The Discovery And Ramifications Of Electricity Environmental Sciences

Essay add: 10-01-2017, 18:02   /   Views: 24

Electricity can be defined as the phenomenon of moving or stationary electrons and protons. Although electricity has always been present on our planet in countless forms, it remained little more than an intellectual curiosity until 1600, when an English scientist by the name of William Gilbert made a careful study of electricity and magnetism, distinguishing the lodestone effect from static electricity produced by rubbing amber. [1]A lodestone is a naturally occurring magnetized piece of magnetite which has the ability to attract pieces of iron. After this experiment he coined a New Latin word electricus('of amber') whose association gave rise to the words 'electric' and 'electricity' which we still use to this day .

Further research was conducted in this relatively new field by many prominent figures such as Otto von Guericke, Robert Boyle, Stephen Gray and Benjamin Franklin etc. As a result major discoveries and advancements were made in the next 300 years due to their work in this field. One of these was the fundamental principle of electricity generation by the British scientist Michael Faraday. His basic method is still used today: electricity is generated by the movement of a loop of wire, or disc of copper between the poles of a magnet.[2] It was experiments like these which transformed electricity from what was once not even considered important to become such an integral part of this world that living without it was now considered unfathomable.


With the discovery of Electricity and the subsequent technological advancements, the generation of electricity soon became important. As electricity gradually became a global phenomenon, more and more inventions were made that relied on it and consequently this also resulted in an increase in consumption of said quantity .Calls were made for widespread access of electricity as more and more people started to demand it's providence. This resulted in a considerable strain on what was a strained system still in its infancy. Electrical generation now began to take precedence over the majority of research being done. Scientists now had to turn to creating more efficient and economical methods of generation in order to meet the consumer demand with as little resources employed as possible.


These scientists were eventually able to construct power stations and plants which made use of the various forms of energies present on Earth. These resources can be categorized into 2 sub-groups namely renewable and non-renewable resources. Renewable resources (wind, solar etc.) are those which can never be finished via consumption while non-renewable resources (coal, oil etc.) can best be described as a limited quantity which can be completely consumed. An example of a non-renewable resource being utilized would be the Coal and Kerosene Power Plants in which materials known as fossil fuels undergo combustion to provide steam for turbines which in turn generate electricity. Although this method seemed to prove sufficient at that time and managed to stave off the impending energy crisis, due to the rapid usage and consequent depletion of these resources they are now estimated to be exhaustible within the next century. This forced the world to turn to the renewable energy sector so that the pressure could be averted from the non-renewable sector.


Even though the renewable energy sector is still considered a new field in terms of electricity generation, it had quickly become apparent that some headway would be required in this area to facilitate further production. This led to even further developments in this field and many theories were formulated and put forth .Some alternatives that were pondered upon and then utilized are described as follows:

Hydro electrical energy

Solar energy

Geothermal energy

Wind energy



Hydroelectric generation:

Hydroelectricity is the term referring to electricity generated by hydropower which is in turn the production of electrical power through the use of the gravitational force of falling or flowing water. It is the most widely used form of renewable energy in the world. There are at present three methods of producing electricity through this method. They are as follows:


Most hydroelectric power comes from the potential energy of dammed water driving a water turbine and generator. The power extracted from the water depends on the volume and on the difference in height between the source and the water's outflow. This height difference is called the head. The amount of potential energy in water is proportional to the head. To deliver water to a turbine while maintaining pressure arising from the head, a large pipe called a penstock may be used.[3]


This method produces electricity to supply high peak demands by moving water between reservoirs at different elevations. At times of low electrical demand, excess generation capacity is used to pump water into the higher reservoir. When there is higher demand, water is released back into the lower reservoir through a turbine. Pumped-storage schemes currently provide the most commercially important means of large-scale grid energy storage and improve the daily capacity factor of the generation system.[3]


Run-of-the-river hydroelectric stations are those with smaller reservoir capacities, thus making it impossible to store water.[3]


A tidal power plant makes use of the daily rise and fall of water due to tides; such sources are highly predictable, and if conditions permit construction of reservoirs, can also be dispatched to generate power during high demand periods. Less common types of hydro schemes use water's kinetic energy or undammed sources such as undershot waterwheels.[3]

