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Electricity Generation

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Electricity Generation

The modern world runs on electricity. It is the backbone of the information age that we find ourselves in. Without electricity, you wouldn't be reading these words right now. This raises the question, however, how is electricity generated? On top of that, how do we get electricity out of the raw materials we have around us and how does it get to our houses? We're going to start discussing answers to these questions right here!

What is the meaning of electricity generation?

Before we do anything else, we should discuss what the words electricity generation mean. Electricity is a type of energy that occurs due to charged particles, which can be either static electricity or an electrical current. Static electricity is not within the scope of this topic, however, you can read more about it here. Generation is the production or creation of something. Therefore, we can say that electricity generation is the production of charged particles to create an electrical current.

Electricity generation is the production of a current, normally caused by charged particles moving through a material. In most cases, this material is a wire of some sort.

Sources and Methods of Electricity Generation

Electrical energy can be generated by multiple different sources. Some are raw materials, some are other forms of energy that are then converted into electrical energy. The next thing we want to look at is the different forms of electricity generation. On Earth, there are two main categories that methods for generating electricity fall into, and you may have heard these terms before. One category is renewable and the other is non-renewable, and both categories have a series of sources or generation methods.

You may have heard the terms clean energy and renewable energy used interchangeably before but we need to make it clear that not all renewable energy is clean. On the other hand, it's also important to note that not all non-renewable sources of energy are dirty. It's much easier to work through each source on a case-by-case basis than to simply say all renewable energy is clean.

Examples of renewable sources of electricity generation

A renewable source of energy is a source of energy that can be replenished over time as it is used. There are four main types of renewable energy sources that you need to know, and they are all discussed below. We should also make the distinction between renewable energy sources and clean energy sources. Just because a source of energy is renewable, that does not necessarily mean that it is clean energy.

Wind Energy

Electricity can be generated via wind power through the use of wind turbines. Turbines are made to rotate by the wind, which is produced as a result of convection currents in the atmosphere. The motion of the wind pushes drive blades on the wind turbine, where the rotation of the blades connects to a system of gears that are linked to a generator. This generator is the part of the turbine that generates electricity. Wind power is a clean form of electricity generation. This method essentially converts the kinetic energy of air into kinetic energy of the blades which is finally converted into electrical energy.

A convection current is the motion of a liquid or gas caused by heating in some part of the fluid. In this case, the sun causes these convection currents to occur. Therefore, wind power is a byproduct of solar energy, and as long as the sun is shining, wind power will continue to generate electricity!

A pair of wind turbines in a field of wheat.A pair of wind turbines that are using the kinetic energy in wind to generate electricity - Pixabay

Water Energy

Electricity generated by water comes in several forms, mainly because there are several different ways to convert kinetic energy into electricity via a generator. The three forms of electricity generation via water energy are wave power, tidal power and hydroelectric power. All power generation that uses water is a clean form of electricity generation.

  • Wave power generates electricity thanks to the rise and fall of waves on the surface of the ocean. This upwards and downwards motion is a form of kinetic energy, and is used by buoys or pontoons to generate electricity via kinetic movement.
  • Tidal power generates electricity from the extremely large amounts of water that move in and out of the mouth of a river during high and low tides. To harness this electricity, a structure called a tidal barrage is built across an estuary, which forces water between small gaps to make use of the kinetic energy of a tidal movement. These gaps in the tidal barrage contain electrical generators, and so they generate electricity.
  • Finally, hydroelectric power is where a large damn is built to block the water in a higher up location. hydroelectric dams take advantage of the gravitational potential energy of the water being blocked. This water is forced through a generator, which also generates electricity.

Solar Energy

Electricity generated by solar power is caused directly by the sun shining on solar cells, or photovoltaic cells. Photovoltaic cells convert energy from light waves into electrical energy. Solar power is a renewable source, which means we can continue to generate electricity for as long as the sun is shining. It is also a clean source of electricity.

Solar electricity generation pairs very well when combined with batteries, as photovoltaics cannot generate any electricity overnight.

Electricity generation an image of a solar farm in Taean South Korea StudySmarterA typical solar farm in South Korea, Wikimedia

Biofuel

The final source of renewable electricity that we need to talk about is biofuel. Biofuel requires burning biological matter such as tree trunks to generate electricity. Burning biofuel is still a dirty process, however, unlike the other three energy sources we have discussed above.

The term biofuel is used as a catchall for any method of generating energy that has a biological material as its fuel source. Therefore biofuel can be used for transportation as well as for generating electricity within a power plant and that electricity can be exported to the grid.

Examples of non-renewable sources of electricity generation

A non-renewable source of energy is any source of fuel that runs out over time. Non-renewable has become synonymous with large scale pollution, however, this is not always the case. For example, electricity generated via nuclear power doesn't emit any harmful emissions. You need to know the difference between non-renewable sources and sources that pollute the atmosphere, as we have stated above.

