Monday, January 7, 2013

History of Electricity - A Timeline of Innovation and Multiple Key Discoveries

The history of electricity is an interesting one. It outlines numerous inventions, key discoveries or milestones which collectively have brought us to where we are today. Understanding the evolution of the past and where we are today does contribute to what we should be doing going forward.
One of the first questions that arises when we think about the history or evolution of electricity is when electricity was invented or discovered and by who? In my opinion there does not seem to be a clear or single answer to this because electricity as we know it today is an outcome of multiple observations, inventions or key discoveries that took place over a extremely long period of time.
This timeline starts with the discovery of static electricity, invention of electric batteries, the concepts of voltage and Ohms law. From there direct current provided electricity to incandescent lights which was later replaced by alternating current. This was then distributed to homes on a widespread basis to address lighting and eventually appliances.
Returning now to today, just how do we generate electricity which we all take for granted? Electricity is generated or produced by several primary energy sources most notably coal, natural gas, nuclear power, petroleum. Some other renewable sources are hydro power, geothermal, solar, wind and biomass.
Why should we be concerned with understanding the history of electricity, timeline, discuss who invented or discovered it and how is it generated today?
The first main reason is to understand that the electricity is a secondary energy source. This means that it is generated from other primary energy sources. To draw out an example we can use the US. The Department of Energy has reported that during 2006 approximately 49% of the total electricity produced was generated from coal and about 19% from nuclear power generation. In terms of renewable sources, solar, wind, biomass and geothermal collectively generated about 5% of the overall electricity during the same period.
This helps me to introduce my second point which is the overall majority of electricity produced or generated in the US for this period was a result of using non-renewable energy sources. There is obviously a limitation further down the road which implies this course of action is not fully sustainable.
The last point to highlight is the journey or evolution of discoveries and innovations which have led us to where we are today will likely continue going forward. This implies that on-going usage of energy sources should be adapted, new or enhanced technologies that optimize electricity will ideally be deployed. The increased awareness today on energy conservation and renewable energy sources should act as a strong catalyst towards even further innovation over the coming years.
The take-away for consumers is we should collectively implement ways to conserve energy or more specifically save electricity wherever possible. In parallel to these energy conservation steps, adopting new renewable energy sources should be a key priority. The outcome ideally being to stimulate more innovation, similar to what we have see in the past.

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