1 Feb 2014



Electricity is a form of energy. Electricity is the flow of electrons. All matter is made up of atoms, and an atom has a center, called a nucleus. The nucleus contains positively charged particles called protons and uncharged particles called neutrons. The nucleus of an atom is surrounded by negatively charged particles called electrons. The negative charge of an electron is equal to the positive charge of a proton, and the number of electrons in an atom is usually equal to the number of protons. When the balancing force between protons and electrons is upset by an outside force, an atom may gain or lose an electron. When electrons are "lost" from an atom, the free movement of these electrons constitutes an electric current.

Electricity is a basic part of nature and it is one of our most widely used forms of energy. We get electricity, which is a secondary energy source, from the conversion of other sources of energy, like coal, natural gas, oil, nuclear power and other natural sources, which are called primary sources. Many cities and towns were built alongside waterfalls (a primary source of mechanical energy) that turned water wheels to perform work. 

Before electricity generation began slightly over 100 years ago, houses were lit with kerosene lamps, food was cooled in iceboxes, and rooms were warmed by wood-burning or coal-burning stoves. Beginning with Benjamin Francklin's experiment with a kite one stormy night in Philadelphia, the principles of electricity gradually became understood. In the mid-1800s, everyone's life changed with the invention of the electric light bulb. Prior to 1879, electricity had been used in arc lights for outdoor lighting. The light bulb’s invention used electricity to bring indoor lighting to our homes. 

Who discovered electricity?

The Greeks had some idea of electricity.
In the 18th century Franklin and other Europeans knew a great deal about it. Early in the century, Alessandro Volta invented the first source of continuous electric current - the battery. Later, Hans Christian Orestes discovered that an electric current produced magnetism.
But it was Michael Faraday who described the nature of the phenomena. In his electromagnetic induction theory he stated that an electric current flows in a conductor if that conductor is in a moving magnetic field and is part of a circuit.

What is static electricity?
Static electricity is electricity at rest. It is produced by friction, by rubbing. All matter contains positively charged particles called protons and negatively charged particles called electrons. In an uncharged atom, the protons and electrons balance each other and the atom is neutral. If this neutral atom loses an electron, because it has an excess of protons, it is said to be positively charged. If the neutral atom gains an electron, it is said to be negatively charged. 

Rubbing can tear electrons loose from certain atoms. Some substances, because of the character of their atoms, tend to lose electrons and become positively charged; other substances gain electrons easily and become negatively charged.

What are the laws of electrostatics?

Unlike charges attract; like charges repel.

Why do two balloons that have just been rubbed with a wool cloth, move away from each other?

When a balloon is rubbed with a wool cloth, the wool loses some of its electrons. Because the wool has more protons than electrons, we say that it is positively charged. The balloon gains electrons from the cloth and is said to be negatively charged. If the negatively charged balloon is brought close to the positively charged cloth, it attracts the wool. If two negatively charged balloons are brought close together, the like charges repel and the balloons move away from each other.

What is current?

Current is the rate of flow of electrons. It is produced by electrons "on the move", and it is measured in amperes. Unlike static electricity, current electricity must flow through a conductor, usually copper wire. Household current is usually no more than 30 amps.

What is current electricity?

Current electricity is a stream of electrons flowing through a conductor. There are different sources of current electricity including the chemical reactions taking place in a battery and the application of pressure on quartz crystals. However, the most significant source is the generator. A simple magneto, or generator, produces electricity when a coil of copper turns inside a magnetic field. In a power plant, electromagnets spinning inside an armature of many coils of copper wire generate vast quantities of current electricity.

What is the difference between alternating and direct current?

A battery produces direct current (DC). The electrons are set in motion by a chemical reaction in a battery and flow only one way. A generator, on the other hand, produces alternating current (AC), because the wire coil core is influenced alternately by the North and South Poles of the magnets. The current is therefore constantly changing direction.

What is a conductor?

Electricity flows more easily through some materials than through others. Conductors let electricity flow through them easily; they have low resistance. Most metals are good conductors, so they are used to make wires for carrying electrical current.

What is an insulator?

