The term electricity generation is a very straightforward term that suggests the process of generating electricity from primary sources of energy. In any power system, the most crucial and fundamental part begins with the generation of electricity. Electricity is a form of energy that is not present freely in nature and must usually be produced. The production of electricity is primarily carried out in power stations. Before we get down to breaking the electricity generation sector into various viewpoints, let’s first take a peek into the history of the electricity generation sector.
The foundation of electricity generation was laid back as far as the 1820s and early 1830s by a famous British scientist named Michael Faraday. The method he invented as far back as the 1830s is still being used today! He was able to generate electricity by moving a copper wire bent in the form of a loop through the poles of two permanent magnets. The development of electric power stations only became feasible with the development of Alternating Current (AC) power transmission. AC power transmission helped to transmit high levels of power with low voltage losses.
Commercial electricity production kicked off in the 1870s with the advent of the coupling of the dynamo with hydraulic power plants. The 1870s has often been referred to as the Second Industrial Revolution due to the plethora of inventions by two heavyweights of the time—Thomas Alva Edison and Nikola Tesla. Before such a mass electricity production unit was developed, it was only possible to generate small amounts of electricity with the help of chemical reactions using battery cells. In 1882, the introduction of a steam engine driving a dynamo was invented. This was used for the public lighting of Pearl Street in New York. The first large-scale power plants ever created were based on coal and hydro power.
Methods to Generate Electricity
There are many methods by which one can generate electricity. Some niche applications of electricity generation, rather than the conventionally bigger power stations, include the triboelectric effect, piezoelectric effect, and Betavoltaic devices. The triboelectric effect is a type of contact electrification in which certain materials become electrically charged after being separated from a different material with which they were in contact. The piezoelectric effect occurs when mechanical stress is placed upon certain materials, which tend to produce a certain amount of electricity. Betavoltaic devices act in the form of batteries by producing electricity through the absorption of beta waves from nuclear decay.
Other major forms of electricity generation include generators, electrochemistry reactions, and photovoltaics. The most widely and commonly used method of generating electricity is in the form of Generators. Generators are the most widely used form for generating electricity and, as stated earlier, is based on Faraday’s Law. Almost all commercial electricity generation is done by harnessing the mechanical energy of the rotor of the generator. The different fuels used to generate the mechanical energy for the rotor of the generator is described in the following pie chart:
Electrochemistry is the second-most popular means of generating electricity and is defined as a direct transformation of chemical energy into electricity, i.e., in the case of a battery. Electrochemical electricity generation is very important in portable and mobile applications. Currently, most electrochemical power comes from batteries. The most common forms of batteries are zinc-carbon batteries, which act as direct power sources, but secondary cells (i.e., rechargeable batteries) are used for storage systems, rather than primary generation systems. Fuel cells are a unique kind of battery that use the osmotic power of water, wherein energy is harnessed from the splitting of hydrogen and oxygen atoms, which results in the release of energy.
The next most popular manner for the generation of electricity is the photovoltaic effect. The photovoltaic effect is a process by which light is turned into electricity. Photovoltaic panels convert sunlight into electricity. Although sunlight is free and abundant, solar power electricity is still more expensive than conventional industrially-generated mechanical energy. This is because the production costs of making highly efficient panels, along with regular maintenance, make solar panels an economically more expensive choice. Until recently, photovoltaic cells were primarily present in remote areas where the electric grid was unable to extend, so they proved to be a viable and reliable source of energy for homes in remote places.
With all that in mind, now you know how the electricity generation sector works through its various forms of generating electricity!