Wednesday, May 25, 2016 ELECTRICITYENERGY 101
Most of us take electricity for granted – it’s just there when we need it, at the flick of a switch. But how much do we really know about what it is and where it comes from? It’s the bright minds of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla that we have to thank for this on-demand convenience of ready-to-use energy, and it was Tesla’s breakthrough with alternating current in the late 1800s that really put it on the map. AC made it cheaper and easier to transmit electricity over long distances, making this form of energy widely accessible.
Electricity is a secondary energy source, which means that it is generated through the conversion of primary (natural) sources – fossil fuels, natural gas, wind or solar power, for example. An electrical charge is transported from power plants to our homes and businesses through transmission lines, arriving in a handy, usable form.
The lighting, heating and cooling of homes and commercial buildings have long been key players in its consumption, but with the rapid advance of electrical appliances and technology, our usage has expanded and diversified. Modern appliances and electronics now make up nearly one-third of the energy that we use in our homes, with much of that consumption happening “passively”. Sure, you probably turn most of your lights off overnight, or when you leave the house, but then there’s the refrigerator that chugs awa rain or shine, the washing machine that runs while you’re out, and the phone that charges next to your bed while you sleep.
In terms of business, the wide availability and adoption of electricity inevitably revolutionized industrial machinery. Today, many businesses primarily rely on it for lighting, heating and air conditioning of offices, as well as for extensive banks of computers.
Globally, about 80% of people now have access to electricity, but our usage and consumption levels vary greatly. Factors such as wealth, lifestyle, size of homes, climate, cost and access to alternative fuels all have a role to play.
According to data from the US Energy Information Administration, Asia and Oceania topped the rankings for total net electricity consumption in 2012, at 8108 kWh, and more than half of this can be attributed to China (4468 kWh). North America came in at 4592 kWh and Europe at 3313 kWh. By contrast, energy consumption across the whole of Africa in 2012 only reached 600 kWh.
Over 75% of the electricity used globally is produced by the burning of fossil fuels, releasing carbon dioxide and other gases into the atmosphere that contribute to global warming. The “cleanest” electricity is that which has been generated from renewable sources, such as wind and solar energy.
It’s easy to be frivolous with electricity in our homes and businesses because it seems to just be there, waiting in the wings (or walls) to be called into action, but doing what we can to be more efficient in our usage is not only environmentally friendly but can also translate into significant money savings.