One of the easiest ways to tell if a fuel source is renewable or not is to figure out where it comes from. If the generation method requires a fuel source (in other words a physical object that can be used to generate heat), then it is probably a non-renewable source of electricity. Another way to think of it is to ask yourself, do I need to build a mine to get fuel?

Fossil Fuels

Multiple fuels fall under the definition of fossil fuels, with the main sources being coal, oil and natural gas. These fuel sources are the byproducts of organisms that lived and died several hundred thousand years ago. They contain a store of chemical energy that when burned becomes heat energy. The main byproduct of this burning process is carbon dioxide, which is an atmospheric pollutant, so we can therefore say that burning fossil fuels is a dirty process.

Fossil fuels are not as prevalent for electricity generation as they once used to be. They are more commonly used to power vehicles (in the form of petrol) and for heating homes (mainly in the form of natural gas), although we know this can be done with electricity as well.

In the United Kingdom, fossil fuels were previously used to make up three-quarters of electricity generation. However, in 2020, renewable clean energy overtook fossil fuels in electricity generation for the first time, marking the first step towards a cleaner energy future.

Nuclear Energy

Electricity generated with nuclear fuel is both clean and non-renewable, we know it is not renewable because we need to mine the fuel, and there is only a finite amount of it. Nuclear fuel sources are very clean in terms of carbon emissions and other atmospheric pollutants. These nuclear reactions generate thermal energy, which is used to create steam from water and drive a turbine, and finally generate electricity.

Electricity generation: transmission and distribution

We've discussed several ways that we can generate electricity, but how does the electricity get to your house? Enter the national grid. The national grid is a massive network of cables and electrical infrastructure across all of Britain with the sole purpose of getting electricity from power producers to your houses so that you can do schoolwork or watch television.

A map of the uk national grid power lines by national grid UK.A map of the UK National Grid power lines - © National Grid UK

The map above shows you a network map of the UK national grid with the country's approximate locations of major power lines. Electricity is sent through these overhead cables at 400,000 volts, 275,000 volts or 132,000 volts, compared to the voltage of household electricity, which is usually 230 volts. As well as power cables, electrical distribution networks are also made up of transformers and electricity generation stations, or power stations.

The majority of overhead power cables are made from bare Aluminium. They are also uninsulated because the majority of the insulation comes from the air surrounding the cables. This also means that overhead cables are the cheapest way to transmit massive amounts of electricity over long distances.

Electricity Generation - Key takeaways

  • Electricity generation is the process of producing a current within a wire, where the current is generated by the motion of charged particles through the metal.
  • There are two main differences between the multiple energy sources, some energy sources are renewable and some sources are non-renewable.
  • A renewable energy source is any source of energy that can be replenished over time even whilst it is being used.
  • There are four main types of renewable energy sources, wind, solar, water and biofuels.
  • There are two main types of non-renewable energy sources, nuclear fuel and fossil fuels.
  • Electricity is transmitted across the UK via a nationwide network of cables, power stations and transformers, that is controlled by the national grid.

Frequently Asked Questions about Electricity Generation

The 5 main sources of electricity are solar energy, wind energy, water energy, fossil fuels and nuclear fuel.

A wind turbine generates electricity by using the wind to rotate huge blades at the top of a tall tower. These blades are connected to a nacelle which links the blades to a generator. When the wind blows some of its kinetic energy is captured by the blades, which then turn and drive the generator, creating electricity.

The types of electricity generation are generators and the photovoltaic effect. Generators transform kinetic energy into electricity, where a magnet is rotated within a coil of wire. The photovoltaic effect transforms light into electrical energy, as observed in solar panels.

Some examples of electricity generation include photovoltaic cells, or solar panels as they are often called, nuclear fission and turbines.

Final Electricity Generation Quiz

Question

Which phenomenon creates the force needed to spin an electric motor?

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Answer

Electromagnetic Force

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Question

What angle between a magnetic field and current carrying wire produces the strongest force on the wire?

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Answer

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A 1m wire carrying 2 amps of current passes through a 1 Tesla magnetic field in a direction parallel to the magnetic flux. What is the force generated on the wire?

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Answer

0N. The force produced by the motor effect reduces to zero as the angle between the wire and magnetic field direction approaches zero.

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Question

In Fleming's left-hand rule, the thumb represents?

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Answer

Current direction

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In Fleming's left-hand rule, the index finger represents?

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Answer

Magnetic field direction

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In Fleming's left-hand rule, the middle finger represents?

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Answer

Magnetic field direction

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Question

What are the two major categories of electric motor?

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Answer

DC motors and AC motors. 

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Question

In a simple DC motor, what is the function of the split ring commutator?

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Answer

The split-ring commutator reverses the current direction in the coil every 180° of rotation. This reverses the direction of the forces acting on the coil, ensuring it continues to rotate.

