Electricity and Magnetism

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Electricity is another elusive word meaning different things to different people. Power companies use electricity to mean electrical energy; many trade books talk of electricity as the flow of electrons, while others talk of electricity as being synonymous with electric charge. Whatever electricity is, it is closely associated with the imbalance between positive and negative charges within matter.

Unlike other forms of energy, electricity is not a source of energy, but rather a convenient and cost-effective way to carry energy between two points. For example, we can use the chemical energy of coal to operate a power plant. Electrical transmission wires carry the electricity that is produced by the plant to our homes, where it is used to provide thermal energy through an electric heater, give off light through an electric light bulb, produce power to run an elevator or operate a TV, or emit sound energy through a speaker. Along the way, a small portion of the energy is lost to the atmosphere as waste heat. The versatility of electricity, exhibited by its ability to carry out so many tasks, is one reason it is considered to be a very high quality form of energy.

Worldwide, 36% of all the energy consumed is used to produce 14 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity. In the United States, half of all energy consumed is in the form of electrical energy, for a total installed capacity of 900 gigawatts or about one quarter of the world’s total (1).

In this chapter, we will become familiar with the laws governing the flow, production, storage, and transmission of electricity, as well as issues of electrical safety.


(1) Energy Information Agency, EIA, US Department of Energy (2004 data).

(2) Toossi Reza, "Energy and the Environment:Sources, technologies, and impacts", Verve Publishers, 2005

Further Reading

Bureau of Naval Personnel, Basic Electricity, Dover Publishing Company.

The Environmental Effects of Electricity Generation, IEEE, 1995.

The Electricity Journal, Direct Science Elsevier Publishing Company, This journal addresses issues related to generating power from natural gas-fired cogeneration and renewable energy plants (wind power, biomass, hydro and solar).

International Journal of Electrical Power and Energy Systems, Direct Science Elsevier Publishing Company.

Home Power Magazine (http://www.homepower.com).

External Links

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (http://www.ferc.gov).

Energy Information Agency, Department of Energy (http://www.eia.doe.gov/fuelelectric.htm).

California Energy Commission (http://www.energy.ca.gov/electricity).

National Council on Electricity Policy (http://www.ncouncil.org).

Southern California Edison (http://www.sce.com).

Pacific Gas and Electric (http://www.pge.com).