Introduction to Electricity and Electronics

lightbulb with hot filament
electricity flows through the lightbulb filament, as a result the filament begins to glow and starts emitting light. Oliver Cleve/Getty Images

Basics

Electricity is a form of energy involving the flow of electrons. All matter is made up of atoms, which has a center called a nucleus. The nucleus contains positively charged particles called protons and uncharged particles called neutrons. The nucleus of an atom is surrounded by negatively charged particles called electrons. The negative charge of an electron is equal to the positive charge of a proton, and the number of electrons in an atom is usually equal to the number of protons.

When the balancing force between protons and electrons is upset by an outside force, an atom may gain or lose an electron. And when electrons are "lost" from an atom, the free movement of these electrons constitutes an electric current.

Humans and electricity

Electricity is a basic part of nature and it is one of our most widely used forms of energy. Humans get electricity, which is a secondary energy source, from the conversion of other sources of energy, like coal, natural gas, oil and nuclear power. The original natural sources of electricity are called primary sources.

Many cities and towns were built alongside waterfalls (a primary source of mechanical energy) that turned water wheels to perform work. And before electricity generation began slightly over 100 years ago, houses were lit with kerosene lamps, food was cooled in iceboxes, and rooms were warmed by wood-burning or coal-burning stoves.

Beginning with Benjamin Franklin's experiment with a kite one stormy night in Philadelphia, the principles of electricity gradually became understood. In the mid-1800s, everyone's life changed with the invention of the electric light bulb. Prior to 1879, electricity had been used in arc lights for outdoor lighting.

The lightbulb's invention used electricity to bring indoor lighting to our homes.

Generating electricity

An electric generator (Long ago, a machine that generated electricity was named "dynamo" today's preferred term is "generator") is a device for converting mechanical energy into electrical energy. The process is based on the relationship between magnetism and electricity. When a wire or any other electrically conductive material moves across a magnetic field, an electric current occurs in the wire.

The large generators used by the electric utility industry have a stationary conductor. A magnet attached to the end of a rotating shaft is positioned inside a stationary conducting ring that is wrapped with a long, continuous piece of wire. When the magnet rotates, it induces a small electric current in each section of wire as it passes. Each section of wire constitutes a small, separate electric conductor. All the small currents of individual sections add up to one current of considerable size. This current is what is used for electric power.

An electric utility power station uses either a turbine, engine, water wheel, or other similar machine to drive an electric generator or device that converts mechanical or chemical energy to electricity.

Steam turbines, internal-combustion engines, gas combustion turbines, water turbines, and wind turbines are the most common methods to generate electricity. Continue...How Electricity is Generated