The story of electricity discovery, generation, and transmission is one that demonstrates the dynamism of knowledge and the dependence of future generations on experience from past generations.
As one traces the history of electricity, one can see a high degree of improvement and development; however, this was only possible through inefficiencies and objections in earlier methods and hence increased in those methods based on its criticisms.
How electricity was discovered and generated
Electricity was not created by one individual alone or during a specific time frame: it was done over a long period. History shows that work on static electricity began as far back as the fifteenth century when a German called Otto Guericke produced it through a certain machine.
Later on, work on insulators and conductors were done by Stephen Gray in 1729. This was followed by Benjamin Franklin who did a kite experiment and examined how electricity could flow.
In 1800 Alessandro Volta also looked at chemical energy and how this could be channeled to produce electricity. He created the battery and therefore illustrated that there was a means for generating electricity through a cell.
Twenty-one years later, Michael Faraday showed how magnetic and electric energy worked through the use of the electric motor.
Electrical flow through the circuit was discovered through by George Ohm in 1827, and Thomas Edison then came in and discovered how continuous light could come from electricity. George Westinghouse illustrated that Alternating Current had several practical uses in 1885.
Four years later, Nicola Tesla created the AC motor. Other scientists kept on perfecting the work that had been done by engineers and physicists who had come before them. This eventually translated into what we now consume as electricity today (Patterson, 1999).
Given such an elaborate history, it is essential to know how this electricity can be generated from its source and how it eventually reaches local households around the world. Heat may be generated through a hydroelectric plant or a nuclear plant.
The former method is more common than the latter. Here, some fossil fuels are burnt, and they help in producing steam. Mechanical energy from this steam is used to drive a turbine. The turbine consists of a magnet with copper wire.
Therefore, these materials are what facilitate the conversion of mechanical energy to electrical energy just the way simple generators work.
After the electricity has been created in the power plant, it is then conveyed to a step-up transformer whose purpose is to increase the voltage such that it can be transmitted through long distances.
This electricity passes through power lines that convey it to a step-down transformer which converts the high voltage electricity to a low voltage form. At this point, the voltage is around 200 to 13000 volts. Such voltage is still too high to be used in the home.
Electricity must then pass through the pole transformer which further reduces it to about 120 Volts or double that amount. After that conversion, one can then be in a position to enjoy electricity within one’s home after it has passed through a service box.
It should be noted that the latter method applies to all kinds of electricity generation; however, what differs is the source of steam. Some plants will utilize fossil fuels to generate that steam; however, this method is not sustainable for future generations.
Fossil fuels can be depleted, and there may be a point when they will be exhausted leaving nothing for the generations that are to come. Additionally, carbon-based fuels emit a lot of dangerous pollutants into the atmosphere, and this is dangerous to the environment.
Because of this, other options for the generation of steam to be used for turning the turbines have been suggested, and they include the use of nuclear energy. Nuclear energy yields plenty of heat that can be used to heat water and turn out steam that will rotate turbines.
The major concern about nuclear energy is that if a disaster occurs then this could lead to repercussions of unparalleled proportions. Subsequently, this has paved the way for the use of several environmentally friendly methods of generating electricity (UIC, 2004).
It should be noted that after receiving electrical energy, one must be charged for it. In the past, there has been a monopoly in the electricity industry.
Most of the producing or generating companies were still the ones responsible for distribution and billing of electricity to specific consumers.
Eventually, this led to a monopolistic condition where the concerned organization could charge exorbitantly for their services, or they could offer low-quality services without the public having any other alternative to choose from.
Recently, several private firms have been able to enter the scene by purchasing electricity from concerned electricity generators and have been able to offer it to consumers competitively.
Varying opinions on the issue
Some people believe that Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity because he was able to show that charge existed. Power essentially refers to the flow of an electric charge. Therefore, the person who created the electric charge should be accredited as the inventor of electricity.
In the year 1752, he showed how electricity behaves or how electric charge flows and he also realized that lightning was a depiction of this amazing phenomenon. Therefore, because the latter individual worked on the fundamentals of electricity, then he should be credited with the title.
However, these proponents are ignoring the fact Franklin’s work was not sufficient to translate his discoveries into commercial values. Additionally, there were still other scientists who came before the latter individual and made a substantial contribution to this phenomenon (Bird, 2007).
Others assert that Thomas Edison was the most influential person in the field of electricity because he discovered the light bulb and later on went to work on DC generators that would facilitate the transmission of electricity to other individuals.
However, Edison did not discover the electric bulb per se: he perfected it and made it usable. Also, by forming an electricity generating company, he had initiated one of the earlier attempts at making electricity a day to day necessity.
On the other hand, others truly believe that it was Michael Faraday who carried the day. He worked on the concept of magnetic induction. His discovery was quite important because it could be translated into commercial value.
In other words, it was through Faraday’s creations that the generator was created and electricity could be made.
However, others argue that it is Nikola Tesla who facilitated long term transmission of electricity through the work he did on the AC motor. His efforts were applied first in a dam that generated electricity in the US.
Although electricity could be transmitted using DC, this was often inefficient and led to a lot of heat loss. Tesla’s discoveries on the AC allowed for long term transmission of the phenomenon that made it available to many households to date.
In terms of the sustainability of methods of current electricity generation, it has been argued that the use of fossil fuels is not very dependable and there should be an examination of green sources of energy.
Studies currently illustrate that electricity generation is one of the biggest contributors to carbon-based emissions in the atmosphere in the United States. It accounts for 65% of all the sulfur dioxide in the sky (Borenstien, 2007).
This is particularly alarming given that the US is the biggest generator and consumer of electricity in the world. It also means that something needs to be done as a matter of great urgency. Many have suggested the use of nonfossil fuels for electricity generation to curb pollution in the atmosphere.
For example, windmills have been used to harness wind energy that may sometimes complement grid electricity, or it may be used to power small communities.
The major problem with this kind of electricity is that it cannot be entirely dependable since it yields very minimal levels. Alternatively, some parties have suggested the use of 100 % water generation. This implies that water alone is the only source of electricity.
Instead of using steam to achieve the same, water is the one that creates the mechanical energy needed to turn the turbines. However, such a method is heavily dependent on the availability of water in the first place.
On the other hand, electricity can also be generated through the power of the sun.
In other words, here, the sun’s energy is concentrated using a special device such as a solar power tower or a solar parabola and this heat is then used to produce steam from a certain fluid placed in the pathway of the solar trapping device. That steam is eventually used to turn turbines.
The problem with this method has been the cost of those solar devices and the lack of applicability in areas that do not get regular sunshine.
Solar energy may also be harnessed through photovoltaic panels. Here, the panels produce electric energy straight from solar energy. The major problem with this method is that the panels are also quite expensive.
Furthermore, conversion efficiencies of some of the panels are rather low; they range from 30 to 40%. The major benefit of solar energy is its ability to produce zero carbon-based emissions or environmental friendliness.
On the other hand, sometimes countries have the option of using geothermal power. Here, steam from underground is used to turn turbines. The earth naturally has certain levels of steam underneath, and these can be harnessed to produce electricity.
On the other hand, geothermal power can be generated through the use of hot water which becomes a heating source of another liquid with a low boiling point, and this eventually turns turbines for electricity generation.
Some individuals believe that when electricity is offered by a monopoly, then it can be easily regulated by the government which often sets very low prices for the service. Therefore, such individuals endorse a regulated market rather than a private controlled one.
On the other hand, a regulated market is not without its advantages; it facilitates greater competition. This means that the firms involved will have to lower their prices to attract clients.
To do this, organizations must frequently reexamine their production processes to minimize wastage and enhance efficiency.
All this will eventually translate into efficient services for consumers. Also, to lure customers, companies must look for ways of offering superior services to clients, and this makes the electricity market more lucrative.
Furthermore, the privatization of electricity services can contribute to more options. For example, consumers who prefer green options may tap into that system by paying a slightly higher price than the conventional method.
Also, entrepreneurs may get an opportunity to look into certain kinds of businesses that are related to retail sales.
What this means is that advertisers and other marketing consultants can get involved in the electricity industry by offering their services without necessarily being involved in the technical aspects.
This offers a range of employment opportunities in the industry and also increases the degree of competitiveness.
The projection into the future of electricity generation
It is likely that the future of electricity generation will be characterized by a move towards greener sources. The use of bio-fuel either partially or fully to generate electricity is likely to become a thing of the past because of its lack of sustainability.
In terms of large scale electricity production, nuclear power stations might be used to replace fossil fuel powered plants (Serra, 2006). This is because of several advantages. First of all, nuclear energy does not discharge carbon-based emissions into the atmosphere.
Furthermore, it does not resource intensive.
The major raw material used in nuclear production of electricity is uranium; studies illustrate that when the price of uranium increases by double its current price, the cost of producing electricity through this method will only go up by a mere five percent.
The opposite is true for carbon-based fuel; when the price of gas increases by double its price, the costs of electricity will go up by sixty percent. To this end, it would be better to use nuclear plants.
Although uranium deposits are exhaustible, uranium is not the only source of nuclear energy in the power plant. Other fuels like Thorium are easily available and can replace it. Some people have opposed the utilization of this method based on its toxic waste.
They claim that if poorly disposed of, the waste from nuclear reactions would cause cancer. However, this applies to Uranium; if another raw material like Thorium is utilized, then it will yield less waste, and it may not be as harmful to the environment.
Additionally, the firms that are responsible for this process will also need to behave responsibly by taking care of the waste that comes from their plants. They will also need to embrace the fact that this will require careful planning.
Additionally, it is likely that other renewable sources like solar, wind and geothermal will employed in the future. As stated earlier, some methods like solar energy are expensive and may not be as efficient as they should be.
Since so many government and private resources are going into the discovery and development of better methods of electricity generation, it is likely that solar and wind electricity will become more efficient.
Recent studies show that the efficiency of energy production is increasing by two percent annually. This means that better technologies will allow for less use of electricity such as energy conserving bulbs, heat exchangers and many others.
It is also likely that in the future, there may be the rapid deployment of electricity in various aspects of life such as motor vehicles. This means that there will be greater demand for innovative methods of generating electricity (Delucchi & Jacobson, 2009).
Electricity distribution could also be altered dramatically in the future. This is because many private entities are already entering the industry. Consequently, energy generating firms will be located nearer consumers; this was not the case in the past.
Eventually, this will reduce some of the issues related to power loss during distribution. Also, it will provide an avenue for saving up on excessive electricity for those consumers tapping into such conventional systems. Eventually, this may lead to the conversion of that energy back into the grid.
As can be seen, electricity was never really discovered at once; it kept on being revised until it gained commercial application. Even in modern times, electricity generation is constantly under review to look for more efficient and cost-effective ways of transmitting or producing it.
This illustrates a process of continuous improvement that will lead to better outcomes in the future.
Delucchi, M. & Jacobson, M. (2009). A plan for to power 100 percent of planet with renewable. Scientific American, 301(5), 58-65.
Serra, J. (2006). Alternative fuel resource development. Clean and green fuels fund magazine.
UIC (2004). Energy analysis of power systems. Nuclear issues briefing paper 57.
Borenstien, S. (2007). Carbon emissions culprit. The Seattle Times.
Patterson, W. (1999). Transforming electricity: the coming generation of change. Earthscan, 44-48.
Bird, J. (2007). Electrical and electronic principles and technology. Newnes, 223.