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Electrical Energy

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Electrical Energy

Maybe you are reading this on the screen of your laptop, your mobile phone, or your tablet. Or it could be that you have printed these notes with a printer. You might be using a lamp while you are studying and you might be boiling some water with your kettle, ready for a tea break.

All of these machines have something in common: they use electrical energy to work. In our day-to-day, electrical energy is present in almost everything we do, from waking up in the morning with an alarm to the film we see at night just before going to sleep. But, what is electrical energy?

Electrical energy is the energy gained by electric charges under the influence of an electric force. Electrical energy is associated with the kinetic energy of charges.

When a potential difference is present across two points in an electric circuit, charges in the circuit will experience an electric force. Under the influence of this force, charges accelerate and so gain kinetic energy. Therefore, we can understand electrical energy as a form of kinetic energy that is gained by electric charges when they experience an electric force.

Electrical energy formula

We say that the kinetic energy gained by a charge under the influence of an electric force is equal to the electrical work done by the force. This amount of electrical work can be calculated with the following formula:

E=Pt

Or in words

Energy transferred = power ×time

where,

  • Pis the power. The standard unit is the watt (W)

  • t is the time during which the energy is transmitted. The standard unit is the second (s).

  • Eis the energy transferred, equal to the electrical work done. The standard unit for energy is the joule (J).

The potential difference is related to the amount of electrical work that is needed to move a charge in an electric field between two points. This relation allows us to express the amount of electrical work transferred using the following expression:

E=QV

Or in words

Energy transferred = charge × potential difference

where,

  • Qis the charge flow. The standard unit is the coulombs (C).
  • Vis the potential difference we have already defined. The standard unit is the volt (V).
  • Eis the energy transferred. The standard unit for energy is the joule (J).

Thanks to the potential difference provided by batteries in electrical circuits, charges move from one point to another through the circuit - this is why we say we need a potential difference to generate electrical energy.

Now we have a clear concept of what electrical energy is. But, how does this movement of negatively charged particles affect us? Earlier we have seen some situations where electrical energy is used but now we are going to see more situations where electrical energy is important.

Electrical energy examples

Since it was first discovered, electrical energy has been a crucial tool for the technological development of the human species. Let's examine some everyday situations in which electrical energy is transferred by electrical work and transformed into other forms of energy.

  • Mechanical work: Electrical energy can be converted to mechanical work/energy thanks to electrical devices such as electric engines. These engines receive electrical energy and transform it into, for example, the movement of a rotor, which is the part of the engine which rotates.

    Some examples of devices that transform electrical energy into kinetic energy or potential energy are:

    • Washing machines
    • Electric cars
    • Blenders
    • Water pumps
    • Fans

    Many of these domestic appliances transform electrical energy into kinetic energy of some part of the appliance thanks to an electric motor. Look around you, can you find any other examples?

  • Light: Some devices convert electrical energy into light energy or other forms of electromagnetic radiation. Electrical energy can be transformed into light in different ways. One way to obtain light with electrical energy is by passing electricity through certain materials that heat up and emit light if they reach high enough temperatures. That is what happens with incandescent bulbs. LEDs are also powered electrically, but they are more efficient that incandescent bulbs because they do not produce additional wasted heat energy.

    Devices that transform electrical energy into light are:

    • Bulbs, famously associated with the inventor Thomas Edison (although the claim that he invented it is disputed amongst historians of science).
    • LED lights
    • Torches
    Electrical Energy A light bulb StudySmarterLigth bulbs are one of the many devices that transform electrical energy into light, commons.wikimedia.org
  • Thermal energy: Electrical energy can also be transformed into thermal energy or heat. As mentioned before, when the electric particles move through some materials they provoke an increase in their temperature. This allows some devices to heat. It is important to see that not all the materials increase their temperature in the same way, some do it much faster than others. That depends on their specific heat capacity.

    Some devices that use electrical energy to transform it into heat are:

    • Toaster
    • Electric radiator
    • Kettle
  • There are lots of other examples where electrical energy is used. For instance, we use electricity in our bodies: In your brain, there are cells called neurons that allow you to think. To perform their function, they transmit information between themselves thanks to small electric pulses. Also, your muscles respond to small electrical currents. Or even in nature, lightning is a visible transmission of electrical charges from one point to another, therefore they are an example of a naturally occurring phenomenon in which electrical energy is transferred from one place to another.

Transmission of electrical energy

Electrical energy is generated far from cities and villages, as we do not want those areas to be plagued by noise pollution, and sometimes it is more productive to place generators in specific areas; for example solar panels are better placed where they are not obscured by buildings/structures, and some places are windier than others, meaning careful choices about where to place wind turbines can be made in order to maximise their efficiency in producing electricity.

This is the reason why the transmission of electrical energy from where it is generated to populated areas is so important. Generally, electrical energy can be transported easily and without a huge cost.

The main method to transport electrical energy over long distances is using power lines. These lines allow us to transport electricity in an efficient but cheap way. The transmission of electrical energy with power lines can be divided into two steps: primary and secondary transmission.

  1. Primary transmission: When leaving the generators, the electrical energy will have a voltage between11 kV - 33 kV, approximately. Transporting the electricity in an efficient way with this voltage range would be difficult and expensive. Therefore, the voltage is increased to a range that is between100 kV - 700 kV, or higher, using a transformer. These values depend on the country, the system used and the distance because the longer the electricity has to travel, the higher the voltage will need to be. By increasing the voltage, the electric current is decreased because the electrical power is maintained as constant. This will reduce the losses and the electrical energy will be transported more efficiently, because high currents lead to energy losses in the form of heat energy.
  2. Secondary transmission: Then the electricity travels via overland or underground power lines, using normally the first one for long distances. This electrical energy arrives at a receiving station, the voltage is stepped down to33 kV - 66 kVand it is again sent to another substation. When it arrives at the substation this voltage is reduced once more to11 kVand is distributed through the local area using its wiring system.
  3. Finally, the electrical energy is distributed in the city or village using the wiring system mentioned. The voltage will be adjusted again to values under1000 Vbefore arriving to the houses and offices where it will be used.

