The Evolution of Electricity

Introduction

Electricity is a wide topic used to illustrate the actions of electrons and protons. The subsequent flow of the electrons forms the current we use to energize everything around us. It is important to realize that electricity did not just come to be. Many dedicated men committed and sacrificed themselves to bring electricity to the form that we know it today.

To many people, electricity is ranked among other basic things like food, water, and breathing air. However, most of us take this important invention for granted.

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From the powering of radios to refrigerators, electricity brings about many positive things in life. However, these benefits do not come without their own risks. Electricity has the potential of causing instant death if it is not handled in the right manner.

Although electricity has become part and parcel of most households, there is risk that the world will not be in a position to produce enough electricity for its population in the near future. This might have serious ramifications in the lives of all those affected. There is need to understand the history of electricity, its present benefits and uses, and its future if we are to appreciate this important invention. (Bocco, 2010)

History of Electricity

Pre Discovery of Electricity

According to Diana Bocco (2010), “The history of electricity goes back more than two thousand years, to the time the Ancient Greeks discovered that rubbing fur on amber caused an attraction between the two.” (Bocco, 2010) By the turn of the 17th century, there were numerous electricity-related discoveries that scientists had arrived at.

Among these were electrostatic generators and the separation between positive and negative currents. By this time, physicians had also come up with a formula to identify which materials were insulators or conductors.

As early as 1600, physicians like William Gilbert had come up with terms like electric to refer to the energy that certain materials emit when rubbed against other materials. This clearly shows that even before the invention of electricity there were other discoveries that pointed to the existence of electricity. (Gavin Electrical, 2007)

Discovery of Electricity

Although many people believe that Benjamin Franklin was the sole inventor of electricity, current research done on the matter has proved otherwise. Nearly all inventions take hundreds of years to arrive at perfection. On top of this, nearly all inventions come by through the concerted efforts of different inventors.

The invention of electricity was therefore wrought from limitless efforts from different people. For a long time, lightening has fascinated the human race. As time progressed, this fascination led Greek scholars like Thales to observe that rubbing amber against fur could generate an electric charge. Soon after this, a German physicist Otto Von Guericke tried to generate electricity in 1650.

Almost 80 years after Otto Von’s discovery, another English physicist by the name of Stephen Gray discovered that some materials had greater potential to conduct electricity over others. Almost two decades after Gray’s invention, Benjamin Franklin proved beyond doubt that lightening and the spark produced by rubbing amber against fur material that the Greek physicist Thales had earlier invented were related.

According to historians, Franklin tied an iron spike to a kite that was made of silver and flew it in a storm. In one of her works Diana Bocce (2010) observes, “The kite experiment helped Franklin establish a relationship between lightening and electricity, which led to the invention of the lightning rod” (Bocco, 2010)

This is considered one of the greatest milestones towards the invention of electricity. In 1786, Luigi Galvani observed that a metallic knife being exposed to the leg of a dead toad would form some kind of a reaction. This made him believe that the frog’s leg must be a source of electricity.

However, six years later another Italian scientist by the name of Alessandro Volta disagreed with this theory. He instead pointed out that the source of energy was not Galvani’s frog but rather the steel knife and the tin plate where the frog had been placed.

According to Volta, “when wetness comes between two different metals electricity is produced”. (Gavin Electrical, 2007) Using this knowledge, he designed the first documented electric battery. Volta’s electric battery was the first ever source of dry current (DC) known to man. (Bocco, 2010)

Following Volta’s invention, it was now possible to produce electricity that flowed in a steady manner. Before this, the only electricity available was the one that dislodged itself in one flash or shock. Through Volta’s efforts, it was now possible to tap electricity from one place to another using a piece of wire. This was a big contribution toward acquiring the science of electricity, as we know it today.

Following his enormous contribution, scientists decided to name the unit used to measure electrical potential Volt in honor of Alessandro Volta. In 1827, George Simon Ohm fine tuned Volta’s ideas and came up with a new electrical law commonly known as the Ohm’s law. Scientists trying to come up with electrical circuit analysis used this relationship later. (Gavin Electrical, 2007)

Post Discovery of Electricity

Despite earlier scientists doing much of the groundwork, the year 1830 was a turning point in the invention of electricity. In that year, an English scientist by the name of Michael Faraday began generating electricity on a commercial scale. Through his own creation and taking on the ideas of those before him, Faraday was able to produce the electro magnet.

Through his intellectual work, Faraday was able to come with technology that has been used to manufacture electric motors and transformers. This came after he realized that magnetism could be used to transmit electric current.

