Electrical conductivity measures how easy it is for an electric current to travel through a particular material. On the other hand, electrical resistivity measures a material’s ability to resist the flow of electrical current. Conductivity and resistivity are polar opposites of each other.

Understanding Electricity

Electricity is a fundamental form of energy expressed by the movement of electrons. It occurs naturally in lightning, or it can be produced by a generator, and it’s used to power most things in the modern world. This is what makes light bulbs glow. It allows mobile phones to connect to people all over the world and homes to have refrigeration and the internet. To understand electricity, you have to get down to the atomic level.

In each atom there are small particles called protons, electrons, and neutrons. Protons are positively charged, and neutrons do not have a charge. Protons and neutrons are tightly bound inside the nucleus of each atom. They cannot escape. Electrons, however, live in the area around the nucleus, and they are in constant movement.

Sometimes, electrons can travel from one atom and move to a different one. When several electrons travel together, an electrical current is created. Usually, it’s impossible to see electricity because electrons are traveling through wires in a way that is not visible to the naked eye. However, when a sufficient charge builds up inside a cloud, lightning bolts are created. This carries electricity from the cloud to the ground in a way that is visible to the human eye.

What Is Electrical Conductivity?

Basically, electrical conductivity measures how much of an electric current a material can carry, or it describes the material’s ability to carry this current. Conductivity is an intrinsic property of most materials.

Another way to put it is that materials that conduct electrons are electrical conductors. In most cases, electrical conductors have loosely bound electrons. Examples of excellent electrical conductors include brass, graphite, silver, gold, aluminum foil, copper, and steel.

Usually, if a material is good at conducting electricity, it is also good at conducting heat. This is true for the majority of metals. There is a connection between the temperature of the material and how it impacts the material’s ability to conduct electricity. Materials that conduct heat are referred to as thermal conductors.

With many metals, their conductivity decreases when they increase in temperature, and vice versa. Understanding this relationship is very useful when selecting the materials that will be used in different applications.

Characteristics of Conductive Materials

Conductive materials exhibit low resistance to electrical currents, allowing currents to flow freely through them. The atomic structure of conductive materials enables the effortless movement of electrons between atoms, requiring minimal energy for transmission.

The abundance of free electrons within conductive materials facilitates the easy transmission of electrical current, with copper often serving as a benchmark for comparing conductivity levels. Conductive materials possess malleability, allowing them to be shaped and manipulated without breaking. Furthermore, conductive materials demonstrate high wear resistance, enduring extreme conditions such as temperature fluctuations without significant deterioration.

Why Understanding Conductivity Matters

Materials are chosen for particular applications based on their electrical conductivity. This is primarily the case when the passage of electrical current is critical to the functioning of the application.

Some of the best conductors of electricity are metals. Polymers, on the other hand, are the worst conductors of electricity. Silver is by far one of the best conductors of electricity. However, it’s very rare to see wiring in residential or commercial settings using silver. This is because silver is scarce and quite expensive.

Applications of Electrical Conductivity

Electrical conductivity finds applications in a number of industries, including power transmission and electronics. A practical example is that of overhead power lines. These are used to transmit electricity throughout the city. They’re typically made of aluminum since aluminum is a great conductor of electricity. Conversely, these powerlines may be insulated with polymers that have low conductivity, as this protects humans from electrical shock.

Electric conductors are used in electronics ranging from smartphones to televisions and computers. Conductors are also used in the automotive industry, including in wiring harnesses, battery cables, and spark plugs. In the medical field, electrical conductors allow medical equipment, including X-ray machines, MRIs, and ECG machines, to function. In the aerospace industry, conductors are used for a variety of applications from sensors to wiring and communication systems. Electrical conductors are used in renewable energy systems such as solar panels and wind turbines. They’re also utilized as a way to transmit power from energy sources like solar panels to the electrical grid.

Factors That Affect Electrical Conductivity

Several factors will influence metal conductivity, including temperature, material composition, impurities and defects, and crystal structure.


Usually, electrical conductivity will diminish as the temperature of the conductive metal increases. This happens because, as the temperature of a wire rises, the thermal vibrations of atoms also increase. This impacts the movement of electrons.

Material Composition

The arrangement and types of atoms in a material impact its electrical conductivity. Silver, copper, and similar metals have higher electrical conductivity because of their delocalized electrons, which can move freely.

Defects and Impurities

If a material contains impurities or defects, these can impact electron movement, reducing electrical conductivity.

Crystal Structure

Atoms are arranged in a way that creates a crystalline lattice. Materials with a closely packed crystal structure have a higher conductivity rate than those with a looser structure.

Why Does Silver Do a Good Job at Conducting Electricity?

In order to conduct electricity, a material has to have free electrons. In silver, these free electrons bounce around like billiard balls that have been struck and are now careening around the table. Silver is a metal with free-moving valence electrons. These electrons can travel through silver with little resistance. Silver has by far the highest conductivity of all metals. However, it is expensive and prone to tarnishing.

Why Does Copper Do a Good Job at Conducting Electricity?

To facilitate the flow of electrical current through metals, the power source must overcome resistivity. Metals with lower resistivity exhibit higher electrical conductivity. Copper, with its low resistivity, is an excellent electrical conductor.

Additionally, copper is remarkably flexible. While electrical connectors and wiring must withstand significant electrical loads, many metals with this capacity lack flexibility. Copper, however, strikes an ideal balance and can handle household electricity levels while remaining supple.

Furthermore, copper is less susceptible to oxidation compared to other metals. Oxidation occurs when oxygen and moisture react with a metal’s surface, leading to corrosion. While copper does develop a greenish patina known as copper oxide, unlike rust, this coating safeguards the metal from further corrosion without impeding conductivity.

Exceptional Heating and Air Conditioning

At Huft Home Services, we are committed to providing our customers throughout the Sacramento, CA area and beyond with high-quality heating and air conditioning expertise. We’ve been at it since 2004. As a company accredited by the Better Business Bureau and certified by the NCI, we are dedicated to the complete satisfaction of each one of our customers.

Our services include HVAC installation, maintenance, and repair. We install ductless air conditioners and heat pumps. Our plumbing services include water heater installation, leak detection, sewer services, and gas lines. On the electrical side, we offer whole-house generators, electrical wiring, EV charging stations, and indoor and outdoor lighting. Contact us at Huft Home Services today, and let us show you why we are the professionals to trust when it comes to all things related to HVAC, electrical, and plumbing.

company icon