Electricity generation is the process of creating electricity from other forms of energy.
The fundamental principles of electricity generation were discovered during the 1820s and early 1830s by the British scientist Michael Faraday. His basic method is still used today: electricity is generated by the movement of a loop of wire, or disc of copper between the poles of a magnet.
For electric utilities, it is the first process in the delivery of electricity to consumers. The other processes, electric power transmission, electricity distribution, and electrical power storage and recovery using pumped storage methods are normally carried out by the electrical power industry.
Electricity is most often generated at a power station by electromechanical generators, primarily driven by heat engines fueled by chemical combustion or nuclear fission but also by other means such as the kinetic energy of flowing water and wind. There are many other technologies that can be and are used to generate electricity such as solar photovoltaics and geothermal power.
Methods of generating electricity
There are seven fundamental methods of directly transforming other forms of energy into electrical energy:
- Static electricity, from the physical separation and transport of charge (examples: triboelectric effect and lightning)
- Electromagnetic induction, where an electrical generator, dynamo or alternator transforms kinetic energy (energy of motion) into electricity
- Electrochemistry, the direct transformation of chemical energy into electricity, as in a battery, fuel cell or nerve impulse
- Photoelectric effect, the transformation of light into electrical energy, as in solar cells
- Thermoelectric effect, direct conversion of temperature differences to electricity, as in thermocouples, thermopiles, and Thermionic converters.
- Piezoelectric effect, from the mechanical strain of electrically anisotropic molecules or crystals
- Nuclear transformation, the creation and acceleration of charged particles (examples: betavoltaics or alpha particle emission)
Static electricity was the first form discovered and investigated, and the electrostatic generator is still used even in modern devices such as the Van de Graaff generator and MHD generators. Electrons are mechanically separated and transported to increase their electric potential.
Almost all commercial electrical generation is done using electromagnetic induction, in which mechanical energy forces an electrical generator to rotate. There are many different methods of developing the mechanical energy, including heat engines, hydro, wind and tidal power.
The direct conversion of nuclear energy to electricity by beta decay is used only on a small scale. In a full-size nuclear power plant, the heat of a nuclear reaction is used to run a heat engine. This drives a generator, which converts mechanical energy into electricity by magnetic induction.
Most electric generation is driven by heat engines. The combustion of fossil fuels supplies most of the heat to these engines, with a significant fraction from nuclear fission and some from renewable sources. The modern steam turbine invented by Sir Charles Parsons in 1884 - today generates about 80 percent of the electric power in the world using a variety of heat sources.