What Is Electricity Considered As?

Electricity is a form of energy that results from the movement of charged particles. When charges flow, an electric current is created. Electricity is an essential part of everyday life that powers homes, businesses, appliances, and electronics. Without electricity, modern society could not function.

Electricity allows us to turn on lights, charge phones, run refrigerators to preserve food, use computers, and power machinery and industrial processes. It enables conveniences like air conditioning that improve comfort and entertainment devices like TVs that allow leisure time. Access to electricity is a key factor in economic development and raising standards of living.

Electricity is integral to communications, infrastructure, and transportation. It allows rapid transfer of information through devices like phones and the internet. Mass transit systems, like subways and electric trains, rely on electricity. Even vehicles are going electric with hybrid and battery-powered automobiles.

This overview provides a foundation for understanding what electricity is, how we harness it, and its profound impact on society.

Electricity as Energy

Electricity is a form of energy that results from the motion of charged particles, usually electrons. It is generated through various means, most commonly the movement of a magnetic field across a conductor to induce electrical current flow. The movement of electrons creates an electric field and voltage potential that allows electricity to do work. Electricity is considered a secondary or derived form of energy, in that it requires primary energy sources like coal, natural gas, nuclear, solar or wind to produce it. Once generated, electricity can be converted into almost any other form of energy that meets human needs.

For example, we convert electricity into thermal energy through electric stoves, heaters, and appliances that require heat to operate. It can be converted into mechanical energy to drive electric motors in machinery and tools. We transform electricity into light energy that illuminates our homes, workplaces, and cities. Electricity also gets converted into sound energy through speakers, TVs, and other audio devices. Importantly, electricity enables secondary conversions into chemical and electromagnetic energy that power modern technologies and electronics.

In short, electricity serves as an extremely versatile and valuable energy carrier. While not a primary source, its ability to be converted into almost any other required form of energy makes electricity an indispensable part of modern civilization. Whether it’s heat, motion, light, sound or something else, electricity allows rapid, on-demand energy conversions to suit nearly any human need.

Electricity Generation

Electricity is generated through various means by converting other forms of energy into electrical energy. The main methods of generating electricity on a large scale are:

  • Coal: Burning coal to heat water into steam that spins a turbine connected to a generator produces electricity. Coal power provides about 30% of the world’s electricity.

  • Natural gas: Burning natural gas produces electricity similarly to coal. Natural gas accounts for about 24% of electricity generation globally.

  • Nuclear: Nuclear fission reactions produce intense heat that is used to create steam to spin turbines. Nuclear provides about 10% of the world’s electricity.

  • Hydroelectric: Flowing water spins turbines connected to generators to produce electricity. Hydro supplies 16% of global electricity.

  • Wind: Wind turns blades on a turbine to generate electricity. Wind provides around 5% of the world’s power.

  • Solar: Solar cells convert sunlight into electricity. Solar accounts for about 2% of global generation but is the fastest growing source.

Other renewable sources like geothermal and biomass also generate smaller amounts of electricity. The exact mix of generation sources varies by region based on resource availability.

Electricity as Utility

Electricity is an essential public utility that powers our modern way of life. The electricity grid delivers electricity from power plants to homes, businesses, schools, hospitals, and industries across cities, states, and countries.

The electricity grid consists of power generation plants, transmission lines, and distribution systems. Power generation plants like coal, natural gas, nuclear, hydroelectric, wind, and solar generate electricity. High voltage transmission lines efficiently transport this electricity over long distances. Distribution systems then deliver the power to end users through lower voltage lines.

Utility companies manage the operation, maintenance, and expansion of the grid. They coordinate electricity production from different generation sources to match demand throughout the day. Outages and blackouts can occur when supply and demand fall out of balance due to grid disruptions from weather, equipment failure, or other factors.

Electric utilities are often regulated by governmental agencies to ensure reliability, safety, affordability, and sustainability. As a public utility, electricity access is considered a necessity for modern life. Reliable and affordable electricity provides massive socioeconomic benefits, enabling conveniences, productivity, and technological innovation that improve quality of life.

Measuring Electricity

Electricity is measured in several different units that quantify the rate of flow of electric charge or the amount of energy that charge can perform. Some key units to understand include:

  • Volt – Measures the electric potential or force of an electric field. It represents the amount of work or energy per unit charge needed to move electrons from one point to another.
  • Ampere – Measures the rate of electric current flow. One ampere equals one coulomb (a measurement of electric charge) per second.
  • Watt – Measures the rate of energy consumption, work performed, or power. One watt equals one joule (a unit of energy) per second.
  • Kilowatt-hour – Measures electrical energy usage over time. One kilowatt-hour equals using one thousand watts of power over the course of one hour.

Voltage, current, and resistance are the three main characteristics used to quantify electricity. Using combinations of these units, along with measurements of time, allows us to measure the full range of electrical phenomena for both direct current (DC) and alternating current (AC) power.

