Innovations in electricity

Although the modern electrical utility industry did not begin until the late 1800s, electricity has fascinated us since our ancestors first saw lightning. The ancient Greeks discovered that rubbing amber produced an electrical charge. Electricity is a basic part of nature and is one of our most used forms of energy. It is a secondary energy source that we obtain from the conversion of primary sources such as natural gas, oil, coal and nuclear energy. Many cities and towns were built next to waterfalls that turned water wheels to perform work. Before the beginning of electricity generation, kerosene lamps lit homes, ice chests were used to keep food cold, and rooms were heated by stoves. Today’s “necessities” such as light bulbs, fans, air conditioners, and refrigerators stem from the ideas of inventors who lived more than 100 years ago. Many of us are familiar with Benjamin Franklin’s famous kite experiment and Thomas Edison’s electric light bulb, but there were many other inventors who greatly contributed to our modern uses of electricity. Some of these inventors simply sought to improve on old ideas and others saw the need and let their curiosity run wild with each experiment until they discovered something new. Each invention paved the way for the next.

In the mid-17th century, Otto von Guericke, a German physicist, began experimenting with generating electricity. In 1670 he invented the first machine to produce electricity in large quantities using a spinning ball of sulfur and holding his hand against the ball, charging it with electricity. Others, like Isaac Newton, later used this machine by using a glass ball instead of sulfur, and then a cylinder, and then a glass plate.

In 1747 Benjamin Franklin began to experiment with electricity and proposed the notion of positive and negative charge. He performed his famous kite experiment to show that lightning was a form of electrical discharge in 1752. During a thunderstorm, he flew a kite with a stiff wire pointing upwards attached to the top of the kite and a key tied to the other end of the rope , and let it hang near a jar. The rope got wet from the rain and caused sparks to fly from the key into the jar until the jar couldn’t take any more loads. This experiment showed that electricity and lightning are the same thing and that pointed rods conduct electricity better than balls, which led Franklin to invent the lightning rod. From this experiment, the principles of electricity were gradually understood.

In 1800, an Italian professor, Alessandro Volta, invented the voltaic battery which is now called an electric cell or battery. He made a stack of disks out of zinc, paper soaked in acid or salt, and copper, and when he touched both ends he received a shock. The volt is named after Volta. Another, who in the first half of the 19th century contributed greatly to our modern uses of electricity, was Michael Faraday. He conducted experiments on electricity and magnetism that led to modern inventions like the motor, generator, telegraph, and telephone. In 1831 he experimented with induction and discovered a way to generate a lot of electricity at once. We use its principle of electromagnetic induction to generate electricity today in electric utility plants.

In the mid-19th century, the invention of the electric light bulb changed everyone’s life. This invention used electricity to bring indoor lighting into our homes. Thomas Edison, an American inventor, did not invent the light bulb, but he improved on a 50-year-old idea and invented an incandescent light bulb. Many people before him had developed forms of electric lighting, but none of them were practical for home use. In 1879, after experimenting for a year and a half, he used lower-current electricity, a charred filament of sewing thread, and an improved vacuum inside the globe to produce a practical electric light bulb. Edison demonstrated his incandescent lighting system to the public as he electrically illuminated the Menlo Park laboratory complex. He realized the need for an electrical distribution system to provide power for lighting and in 1882 the first central commercial incandescent electricity generating station provided light and electric power to customers in a one square mile area in the city of New York. This was the beginning of the electric age, as the industry was evolving from gas and electric carbon arc street and commercial lighting systems. In the late 1880s, the demand for electric motors drove industry to 24-hour service, and the demand for electricity for transportation and the needs of industry increased dramatically. Many US cities now had small central stations, however each was limited to an area of ​​only a few blocks due to inefficiencies of direct current (DC) transmission. As electricity spread throughout the world, Edison’s various electric companies continued to expand until they came together to form Edison General Electric in 1889. Three years later, Edison General Electric merged with its main competitor Thompson-Houston and the company simply became General Electric.

One of Thomas Edison’s main rivals was George Westinghouse Jr., a pioneer in the electrical industry. In 1886 he founded the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company to pursue alternating current (AC) technology. An AC power system allowed voltages to be “stepped up” by a transformer for distribution, which reduced power losses, and then “stepped down” by a transformer for consumer use. He thought Edison’s low-voltage direct current-based power grid was too inefficient to be scaled up to a large size. In 1885, Westinghouse purchased power transformers developed by Lucien Gaulard and John Dixon Gibbs. Transformers were not a new invention, however this design was one of the first that could handle large amounts of power, and yet it was easily manufactured. Using these transformers and a Siemens alternating current generator, he began experimenting with alternating current networks. Westinghouse worked to refine the transformer design and build a practical alternating current electrical network with the help of William Stanley and Franklin Leonard Pope. In 1886, Westinghouse and Stanley installed the first multi-voltage alternating current power system. The network was powered by a hydroelectric generator that produced 500 volts. The voltage was increased to 3,000 volts for distribution and later reduced to 100 volts to power the electric lights. This device made it possible to extend electrical service over a wide area and allowed the availability of alternating current in different voltages, forming the basis of modern electrical power distribution. Over the next year, 30 more AC lighting systems were installed, but the method was limited because they lacked an efficient metering system and an AC electric motor. In 1888, Westinghouse and his engineer Oliver Shallenberger created a power meter that would be more effective, and the same basic meter technology is still in use today.

Nikola Tesla was one of the most important contributors to the birth of commercial electricity. He was originally an employee of Thomas Edison and invented a system that transmitted alternating current, as opposed to Edison’s direct current system. Edison opposed Tesla’s idea, so Tesla established his own laboratory and announced his invention of the first practical alternating current induction motor and polyphase power transmission system in 1888. The polyphase system would allow the transmission of current electricity. alternates over long distances. Westinghouse asked Nikola Tesla to join his electric company where Tesla continued his work on the alternating current induction motor and Westinghouse acquired exclusive patent rights to Tesla’s polyphase system. All of our current electric motors work according to principles established by Tesla, like the motor that produces high-frequency signals used in radios and televisions. He also set the standard for the transmission current frequency, 60 hertz, which we still operate today.

Westinghouse and Edison fought over the distribution of alternating current power and direct current power. Edison used only direct current because he thought alternating current was dangerous, but Westinghouse thought the risks could be controlled and outweighed the benefits. Even General Electric eventually switched to alternating current. In 1893, the Westinghouse Company won the contract to establish an AC grid to light the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and later to establish the first long-range power grid using three giant AC generators to harness power from the Falls. Niagara into electrical energy. power for distribution 25 miles away.

Now, more than 100 years later, think about how much we use and depend on electricity every day to meet what we consider to be our “basic needs” like alarm clocks, traffic lights, computers, and televisions. When we walk into a dark room and flip on the light switch, we expect instant light. It is interesting to think that this was once just a dream and it took many inventors to make it come true.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *