Electrical energy is an essential component of our daily lives. From lighting our homes to powering our electronic devices and keeping most modern technologies running, this form of energy has revolutionized the way we live and work.
The discovery and understanding of electricity and its ability to do work has been fundamental in the evolution of technology and the improvement of the quality of life.
Definition: What Is Electrical Energy?
Electrical energy is a form of energy that results from the existence of an electrical potential difference between two points. In other words, it is the energy that is generated due to the presence of moving electrical charges, such as electrons.
This energy manifests itself as electric current, which is the flow of electrons through a conductor.
Characteristics of Electrical Energy
From a technical and physical point of view, electrical energy is characterized by a series of unique properties that distinguish it from other forms of energy.
Here are some of the most notable features of electricity:
Electrical charge: Electrical energy is intrinsically linked to the electrical charge of subatomic particles, especially electrons and protons. Electrons have a negative charge and protons have a positive charge.
Electric current: Electric current is the flow of electrical charges through a conductor and is measured in amperes (A). The conventional direction of current is stated as the flow of positive charges, although in reality it is the electrons that move in the opposite direction.
Voltage or voltage: Voltage, measured in volts (V), represents the difference in electrical potential between two points in a circuit. It is what drives the flow of electrons and is needed to generate an electric current.
Resistance: Electrical resistance, measured in ohms (Ω), opposes the flow of current in a conductor. The higher the resistance, the lower the current flow.
Electrical power: Electrical power, measured in watts (W), is the rate at which work is done with electric current. It is calculated as the product of current and voltage (P = IV).
Energy and work: Electrical energy is measured in joules (J) and represents the amount of work that can be done thanks to the electric current.
Electric field: Electrically charged objects generate electric fields that affect other electrically charged particles, exerting electrical forces between them.
Energy Transformation: Electrical energy can be converted into other forms of energy, such as mechanical energy in electric motors, light energy in light bulbs, and thermal energy in electric heating devices.
Types of Electrical Energy
From the point of view of physics, the types of electrical energy can be understood as follows:
Dynamic Electrical Energy
Dynamic electrical energy is the most common type and is related to electrical current in motion. It is generated when electrons flow through a conductor, such as a wire, due to an electrical potential difference.
This current can do work, such as lighting light bulbs, running electric motors, or charging electronic devices. There are two types of current: direct current, in which electrons flow linearly, and alternating current, in which electrons vibrate to generate electrical impulses.
Static Electrical Energy
Static electrical energy refers to the accumulation of electrical charges on an object, without current flow.
This occurs when two objects with opposite charges are charged by friction, such as rubbing a balloon on a sweater. Although not used to power devices, static energy can cause noticeable effects such as sparks and electric shock.
This type of energy is what lightning generates.
Electromagnetic energy is a form of energy that spreads in the form of electromagnetic waves, such as visible light, microwaves, and radio waves.
These waves consist of electric and magnetic fields that propagate through space, and are fundamental in modern technology, as they allow the transmission of information and the generation of energy through solar panels and antennas.
How Is Electrical Energy Generated?
Electrical energy can hardly be found freely in nature in a form that can be used. It can be observed in electrical storms but in practice such an amount of energy cannot be stored and controlled.
Power plants are capable of producing electricity from different sources. The different types of plants will depend on the energy source they use.
We can classify these sources into renewable energy sources and non-renewable sources.
Renewable Energy Sources
The ways of generating renewable electrical energy are those that use types of energy in which no fuel is used or the fuel is inexhaustible. Some examples of renewable energy are:
Photovoltaic solar energy: works through photovoltaic panels that convert light energy into electricity.
Wind energy: it is used through the wind turbines of the wind farms, which are capable of transforming the force of the wind into mechanical energy and subsequently into electricity.
Hydroelectric energy: Hydroelectric plants transform the potential energy of water into electricity through a system of turbines.
Geothermal energy: This type of energy benefits from the heat inside the Earth.
Non-renewable Energy Sources
The ways of generating non-renewable electrical energy require a fuel that, no matter how abundant, tends to run out. Some examples of non-renewable are:
Fossil fuels: Conventional thermal power plants use fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas to obtain thermal energy and generate electricity. However, these fuels are extracted from the earth but are not regenerated.
Transportation and Distribution of Electrical Energy
Electrical energy transportation is a crucial process to take electricity from generation plants to consumption points, such as homes and industries. It begins with the generation of electricity in power plants, which use various sources, such as fossil fuels, hydroelectric, solar or wind energy, to produce electricity using electrical generators.
Once generated, electricity is transported over long distances via high-voltage transmission lines. These lines minimize energy losses during transportation and can operate with alternating or direct current depending on needs. In transmission substations, the voltage is adjusted and different power sources are interconnected.
The electricity is then distributed through local distribution networks, using lower voltage lines and alternating current. Transformers are used to adjust voltage levels throughout the process. Distribution substations monitor and improve the quality of electrical power before it reaches consumers.
Finally, the electricity is delivered to homes and businesses, where their consumption is measured using electric meters. Modern power grids use advanced technology, such as automation and real-time monitoring, to ensure efficient and reliable distribution of electricity.