Solar energy:

Solar energy is the energy derived from the sun via solar radiation. Solar powered electrical generation generally relies on photovoltaic and heat engines .This phenomenon is also used in the powering of satellites and explorers. These methods are very expensive and as such research is being conducted to make this endeavor more economical .Even with these hurdles it is steadily emerging as a major form of electricity generation via renewable energy. There are 2 methods of electricity generation through this resource which are as follows:

Photovoltaic panels

A solar cell, or photovoltaic cell (PV), is a device that converts light into electric current using the photoelectric effect. Photovoltaics (PV) generally is a method of generating electrical power by converting solar radiation into direct current electricity using semiconductors that exhibit the photovoltaic effect. Photovoltaic power generation employs solar panels comprising a number of cells containing a photovoltaic material. Materials presently used for photovoltaics include monocrystalline silicon, polycrystalline silicon, amorphous silicon, cadmium telluride, and copper indium selenide/sulfide.[4]

Concentrating solar power

Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) systems use lenses or mirrors and tracking systems to focus a large area of sunlight into a small beam. The concentrated heat is then used as a heat source for a conventional power plant. A wide range of concentrating technologies exists; the most developed are the parabolic trough, the concentrating linear fresnel reflector, the Stirling dish and the solar power tower. Various techniques are used to track the Sun and focus light. In all of these systems a working fluid is heated by the concentrated sunlight, and is then used for power generation or energy storage.[5]

Geothermal energy:

Geothermal energy is energy which is obtained by tapping the heat of the earth itself, both from kilometers deep into the Earth's crust and from some mere meters in a geothermal heat pump. It is expensive to build a power station but operating costs are low resulting in low energy costs for suitable sites. Ultimately, this energy derives from heat in the Earth's core .This has long been in usage for electricity production and will continue to be so in the future due to its near unlimited potential. There are three types of geothermal plants that are used. They are as follows:

Dry steam power plants

Dry steam plants are the simplest and oldest design. They directly use geothermal steam of 150°C or more to turn turbines.[6]

Flash steam power plants

Flash steam plants pull deep, high-pressure hot water into lower-pressure tanks and use the resulting flashed steam to drive turbines. They require fluid temperatures of at least 180°C, usually more. This is the most common type of plant in operation today.[7]

Binary cycle power plants

Binary cycle power plants are the most recent development, and can accept fluid temperatures as low as 57°C.[8] The moderately hot geothermal water is passed by a secondary fluid with a much lower boiling point than water. This causes the secondary fluid to flash to vapor, which then drives the turbines. This is the most common type of geothermal electricity plant being built today.[9] Both Organic Rankine and Kalina cycles are used. The thermal efficiency is typically about 10%.

Wind energy:

Wind power is the conversion of wind energy into a useful form of energy. Electricity is produced from this method by employing wind turbines in windy terrain which enables the turbines to produce a steady amount over a small period of time. This method is not widely used mostly due to the unpredictability of the wind and the expensive installation costs. At present this is the only method of producing electricity through wind power.


Biomass (plant material) is a renewable energy source because the energy it contains comes from the sun. Through the process of photosynthesis, plants capture the sun's energy. When the plants are burned, they release the sun's energy they contain. In this way, biomass functions as a sort of natural battery for storing solar energy. As long as biomass is produced sustainably, with only as much used as is grown, the battery will last indefinitely. In general there are two main approaches to using plants for energy production: growing plants specifically for energy use, and using the residues from plants that are used for other things. The best approaches vary from region to region according to climate, soils and geography.[10]


As these alternatives are implemented steadily around the globe, there is a growing belief that energy problems will soon be a thing of the past. As more and more research is done in these fields, the economic factors currently constraining major utilization of these renewable sources would be lessened dramatically and so would the reliance on non-renewable resources decrease. In the end science has always progressed and will probably continue to progress, and will eventually discover methods superior even to these resources. That is a vision but it is a vision that can turn into reality in the near future if proper time and funds are allocated to this sector.

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