Electrical Energy Electrical energy Transmission lines StudySmarterTransmission towers used to transport energy, commons.wikimedia.org

Advantages of electrical energy

As we have seen, we are surrounded by electrical energy in our day-to-day. What are the advantages of this electrical energy?

It is important to clarify that advantages is a general term and we could consider a range of advantages of using electrical energy. Here we are going to list some really important ones:

  • Electric energy can be stored. We use some devices such as batteries or accumulators. This is why we can use our smartphones and tablets far from home, without the need for plugging them in every second.

  • As we have seen, it can be transported easily. Transporting electricity turns out to be easy and not super expensive. To transport it, the voltage is adjusted in the electric station to minimize the energetic loss and then it is transported from one point to another using an underground system of wires.

  • It is a broadly useful type of energy. As we have seen, we can convert electrical energy into other types of energy using domestic appliances or various electrical devices.

  • There are clean ways to generate it. Generating electricity is one of the main problems, as it can not be found in nature. One of the ways we can generate electricity is from renewable sources.

    Some examples of renewable energy sources:

    • Solar energy generates energy from the sunlight with solar panels
    • Wind energy generates energy from the wind with turbines
    • Hydropower generates energy from the movement of water
    • Energy from solid biofuels
    You can find more information about renewable energy here on StudySmarter.

Electrical Energy Chart showing Renewable energies in Europe 2020 percentage StudySmarterIn Europe most of the energy obtained from renewable sources comes from wind turbines and hydroelectric power plants, ec.europa.eu

Disadvantages of electric energy

Electrical energy has transformed society, but there are some drawbacks to electricity. Here are some disadvantages worth mentioning:

  • The main disadvantage is that most electrical energy produced today is non-renewable. Renewable energy is energy that is produced such that it will replenish at least the rate that we use it.

    Examples of non-renewable energy are:

    • Fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas
    • Nuclear energy that uses uranium (although nuclear energy's inclusion is heavily debated)
  • High currents are harmful to humans. This means that electricity can be dangerous and is why there is no shortage of health and safety precautions put in place to protect us from its potentially harmful effects.

Importance of electrical energy

Electricity is present in almost every aspect of our day-to-day lives and we use it in almost everything we do. Some of the countries that use more electrical energy than most are the United States, Canada, Norway, Sweden, and Australia.

That is why we need clean ways to obtain it and try to minimize costs when generating it and transporting it.

Electrical Energy - Key takeaways

  • Electrical energy is generated by the movement of electrons along a conductor. It can be understood as the kinetic energy of charged particles.
  • Electrons are subatomic particles with a negative electric charge that carry current in electrical circuits.
  • Conductors are materials that allow the flow of negative charges. Materials that offer resistance to this movement are called insulators.
  • Current flows in a wire in the presence of a potential difference.
  • Electrical energy can be converted into different types of energy such as mechanical energy, luminous energy and thermal energy thanks to a range of devices.
  • Electrical energy has some advantages as it can be easily transported, it can be stored, and there are clean ways of generating it with renewable sources.
  • It also has some disadvantages as it is mostly generated with non-renewable sources. The process by which electrical energy is obtained can be harmful to the environment.

Frequently Asked Questions about Electrical Energy

Electrical energy is the type of energy generated by the movement of negative electrical charges (electrons) along a conductor. This movement is generated by a difference in potential between two points. 

Some examples that the electrical energy is used is for generating movement, heat or light. That is because electrical energy can be transformed into another type of energy using some kind of device. 

The main disadvantage of electrical energy is that it is mainly obtained with no renewable sources which are finite and most of the time are also bad for the environment. 

Electrical energy is very important because we use it in our day-to-day as it is needed for most of our domestic appliances and devices to work. It is also essential for factories and production. 

The main benefits of electric energy are that it is easy and not very expensive to transport and can be stored. Also, there are some ways of generating it that are clean and renewable such as the sunlight, the wind, etc. 

Final Electrical Energy Quiz

Question

What is electrical energy? 

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Answer

Electrical energy is the type of energy generated by the movement of  electrical charges along a conductor. This movement is generated by a difference in potential between two points.

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Question

Do conductors allow the pass of electrons? 

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Answer

Yes, conductors allow the flow of electrons to go through them. 

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Question

Thanks to the ______ the charges move from one point to another

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Answer

Difference in potential or voltage

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Question

What type of energy do electric engines transform the electrical energy to?

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Answer

Mechanical energy 

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Question

What is mechanical energy? 

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Answer

The sum of kinetic energy and potential energy 

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Question

What of these is NOT an example of device that transform electricity to mechanical energy? 

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Answer

Bulbs

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Question

What does Joule effect state? 

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Answer

It states that when the light goes through a conductor it gets heated.

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Question

What effect do bulbs use to emit light? 

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Answer

Joules effect

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Question

What is luminous energy related to? 

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Answer

Light

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Question

What is NOT an example of a device that is designed to transform electricity into heat?

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Answer

Blender

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Question

To transport electrical energy, the ____ is increased in the electric station to minimize the energetic loss. 

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Answer

Tension

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Question

Can electric energy be stored? 

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Answer

Yes, with batteries or accumulators

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Question

What are renewable sources of energy? 

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Answer

They are sources which do not finish such as sunlight, wind, waves, etc. 

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Question

What is a disadvantage of electrical energy? 

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Answer

It can be contaminating

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