Do you know what electric energy is? Do you know how it works? Do you know how it’s produced?
In this article, we’ll answer the question “what is electrical energy” and explain how it’s made.
What is Electrical Energy?
To understand electrical energy, let’s first talk a bit about other types of energy.
Imagine that you have an apple in your hand, stand up, hold your arm above your head, and drop the apple. At the highest point, before gravity comes into effect, that apple has a certain amount of potential energy. Potential energy is defined as energy an object has by virtue of its distance from other objects and other factors.
The potential energy of the apple can be figured out by doing a bit of math.
As the apple falls, that potential energy turns into kinetic energy. Kinetic energy is a type of energy a moving body has. The longer the fall, the more kinetic energy the apple will develop. The shorter the fall, the less kinetic energy it will have.
If you placed that apple onto a table it would have zero potential energy and zero kinetic energy unless it was somehow moved or disturbed. Save some outside factor causing it to move, the apple will just sit there.
Electric energy works in a similar way.
Electric energy is just electrons moving from one end of a system to the other, and can be thought of as a type of potential energy, just like the apple.
Unlike the apple, gravity doesn’t move electrons. Charges do.
Let’s look at a battery as an example.
In a battery, there are two ends, a positive and a negative. When you first get a battery, a chemical within it creates an electrical charge. This electrical potential energy exists between the positive and negative ends. So think of electrical energy in terms of the apple. A charged, unused battery is like an apple sitting on the table. It’s not doing anything.
Attach the ends of a battery to a light bulb with wires and now this potential electric energy, or electrons, begin to flow and the bulb lights up. Electrons will keep doing this until either the battery loses its initial charge or you disconnect the path (e.g. wires).
That’s really all you need to know about electric energy. It’s basically the potential and kinetic energy of electrons.
The only thing that changes is where a given electrical system gets its electrical energy.
What Are The Different Ways To Produce Electric Energy?
We already talked about batteries and how they work, but batteries aren’t the only examples of electrical energy. There are many other tools and resources which can also help create electrical energy as well. Most electric energy is produced by spinning a loop of wire inside a ring of magnets (e.g. “generator”). Historically and even to this day large power plants have been the primary source of electric energy production, delivered to your home through the power grid.
Here are just a few of the ways mankind has found to produce electrical energy:
Nuclear power plants - Nuclear power plants use nuclear reactions to heat up water until it turns to steam. This steam is then used to turn giant turbine blades. When they move, these turbines turn a generator which then creates electricity.
Windmills - The blades of a windmill are moved by the force of the wind. Those moving blades turn a generator inside creating electric energy.
Hydroelectric plants - You’ll notice that there’s a pattern forming. Like the previous two methods of creating electrical energy, hydroelectric plants also use a generator. This generator is turned on by turbine blades, which move due to rushing water driven by gravity.
Solar panels - We have an entire article dedicated to this topic, but here are the most important details.
First, rooftop solar panels collect sunlight using photovoltaic (PV) cells. The electricity that these PV cells collect is a form of electric energy called direct current.
Second, your solar energy system’s inverters convert the direct current electricity into alternating current. This is the type of electricity that your house can actually use. After your house is done using the alternating current electricity, whatever is left is sent to the grid where, depending on where you live, it could get you some money back on your utility bill.
These are all different ways to create electrical energy. Some are more useful than others depending on the location. For example, a hydroelectric plant probably won’t be very useful in an area with few rivers, but windmills might be.
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