEC 240.4.D states the maximum overcurrent protection for various sizes of wire notwithstanding the ampacity shown in the table. So, no matter what, a #12 AWG Copper wire cannot be used on a circuit protected by anything larger than a 20 circuit breaker.

• It’s not discussed since it wasn’t a question about it. Furthermore, your answer only applies to installations in the USA which again, wasn’t the question. ”So, no matter what, a #12 AWG Copper wire cannot be used on a circuit protected by anything larger than a 20 circuit breaker.” Sure it can! I can wire up something at home at 12 Vdc and fuse it to 25 A if I feel like it. I can wind a transformer with 12 AWG force air cool it in a product. The list goes on. Jun 8 '18 at 20:43
• Answer is off the mark and makes non-sense statements -1.
– user105652
Jun 9 '18 at 2:06

Yes, it will be changed. Assuming that you have a load of 300 W:

• For AC 240 V: current = 300/240 = 1.25 A, 1.5 mm2 is permitted,
• For DC 12 V: current = 300/12 = 25 A. NOT permitted at all.
• The question is about the current rating of the wire - not how much power can be transmitted. The SI unit for current is the ampere (amp) or its symbol 'A'. 'am' means before noon. Apr 20 '19 at 7:52