Conventional Flow and Electron Flow

Today’s technician will find that there are two competing schools of thought and analytical practices regarding the flow of electricity. The two are called the conventional current theory and the electron theory.

Conventional Flow

Of the two, the conventional current theory was the first to be developed and, through many years of use, this method has become ingrained in electrical texts. The theory was initially advanced by Benjamin Franklin who reasoned that current flowed out of a positive source into a negative source or an area that lacked an abundance of charge. The notation assigned to the electric charges was positive (+) for the abundance of charge and negative (−) for a lack of charge. It then seemed natural to visualize the flow of current as being from the positive (+) to the negative (−).

Electron Flow

Later discoveries were made that proved that just the opposite is true. Electron flow is what actually happens where an abundance of electrons flow out of the negative (−) source to an area that lacks electrons or the positive (+) source.

Both conventional flow and electron flow are used in industry. Many textbooks in current use employ both electron flow and conventional flow methods. From the practical standpoint of the technician, troubleshooting a system, it makes little to no difference which way current is flowing as long as it is used consistently in the analysis.