Electricity is the power that drives the world, and we cannot think of living without power. From televisions and refrigerators to vehicles and computers, everything runs on electricity. Most of it is generated in different types of power plants, which use fossil fuels, nuclear power, wind, water, or geothermal energy as the various sources of electricity.
How to Generate Electricity
Electricity is generated in different types of power plants. The basic mechanism involves use of the various sources to rotate the blades of a turbine and generate electricity. As the blades rotate, electricity is produced in the generator. This principle was first found by British scientist Michael Faraday. As per the principle, when an electrical conductor (say copper wire) is rotated between the poles of a magnet, electricity is generated.
Sources of Electricity
Fossil Fuel: Fossil fuels include coal, oil and natural gas. Fossil fuels were formed millions of years ago when dead plants and animal remains got buried under layers of soil and under pressure and temperature, got converted into their present form. Fossil fuels are the main source of electricity in the US. Almost 49.8% of electricity in the US is generated by burning coal. For long these have been the most widely used source of electrical energy in the world. However, as a result of heavy dependence of the world on fossil fuel for source of electrical energy, they are being depleted at a much faster rate than they can be formed. This is putting strain on the remaining deposits of fossil fuel and making the world look for alternative energy sources. A major problem of using fossil fuels to generate electricity is that burning them gives out a lot of toxic gases that pollute the environment and contribute to global warming.
Nuclear Energy: Nuclear energy is obtained through nuclear fission. This process involves the splitting of nuclei of certain elements, which results in the release of a large amount of energy. The fissile material most commonly used are Uranium - 235 and Plutonium - 239. Due to its immense potential, lot of research is being done on nuclear energy so that it becomes one of the major electricity sources. However, one major problem of using nuclear energy as an electric power source is managing nuclear waste. These are radioactive products whose radiations can have harmful effects on the living things. Although utmost care is being taken so that they are safely disposed, effects of nuclear radiations on the plant life in the oceans where they are dumped mostly raises a big question of the efficiency of these measures. Also, despite the fact that the fission reactions are very well controlled in nuclear power plants, in case the checks fail, it can lead to a nuclear disaster.
Renewable Sources: They can be replenished naturally. Due to the fact that increased use of fossil fuels has led to the depletion of these sources, the world is now looking towards the various renewable sources in the world. The most common forms of renewable energy are:
Hydropower: As the name suggests it is water that is the source of energy in this case. Water is stored at a height where is gains potential energy. This water is then dropped from the high storage unit that turns the turbine blades.
Solar Energy: It is converted either directly into electricity with the use of solar cells or photovoltaic cells or indirectly by using solar thermal collectors that harvest solar energy. This energy is used to produce steam that generates electricity in the generators. However, the major drawback of this technique is its dependence on intensity of sunlight.
Wind Energy: Windmills or wind turbines are erected at elevated places where they harvest wind energy. However the disadvantage of this source is that wind does not blow with the same velocity at all times.
Other forms of renewable energy resources are biomass, geothermal energy, and tidal energy.
Out of the above sources, a few have been used since long, while others are recent inclusions to the list. Nevertheless, the whole world is working to find a reliable (preferably renewable) source of electricity that can meet the world's never ending need of power.