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In a brushed DC motor, why are the brushes required?

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Answer

As the split-ring commutator rotates, voltage must be supplied to it without using a fixed connection that would prevent its rotation. The solution to this is to use brushes, which conduct voltage to the commutator through low-friction contact. Because of the sliding contact, brushes in DC motors often wear out over time.

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Question

How can the power of a DC motor be increased?

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Answer

  • Increasing the magnetic field strength
  • Adding more turns to the coil. This increases the total coil length.
  • Using a higher coil current.
  • Adding an iron core to the electromagnetic rotor.

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How does a brushless DC motor remove the need for brushes?

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Answer

Instead of using a split-ring commutator and brushes to reverse the coil current direction every half-turn, a brushless motor uses a digitally controlled supply voltage. A semiconductor controller is used to vary the supply voltage polarity, and can also be used to control the motor speed.

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Question

How can you tell if a motor in a household device is likely to be an AC or DC motor?

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Answer

If the device is mains powered it is likely an AC motor, while battery-powered devices generally use DC motors. This is to reduce the inefficiency and added cost/complexity of converting between AC & DC.

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Question

What are the main sources of waste energy in an electric motor?

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Answer

Main source of waste is heat, generated by friction between components or electrical resistance. A secondary source of waste could be sound or vibration.

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Question

Which of the following produces an A.C current? 

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Answer

An alternator. 

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Which of the following produces a D.C current? 

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Answer

A dynamo. 

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Question

What happens to a piece of wire that is open at its ends when it is moved inside a magnetic field? 

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Answer

A p.d is induced. 

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What do we call the device that converts mechanical energy into electrical energy? 

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Answer

A generator. 

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Question

What happens to the current across a wire if its motion inside a magnetic field is suddenly halted? 

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Answer

The current drops to zero.

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What happens to the current across a wire if its vertical motion inside a magnetic field changes from upwards to downwards? 

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Answer

The direction of the current reverses. 

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What happens to the current across a wire if it is moved back and forth inside a magnetic field? 

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Answer

No current is induced in the wire. 

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Question

What would happen to the potential difference across a wire if stronger magnets are used? 

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Answer

The p.d would increase. 

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What would happen to the potential difference across a wire if the speed at which the wire moves in a magnetic field is increased? 

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Answer

The strength of the induced p.d would be more. 

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Question

Which of the following has two metal ring commutators in its design? 

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Answer

An alternator. 

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Which of the following has a single split ring commutator in its design?

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Answer

A dynamo. 

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Question

Which of the following poles would be induced at the end of the solenoid if a bar magnet with its north pole enters it? 

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Answer

A north pole. 

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Which of the following poles would be induced at the end of the solenoid if a bar magnet with its north pole leaves it?  

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Answer

A south pole. 

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What would happen to the potential difference across a coil of wire if its number of turns is increased? 

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Answer

The strength of the p.d would increase. 

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Which of the following is used in a coal-fired power station to turn the blades of a turbine? 

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Answer

Steam. 

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What is electricity generation?

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Answer

Electricity generation is the production of current, that is normally produced by charged particles moving through a conductor like a wire or other piece of metal.

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What is a renewable energy source?

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Any energy source that will not run out in a human lifetime.

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What is the difference between renewable energy and clean energy?

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Clean energy doesn't release any greenhouse gases, whereas biofuel, a type of renewable energy, does. A renewable energy source does not necessarily have to be clean.

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What type of energy source is wind energy?

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A renewable energy source.

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How do we generate electricity from the wind?

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Answer

Wind turbines generate electricity from wind energy. The motion of the wind pushes the blades, causing them to rotate. This rotation drives a generator, which tuns the rotational energy into electricity. 

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Question

How many methods are there for generating electricity from the sea?

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Answer

3

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Name the methods for generating electricity from the sea.

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Answer

Wave power, tidal power, and hydroelectric power.

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Question

How can we generate electricity from sunlight?

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Answer

We can use photovoltaic cells to convert sunlight into usable electricity.

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Question

Is biofuel a clean energy source?

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Answer

No

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How is electricity generated from fossil fuels?

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Answer

The fuel is burnt, heating water which is turned into steam. The steam rises and forces a turbine to rotate. The turbine is connected to a generator, which generates usable electricity.

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Are fossil fuels a renewable or non-renewable energy source?

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Answer

Non-renewable

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Nuclear energy is a...

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Answer

...non-renewable energy source.

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Question

How is electricity distributed away from where it is generated?

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Answer

A system of cables called the national grid transmits electricity to wherever it is required.

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What sort of emissions comes from dirty energy sources?

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Answer

Greenhouse gases.

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Question

Why is coal not a renewable source of energy?

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Answer

Coal does not replenish in a timely manner, as it takes thousands of years to be turned into a form that is useful for us to use as electricity generation.

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