Electrical

Quick Read

Aluminum-based electrical wiring was first used for utility applications in the early 1900s. Use of aluminum wiring grew rapidly after World War II and it has increasingly replaced copper as the conductor of choice in utility grids. The metal has significant cost and weight advantages over copper and is now the preferred material for electricity transmission and distribution uses. AA-8000 series aluminum alloy conductors have more than 40 years of reliable field installations and have been recognized specifically by the National Electrical Code for over three decades. Aluminum electrical wiring is an increasingly popular choice for utilities and builders. The market has grown 20 percent over the past decade.

Take-Away Facts

  • Safe for building and home wiring
    Aluminum alloy cables have been safely used for building and home wiring for more than 40 years.
  • Approved by the National Electric Code
    The U.S. National Electrical Code requires the use of AA-8000 series electrical-grade aluminum alloy conductor material for most aluminum building wire applications (Section 310.106(B)).
  • Trusted by the utility industry
    Electrical utility companies have trusted aluminum conductors to transmit power over national grids for more than a century.
  • Efficient for electrical applications
    Aluminum wiring is lightweight and corrosion resistant, and provides two times the conductivity, per pound, of copper wiring.

Aluminum in the utility grid - and beyond

Aluminum’s use in utility grid transmission and distribution networks increased rapidly after World War II. The metal weighs half of the equivalent capacity of copper and was advantageous for the construction steps of pulling wire, suspension and support. From there, aluminum wiring use spread downstream to service drops, service entrances and building wire feeders. Aluminum has cost and weight advantages over copper and is the preferred material for electricity transmission and distribution uses today. Due to aluminum’s superior conductivity-to-weight ratio compared with copper, the metal is now used for wiring in residences, buildings, aircraft and appliances.

Advantages as an electrical conduit material

Aluminum has also been adapted for use as rigid electrical conduit. (An electrical conduit is a tubing system used for protection and routing of electrical wiring.) Unlike steel conduit, rigid aluminum does not spark, resists corrosion and will not rust. These properties of aluminum are vitally important for electrical applications within coal mines, grain elevators and refineries (where sparking can lead to catastrophic outcomes).

The History of Aluminum Wiring

In 1882, Edison Electric opened the world’s first steam-powered electricity generating station. This station supplied a number of local consumers with electricity for lighting. At that time, aluminum was considered a precious metal and valued higher than both gold and silver. Copper, having been known to mankind for thousands of years, was readily available as conductive material. For Edison’s station and throughout the early development of national power grids, copper was the practical choice. Aluminum was first used for electrical utility applications in the early 1900s. For example, as reported in The Electrician journal, September 7, 1900: “The North-Western Elevated Railway Co. of Chicago have used 150,000 lbs. aluminum to equip their overhead track in Chicago, and the line was started with the new power in the spring of this year.”

A Rare Find

When the first electrical transmission network was built (Edison, 1882), aluminum was considered a precious metal and more valuable than both gold and silver. Today, aluminum is a LEED-favored material for construction and operation of high-performance green buildings. Aluminum wiring requires minimal energy to recycle and loses none of its properties during the recycling process.

Builders have safely used aluminum wiring for more than 40 years.

The National Electrical Code has permitted the use of aluminum wire since 1901, a mere four years after the first recognized national electrical code was published in 1897. AA-8000 aluminum conductors have more than 40 years of reliable field installations.