Insulators have high resistance. Insulators, such as glass, stop the flow of electricity. Most plastics are insulators. Wires carrying electricity are covered in plastic to prevent electric shocks.

What is resistance?

Resistance is the property of a substance that prevents the flow of electrons, and it is measured in units called ohms. Materials with high resistance, like Plexiglas and rubber, are called insulators, since they do not easily allow electricity to pass through them.
Materials with low resistance, such as copper and aluminum are called conductors, because they let electricity flow through them easily. Electricity passing through a material will heat the material relative to the resistance of that material.

What is a magnetic field?

When an electric current flows through a wire, it produces a magnetic field around the wire; the greater the current, the stronger the magnetic field. By coiling up the wire many times, the magnetic field produced can be made even stronger.
The Earth is like a gigantic magnet with lines of magnetic force running from the North Pole to the South Pole. A compass needle lines up with the Earth's magnetic field, pointing towards magnetic North. Like the Earth, all magnets have a North and South Pole and are surrounded by invisible "lines of magnetic force".

What is electromagnetism?

Michael Faraday discovered that a magnetic field can generate an electric current. This principle of induction can be effectively demonstrated by moving a bar magnet in and out of a coil of copper wire attached to a meter, or by using a magneto. A magneto is an assembly of magnets enclosing a copper coil. When the copper coil is turned in the magnetic fields of the magnets, electricity is produced.

How are magnetism and electricity connected?

In a generator or magneto, magnetism can induce electricity; in an electromagnet, electricity induces magnetism.
Combining electricity with rotating magnets makes an electric motor.

What is an electrical circuit?

A circuit connects electrical components in a closed path or loop. It includes a source of power, one or more on and off switches, interconnecting wires and an electrical appliance such as a bell or a light bulb.

How does a fuse work?

A fuse is connected directly into an electrical circuit. If the electric current surges to a dangerous level, the metal in the fuse melts and the circuit is broken, preventing overheated wires in the walls of the house from starting a fire. Never substitute a fuse of greater capacity than that specified for a particular circuit. If the fuse has the ability to carry more current than originally designed, the wires will heat up before the fuse melts, and this could start a fire.

How IS a transformer used?

To solve the problem of sending electricity over long distances, George Westinghouse developed a device called a transformer. The transformer allowed electricity to be efficiently transmitted over long distances. This made it possible to supply electricity to homes and businesses located far from the electric generating plant. 

Despite its great importance in our daily lives, most of us rarely stop to think what life would be like without electricity. Yet like air and water, we tend to take electricity for granted. Every day, we use electricity to do many functions for us -- from lighting and heating/cooling our homes, to being the power source for televisions and computers. Electricity is a controllable and convenient form of energy used in the applications of heat, light and power. 

Today, the United States (U.S.) electric power industry is organized to ensure that an adequate supply of electricity is available to meet all demand requirements at any given instant.

How is electricity generated?

An electric generator is a device for converting mechanical energy into electrical energy. The process is based on the relationship between magnetism and electricity. When a wire or any other electrically conductive material moves across a magnetic field, an electric current occurs in the wire. The large generators used by the electric utility industry have a stationary conductor. A magnet attached to the end of a rotating shaft is positioned inside a stationary conducting ring that is wrapped with a long, continuous piece of wire. When the magnet rotates, it induces a small electric current in each section of wire as it passes. Each section of wire constitutes a small, separate electric conductor. All the small currents of individual sections add up to one current of considerable size. This current is what is used for electric power.

How are turbines used to generate electricity?

An electric utility power station uses a turbine, engine, water wheel, or other similar machine to drive an electric generator or a device that converts mechanical or chemical energy to electricity. Steam turbines, internal-combustion engines, gas combustion turbines, water turbines, and wind turbines are the most common methods to generate electricity.

Most of the electricity in the United States is produced in steam turbines. A turbine converts the kinetic energy of a moving fluid (liquid or gas) to mechanical energy. Steam turbines have a series of blades mounted on a shaft against which steam is forced, thus rotating the shaft connected to the generator. In a fossil-fueled steam turbine, the fuel is burned in a furnace to heat water in a boiler to produce steam.

