Electricity is the king of energy. It moves at nearly the speed of light, it’s relatively easy to transport compared to other “fuels”, it doesn’t leave any nasty residue after you use it, and it can power a wide range of devices. Maybe the Greeks were onto something by depicting Zeus—the “King of the Gods”—with a lightning bolt.
While electricity has a rich history with many important discoveries from many important scientists, the means by which many people use electricity today wouldn’t have been possible without Michael Faraday. Faraday discovered that moving a magnet through coiled wire produced an electrical current. This discovery—which became known as electromagnetic induction—led to Faraday’s invention of the first electric generator. Since then, engineers have improved upon Faraday’s first design to create generators capable of producing hundreds of megawatts worth of electricity that supply the modern grid today.
Large-scale electricity generation is only made possible through primary energy sources, such as petroleum, natural gas, renewables, coal, and nuclear. In other words, electricity is a “purified” form of secondary energy. In the U.S., roughly 40% these primary energy sources are used to make electricity. The remaining 60% is used for transportation and raw heat (at a roughly even split).1
Of the 40% of primary energy that gets converted to electricity, 65% that output is wasted due to electrical system energy losses. The remaining 35% gets passed on to end-users. All this goes to show that it’s not necessarily energy supply that is valuable (otherwise we wouldn’t be wasting so much of it to generate electricity); it’s energetic order that we seek. Electricity is the byproduct of energetic order, and that’s why it’s so valuable.
- 2021. U.S. energy facts explained, https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/us-energy-facts/ ↩