Electricity Is a Secondary (Links to an external site.) Energy Source
Electricity is the flow of electrical power or charge. It is both a basic part of nature and one of our most widely used forms of energy.
Electricity is actually a secondary energy source, also referred to as an energy carrier. That means that we get electricity from the conversion of other sources of energy, such as coal, nuclear, or solar energy. These are called primary sources. The energy sources we use to make electricity can be renewable or non-renewable, but electricity itself is neither renewable or nonrenewable.
Electricity Use Has Dramatically Changed Our Daily Lives
Before electricity became available 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.
Many scientists and inventors have worked to decipher the principles of electricity since the 1600s. Some notable accomplishments were made by Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, and Nikola Tesla.
Benjamin Franklin demonstrated that lightning is electricity. Thomas Edison invented the first long-lasting incandescent light bulb.
Prior to 1879, direct current (DC) electricity had been used in arc lights for outdoor lighting. In the late 1800s, Nikola Tesla pioneered the generation, transmission, and use of alternating current (AC) electricity, which reduced the cost of transmitting electricity over long distances. Tesla’s inventions used electricity to bring indoor lighting to our homes and to power industrial machines.
Despite its great importance in our daily lives, few of us probably stop to think what life would be like without electricity. Like air and water, we tend to take electricity for granted. But we use electricity (Links to an external site.) to do many jobs for us every day â€” from lighting, heating, and cooling our homes to powering our televisions and computers.
Electricity Is Measured in Watts and Kilowatts
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 is the same as 1,000 watts.
Electricity Use Over Time Is Measured in Kilowatthours
A kilowatthour (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 kilowatthours (kWh). Kilowatthours are determined by multiplying the number of kilowatts required by the number of hours of use.
For example, if you use a 40-watt light bulb for 5 hours, you have used 200 watthours, or 0.2 kilowatthours, of electrical energy.
Batteries Produce Electricity
A battery (Links to an external site.) produces electricity using two different metals in a chemical solution. A chemical reaction between the metals and the chemicals frees more electrons in one metal than in the other. One end of the battery is attached to one of the metals; the other end is attached to the other metal.
The end that frees more electrons develops a positive charge and the other end develops a negative charge. If a wire is attached from one end of the battery to the other, electrons flow through the wire to balance the electrical charge.
A load is a device that does work or performs a job. If a load â€“â€“ such as a light bulb â€“â€“ is placed along the wire, the electricity can do work as it flows through the wire. Electrons flow from the negative end of the battery through the wire to the light bulb. The electricity flows through the wire in the light bulb and back to the positive end of the battery.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, http://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/