Measured by modern standards, Faraday’s dynamo or the electric transformer was crude by all standards and gave out only a small fraction of electric current. However, this formed a strong basis through which generation of electricity is based. (Bocco, 2010)

After Faraday’s invention, there was a lull of close to 40 years before the next major invention came out. This came in 1879 after an American Thomas Alva Edison built the first ever-practical Direct Current generator. Edison was also able to build the phonograph and a well-formed telegraph. Together with his friend Joseph Swan, a scientist from Britain, Edison was able to invent the first light bulb.

The two scientists later on set up a manufacturing company to produce and sell light bulbs. This brought on a revolution in electricity invention since prior to this electric lighting was only by the means of crude arc lamps. In September 1882, Edison took his invention further by erecting streetlights in one of New York streets.

Although this was a major breakthrough in the invention of electricity, it received great criticism from the general population and fellow scientists who viewed Dry Current to be containing major shortcomings. However, Edison was not discouraged and he continued working on towards making his invention a major success. (Gavin Electrical, 2007)

At the same time that Edison was trying to erect streetlights in New York City, an industrialist by the name of George Westinghouse was also taking a keen interest on electricity. Together with Nikola Tesla, they set up a manufacturing plant for the production of Alternating Current (AC). Through their concerted efforts, Westinghouse and Tesla were able to convince the American population and the world at large to drop the use of DC in favor of AC.

Through this adoption, it was now possible to transmit large amount of electricity, which had hitherto been impossible by using only dry current. Another major contributor to the development of electricity was James Watt. The Scottish inventor is credited for inventing the steam-condensing engine. As a token of appreciation for his efforts, the electric unit of current was named Watt in his honor. (Bocco, 2010)

Contrary to popular belief, Benjamin Franklin and his kite theory did not discover electricity. Way before Franklin could fly his kite or Edison came with his light bulb, electricity was still in existence. Throughout the history of humankind, electricity has always been in existence. A good example of this is lightening, which is a surge of electrons between the earth and the clouds.

When someone touches something and gets shocked, it signifies a form of inert electricity. It is therefore imperative to note that the invented electrical devices do not necessary translate to the presence of electricity.

These devices are merely artistic inventions meant to collect and store electricity. Even before the invention of electricity, as we know it today, the Greeks had already discovered it. Greek philosophers had long discovered the existence of static electricity. All these scientists and philosophers played a great role in defining electricity, as we know it today. (Bocco, 2010)

Electricity Today

Benefits and Uses

Electricity forms a basic part in the life of each one of us. One thing that makes electricity readily available is that the resources used to make it are varied. Today, nearly all form of transport relies on electricity to function. From commuter trains to individual cars, electricity is needed to run them. Most cars being made today solely rely on electricity to spin the wheels that in turn moves the vehicle.

Apart from this new breed of vehicles, even the traditional models that rely on gas to power them still need electricity to launch the engines, control it and give energy to other supplementary parts. This shows that without electricity, the human race would not be able to move from one point to another using the available means of transport.

Apart from transport, nearly all home appliances require electricity to power them. From home heating systems, computers, transistor radios, TVs, and many other home appliances all require electricity to power them. On top of lighting, electricity is needed to facilitate communication. This is done through powering computers, mobile phones, fixed telephone lines, and most importantly in transmitting signals.

On top of this, the high-speed optical cables that have helped in connecting the world through high-speed internet require electricity to give out the signal used at every end of the cable. In the absence of electricity, the world would revert to the era of letter writing, lighting fires or even waving flags to pass across messages. (Iowa Public Television, 2004)

Industrial manufacturing, which is the driving force of every nation solely, relies on electricity to drive almost every part of the industry. This means that without electricity the manufacturing industry would halt. Another area where electricity is highly required is the entertainment sector. Today, MP3 players, hand held radios; Ipod’s are all regarded as part of life. All these appliances require electricity to operate.

Whether they are plugged to a source of electricity or powered by battery, they all consume electricity. This shows that without electricity human life would be devoid of entertainment. In rural areas, electricity is needed to bring about the much needed infrastructure development. All these uses prove that electricity is essential in the production and progression of any country. (Iowa Public Television, 2004)

Risks

Just as the uses of electricity are numerous, it also poses many risks if not handled carefully. Healthy Working Lives (2010) states that “harm can be caused to any person when they are exposed to ‘live parts’ that are either touched directly or indirectly by means of some conducting object or material”. (Healthy Working Lives, 2010)This can happen if one touches the live wire or if they are exposed to a material that is considered a good conductor of electricity.

In reality, voltages going beyond 50 are considered dangerous to human live. In average, electricity is considered to cause close to 1,000 deaths in America alone. This happens through electric shocks or burns caused when someone is exposed to live electric cables. On top of this, operating defective electrical equipments can cause fires. This can in return cause death or destroy property that becomes hard to replace.