Coal, petroleum (oil), and natural gas are burned in large furnaces to heat water to make steam that in turn pushes on the blades of a turbine. Did you know that coal is the largest single primary source of energy used to generate electricity in the United States? In 1998, more than half (52%) of the county's 3.62 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity used coal as its source of energy.

Natural gas, in addition to being burned to heat water for steam, can also be burned to produce hot combustion gases that pass directly through a turbine, spinning the blades of the turbine to generate electricity. Gas turbines are commonly used when electricity utility usage is in high demand. In 1998, 15% of the nation's electricity was fueled by natural gas.

Petroleum can also be used to make steam to turn a turbine. Residual fuel oil, a product refined from crude oil, is often the petroleum product used in electric plants that use petroleum to make steam. Petroleum was used to generate less than three percent (3%) of all electricity generated in U.S. electricity plants in 1998.

Nuclear power is a method in which steam is produced by heating water through a process called nuclear fission. In a nuclear power plant, a reactor contains a core of nuclear fuel, primarily enriched uranium. When atoms of uranium fuel are hit by neutrons they fission (split), releasing heat and more neutrons. Under controlled conditions, these other neutrons can strike more uranium atoms, splitting more atoms, and so on. Thereby, continuous fission can take place, forming a chain reaction releasing heat. The heat is used to turn water into steam, that, in turn, spins a turbine that generates electricity. Nuclear power is used to generate 19% of all the country's electricity. 

Hydro power, the source for 9% of U.S. electricity generation, is a process in which flowing water is used to spin a turbine connected to a generator. There are two basic types of hydroelectric systems that produce electricity. In the first system, flowing water accumulates in reservoirs created by the use of dams. The water falls through a pipe called a pen stock and applies pressure against the turbine blades to drive the generator to produce electricity. In the second system, called run-of-river, the force of the river current (rather than falling water) applies pressure to the turbine blades to produce electricity.

Other generating sources 

Geothermal power comes from heat energy buried beneath the surface of the earth. In some areas of the country, magma (molten matter under the earth's crust) flows close enough to the surface of the earth to heat underground water into steam, which can be tapped for use at steam-turbine plants. This energy source generates less than 1% of the electricity in the country.

Solar power is derived from the energy of the sun. However, the sun's energy is not available full-time and it is widely scattered. The processes used to produce electricity using the sun's energy have historically been more expensive than using conventional fossil fuels. Photovoltaic conversion generates electric power directly from the light of the sun in a photovoltaic (solar) cell. Solar-thermal electric generators use the radiant energy from the sun to produce steam to drive turbines. Less than 1% of the nation's electricity is based on solar power.

Wind power is derived from the conversion of the energy contained in wind into electricity. Wind power like the sun, is usually an expensive source of producing electricity, and is used for less than 1% of the nation's electricity. A wind turbine is similar to a typical wind mill.

Biomass (wood, municipal solid waste (garbage), and agricultural waste, such as corn cobs and wheat straw, are some other energy sources for producing electricity. These sources replace fossil fuels in the boiler. The combustion of wood and waste creates steam that is typically used in conventional steam-electric plants. Biomass accounts for less than 1% of the electricity generated in the United States.

The electricity produced by a generator travels along cables to a transformer, which changes electricity from low voltage to high voltage. Electricity can be moved long distances more efficiently using high voltage. Transmission lines are used to carry the electricity to a substation. Substations have transformers that change the high voltage electricity into lower voltage electricity. From the substation, distribution lines carry the electricity to homes, offices and factories, which require low voltage electricity. 

How is electricity measured? 

Electricity is measured in units of power called watts. It was named to honor James Watt, the inventor of the steam engine. One watt is a very small amount of power. It would require nearly 750 watts to equal one horsepower. A kilowatt represents 1,000 watts. A kilowatt-hour (kWh) is equal to the energy of 1,000 watts working for one hour. The amount of electricity a power plant generates or a customer uses over a period of time is measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh). Kilowatt-hours are determined by multiplying the number of kW required by the number of hours of use. For example, if you use a 40-watt light bulb 5 hours a day, you have used 200 watts of power, or .2 kilowatt-hours of electrical energy. 

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