Measuring and understanding units like volts, amps, and watts allows electrical engineers to design systems safely and efficiently. It also allows consumers to calculate the cost of electricity usage based on their rates.

Direct and Alternating Current

Electricity flows in two main ways – through direct current (DC) and alternating current (AC). DC flows in one direction from positive to negative, while AC flows back and forth in cycles. Nearly all electricity used today is AC because it has three major advantages over DC:

  • AC can be transmitted over long distances through power lines more efficiently than DC, with less line losses.
  • AC voltage can be easily stepped up or down with a transformer to allow efficient transmission and distribution at high voltages and safe utilization at lower voltages.
  • Generating AC electricity is more practical as it can be generated from rotating generators driven by steam or water turbines. Large generators supply most commercial electrical networks with AC.

While AC dominates applications like household use, DC is still used for some purposes like charging batteries, powering electric vehicles, and operating electronic devices. But the shift to AC in the late 1800s made electricity widely available for illumination, motors, and heating.

Electricity Safety

Electricity can be dangerous if not handled properly. Preventing shocks and electrocution is crucial for anyone working with or around electrical equipment.

A key aspect of electricity safety is proper grounding. Grounding provides a safe path for electric current to flow to the ground, which protects equipment and people. All electrical systems should have a ground wire that connects to the earth. Any conductive metal parts like appliances and tools should also be grounded.

Other important electricity safety practices include:

  • Using GFCIs (ground fault circuit interrupters) which shut off power when current leaks
  • Keeping electrical equipment away from water
  • Regularly inspecting cords and plugs for damage
  • Not overloading outlets
  • Using proper PPE when working on electrical systems

With proper precautions, equipment, and training, the risks of electricity can be minimized. Safety should always be the top priority when working with electrical systems.

Electricity Storage

As electricity demand fluctuates throughout the day but power plants have limited ability to rapidly adjust their output, there is a growing need for large-scale electricity storage to help balance supply and demand. Electricity storage provides a buffer that can store excess electricity when demand is low and dispatch it when demand is high. This helps stabilize the grid and avoid blackouts.

Several technologies exist for grid-scale electricity storage:

– Pumped hydro storage – Water is pumped uphill into a reservoir when electricity supply exceeds demand. Then when demand peaks, the water is released to flow downhill through turbines that generate electricity.

– Compressed air energy storage – Electricity is used to compress air in an underground cavern. To generate electricity later, compressed air is released, heated, and expanded through a turbine.

– Batteries – Large battery systems like lithium-ion can charge up when electricity prices are low and feed power back into the grid when prices are high.

– Flywheels – Spinning cylinders store kinetic energy for short durations to smooth fluctuations in supply and demand.

– Hydrogen – Excess electricity can produce hydrogen via electrolysis. Fuel cells can later convert hydrogen back into electricity.

With more renewables coming online, large-scale storage systems are critical for balancing variable wind and solar generation and providing reliability to the electric grid.

Electricity Consumption

Global electricity consumption continues to rise each year as populations grow and development spreads. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, worldwide electricity consumption was 22,869 TWh in 2019. This represents a 59% increase from 1990 levels. The regions with the highest electricity use are Asia, North America and Europe. Among countries, China uses the most electricity followed by the United States and India.

The largest uses of electricity globally are for residential buildings, commercial buildings, industry and transportation. In residential spaces, common electrical devices and systems include lighting, air conditioning, refrigerators, televisions, computers and more. Commercial buildings like offices and retail stores also consume electricity for lighting, climate control, elevators and other purposes. Major industrial uses of electricity include powering machinery, heating and electrolysis. Finally, electricity plays a growing role powering modes of transportation like electric trains, public transit and electric vehicles.

As the world continues to develop and adopt more technology, electricity demand is projected to keep rising. Efforts to upgrade infrastructure and improve efficiency in generation and end uses will help meet future needs while minimizing environmental impacts.


In summary, electricity is a form of energy that is generated and distributed for use in powering devices, appliances, and infrastructure. Though invisible, electricity is essential to modern life. We rely on it for lighting, heating, cooling, and operating anything that plugs into an outlet or electrical grid.

This overview explored key aspects of electricity: how it is produced at power plants using various energy sources; how it reaches homes and businesses through utility grids and circuits; concepts like voltage, current, and measuring electricity usage; direct and alternating current; electrical safety; and electricity storage and consumption. While electricity brings many benefits, it also comes with environmental and sustainability challenges that require transitioning to renewable energy sources.

Electricity is profoundly integrated into every facet of society. Our homes, workplaces, communications, transportation, economy, and quality of life depend on reliable access to electrical power. Though taken for granted, we cannot function or prosper without it. Moving forward, we must find ways to produce sustainable electricity to meet growing demand while minimizing further impacts on the planet.

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