In order to avoid these risks, it is important to understand how electricity operates, how to direct it, the risks that it contains, and one can avoid and control these risks. However, the benefits of using electricity by far outweigh the hazards. This makes the usage of electricity a necessity in the life of each person. On top of this, taking the necessary precautions can effectively reduce the hazards posed by electricity. (Healthy Working Lives, 2010)

Future of Electricity

The modern electrical supply system depends largely on the transmission network. The problem that this system poses is that the network was not made with the capacity to carry its current load. Due to increased demand, it has not been possible to update the infrastructure.

As the Iowa Public Television website (2004) suggests, this has left the current system “at the risk of experiencing power interruptions and outages from time to time”.(Iowa Public Television, 2004)In the coming days, the mode of transmitting electricity is most likely to undergo major transformations. In the coming days, many organizations will consider rationalization and the use of alternative energy sources to solve the power crisis. (Iowa Public Television, 2004)

Rationalization

According to a recent article by Pargman (2010), “labor rationalization will be replaced by energy rationalization in all activities and at all levels”. (Pargman, 2010) This is partly due to the rising cost of energy. In the recent past, there have been calls by bodies opposed to scientific and technological advancements to reduce the usage of electricity since it is viewed as a threat to people and their environment.

These calls to adopt rationalization of energy are not only being made by environment conservatives but also by governments worried about by the inability of the current energy production to meet demand.

Contrary to what many people think, rationalization is not meant to reduce the cost of electricity. Although reduction of cost might be a long-term goal, rationalization of consumption does not necessarily reduce the total consumption. On the contrary, it means using electricity in the best way possible to reduce wastage.

This is also meant to reduce the negative effect that electricity has on the environment. Although at a lower scale, rationalization of electricity is meant to reduce the high rates that organizations and individuals have to pay to access this important commodity. According to researchers, Britain spends more than $500 per year.

The electrical devices used by the British people are also estimated to release close 1.6 million tones of carbon monoxide in to the atmosphere. Most of these costs and emissions come from the home front and hence the need for rationalization by individuals. By rationalizing electricity, the world will be conserving sufficient power for the future. (Pargman, 2010)

Alternative Energies and their Benefits

As the production of electricity becomes more threatened, the world is slowly turning to the use of alternative energy. This alternative source comes from renewable sources like the sun and wind. Unlike the usual electricity, renewable energy produce clean energy compared to the one produced by fossil fuels. Unlike other sources of energy, alternative energy produces no known hazards to the environment. These hazards include toxic and radio active waste products, which are present in nuclear power.

According to ABS Alaskan (2008) “In addition to the lack of emissions and waste products, no valuable resources are “used up” with renewable resource power generation.” (ABS Alaskan, 2008) In fact, the materials used in the manufacture of alternative energy, which are usually solar and wind power, are free.

On top of this, despite the magnitude of the usage, these raw materials would never run out. Unlike electrical generators that produce much noise and use expensive diesel, the alternative sources of electricity do not produce any noise and are free. Given the increased usage of electricity and the inability of the available raw materials to cope with the demand, the world will soon turn to the use of solar energy. (ABS Alaskan, 2008)

Conclusion

The history of inventing electricity has been a long journey. Many scientists participated in this journey and their overall efforts gave rise to the current form of electricity. It is hard to point an exact date as the time when electricity was invented.

However, 1752 was a turning point in the invention of electricity when Benjamin Franklin proved that lightening and static electricity that the Greeks had earlier invented was one and the same thing. When a breakthrough was arrived at, the world opened its arms to a new level of operation. Today, electricity forms a basic part in the life of everyone. From transport to communication, the world would be hard to be run without electricity.

However, the future of electricity looks uncertain due to the increased demand and the reduction in supply. This has made the world to turn its attention to the use of alternative energy. Compared to nuclear power, alternative or renewable energy provides more benefits. Electricity has definitely made life more comfortable compared to the olden days.

References

ABS Alaskan. (2008) Alternative Energy Information. Alternative Energy Information and its Benefits. Retrieved from
www.absak.com/library/alternative-renewable-energy

Bocco, D. (2010) Who Discovered Electricity? Retrieved from
http://www.wisegeek.com/who-discovered-electricity.htm

Gavin Electrical. (2007) History of Electricity. Retrieved from
http://www.gavinelectrical.com/content/history.htm

Healthy Working Lives. (2010). Electricity. What are the Risks from Electricity? Retrieved from
ttp://www.healthyworkinglives.com/advice/workplace-hazards/electricity.aspx.

Iowa Public Television. (2004) Electricity. Retrieved from
http://www.iptv.org/exploremore/energy/uses/electricity.cfm/

Pargman, D. (2010) Life After Oil. Death of Rationalization. Retrieved from
http://www.energybulletin.net/51140

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