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Nuclear Power Plant Isar, Germany

Spent nuclear fuel pool

Turbine of a nuclear plant

Electric Energy

Electric energy

Electric energy is the movement of electrons. It can also be called electricity. We define electricity as the form of energy that results from the existence of a potential difference between two points.

When these two points are brought into contact by an electrical conductor like a copper wire, we obtain an electric current.

Electricity has many technical applications. Many of the phenomena related to electricity can be measured and calculated with great precision.

Characteristics of electric energy

Typically, these negative electrical charges (electrons) move through the electrical conductor. Normally the conductor is made of a metallic material because they have a greater amount of free electrons.

Electrons and protons are charged particles within an electric field. Electric fields are simply areas surrounding these particles.

The electrical charges that move through the conductor are part of the atoms of the substances in the conductor itself.

In general, an atom has a neutral charge. This means that it has the same number of positive charges (protons) as negative charges (neutrons). However, some atoms have an electric charge: they are ions.

Types of current

Depending on the movement of the charges there are two types of currents in an electrical circuit.

  1. Direct current. Electric charges move linearly through the electrical conductor. Photovoltaic cells generate electric energy in DC.

  2. Alternating current. The electrons vibrate generating ripples. Power stations supply in AC.

How is electric energy generated?

Electric power just can't be found freely in nature in a way that can be exploited. It can be seen in thunderstorms but in practice, you cannot store and control such a large amount of energy.

Power plants are capable of producing electricity from different sources. The different types of plants will depend on the energy source they use.

These sources of energy can be classified into:

  • Renewable sources of energy.

  • Non-renewable sources of energy.

Renewable energy sources

Renewable energies use types of energy in which fuel is not used or it is inexhaustible. Some examples of renewable energy are:

  • Photovoltaic Solar Energy. Photovoltaic panels convert light energy into electricity.

  • Wind power. Wind turbines take advantage of the kinetic energy of the wind. They transform it into mechanical energy and later into electricity.

  • Hydroelectric power. Hydroelectric power plants transform potential energy from water into electricity through a system of turbines.

  • Geothermal energy, which benefits from the heat inside the Earth.

Non-renewable energy sources

The ways of non-renewable electricity generation require a fuel that, however abundant it is, tends to run out. Some examples of non-renewable are:

  • The nuclear energy. Nuclear power plants need uranium to get nuclear fission reactions. Since we cannot generate more uranium than can be mined in uranium mines. Currently, there are 58 operating nuclear power plants in United States.

  • Thermoelectrical energy, which harnesses the calorific value of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas. In addition, thermoelectric power plants can also use gas turbines. In these cases, they are called combined cycle power plants.

How do electric power plants work?

Electricity is considered as a secondary energy source. For this reason, it has to be produced by transformation of a primary energy source. In this process, the performance, always under 100%, is produced within the electric power generation plants.

Electric energy

In all electrical energy production plants, with the exception of photovoltaic solar energy plants, three elements are needed to produce electricity:

Thermoelectric power plants work heating water in order to get steam. Afterward, this steam drives a turbine connected to an electric generator.

Summary

Electric energy is the movement of electrical charges through an electrical conductor. Depending on how it moves it can be an alternating current or a direct current.

To generate electricity there are different types of power plants. Depending on the origin of the energy sources they use, they can be renewable or non-renewable energy.

References

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Published: January 2, 2014
Last review: June 9, 2020