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Electricity Innovations

April 7th, 2021

Even though the modern electric utility industry didn’t begin until the late 1800s, we have been fascinated by electricity since our ancestors first witnessed lightning. The ancient Greeks discovered that rubbing amber produced an electric charge. Electricity is a basic part of nature and it is one of our most widely used forms of energy. It is a secondary energy source that we get from the conversion of primary sources such as natural gas, oil, coal and nuclear power. Many cities and towns were built alongside waterfalls that turned water wheels to perform work. Before the beginning of the electricity generation, kerosene lamps lit houses, iceboxes were used to keep food cold, and rooms were warmed by stoves. The “necessities” of today such as light bulbs, fans, air conditioners and refrigerators stem from the ideas of inventors that lived over 100 years ago. Many of us are familiar with Benjamin Franklin’s famous kite experiment and Thomas Edison’s electrical light bulb, but there were many other inventors that contributed greatly to our modern uses of electricity. Some of these inventors simply sought to improve upon old ideas and others saw a need and let their curiosity run wild with each experiment until they discovered something new. Each invention paved the way for the next.

In the mid-1600s Otto von Guericke, a German physicist, started experimenting with generating electricity. In 1670 he invented the first machine to produce electricity in large amounts using a ball of sulfur which he rotated and he held his hand against the ball, charging it with electricity. Others, such as Isaac Newton, later used this machine using a ball of glass instead of sulfur, and then later a cylinder, and then a glass plate.

In 1747 Benjamin Franklin started to experiment with electricity and proposed the notion of positive and negative charge. He performed his famous kite experiment to prove that lightning was a form of electrical discharge in 1752. During a thunderstorm he flew a kite with a stiff wire pointing up attached to the top of the kite and a key tied to the other end of the string, and let it hang close to a jar. The string became wet from the rain and caused sparks to jump from the key into the jar until the jar could not handle any more charges. This experiment proved that electricity and lightning are one in the same and that pointed rods conduct electricity better than balls, leading to Franklin’s invention of the lightning rod. Beginning with this experiment, the principles of electricity gradually became understood.

In 1800 an Italian professor, Alessandro Volta, invented the voltaic pile which is now called an electric cell or battery. He made a stack of disks of zinc, acid or salt-soaked paper and copper, and when he touched both ends he received a shock. The volt is named after Volta. Another, who in the first half of the 1800s contributed greatly to our modern uses of electricity, was Michael Faraday. He performed experiments on electricity and magnetism which led to modern inventions such as the motor, generator, telegraph and telephone. In 1831 he experimented with induction and discovered a way to generate a lot of electricity at once. We use his principle of electromagnetic induction for generating electricity today in electric utility plants.

In the mid 1800s, the invention of the electric light bulb changed everyone’s life. This invention used electricity to bring indoor lighting to our homes. Thomas Edison, an American inventor, didn’t invent the light bulb, but improved upon a 50-year-old idea and invented an incandescent light bulb. Many people before him had developed forms of electric lighting, but none of these were practical for home use. In 1879, after experimenting for a year and a half, he used lower current electricity, a filament of carbonized sewing thread, and an improved vacuum inside the globe to produce a practical, electrical light bulb. Edison demonstrated his incandescent lighting system for the public as he electrically lit the Menlo Park laboratory complex. He realized the need for an electrical distribution system to provide power for lighting and in 1882 the first central commercial incandescent electric generating station provided light and electric power to customers in one square mile area in New York City. This was the beginning of the electric age as the industry was evolving from gas and electric carbon-arc commercial and street lighting systems. By the late 1880s the demand for electric motors brought the industry to 24-hour service and the electricity demand for transportation and industry needs was dramatically increased. Many U.S. cities now had small central stations, however each was limited to an area of just a few blocks because of the transmission inefficiencies of direct current (DC). As electricity spread around the world, Edison’s various electric companies continued to expand until they joined to form Edison General Electric in 1889. Three years later Edison General Electric merged with its leading competitor Thompson-Houston and the company became simply General Electric.

One of Thomas Edison’s main rivals was George Westinghouse Jr., a pioneer of the electrical industry. In 1886 he founded Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company to pursue the technology of alternating current (AC). An alternating current power system allowed voltages to be “stepped up” by a transformer for distribution, which reduced power losses, and then “stepped down” by a transformer for consumer use. He thought that Edison’s power network based on low-voltage direct current was too inefficient to be scaled up to a large size. In 1885 Westinghouse purchased power transformers developed by Lucien Gaulard and John Dixon Gibbs. Transformers were not a new invention, however this design was one of the first that was able to handle large amounts of power, yet was still easily manufactured. Using these transformers and a Siemens alternating current generator, he began experimenting with alternating current networks. Westinghouse worked to perfect the transformer design and build a practical alternating current power network with the help of William Stanley and Franklin Leonard Pope. In 1886 Westinghouse and Stanley installed the first multiple-voltage alternating current power system. The network was driven by a hydropower generator that produced 500 volts. The voltage was stepped up to 3,000 volts for distribution, and then stepped back down to 100 volts to power electric lights. This device made it possible to spread electric service over a wide area and allowed for the availability of alternating current at different voltages, forming the basis of modern electrical power distribution. Over the next year 30 more alternating current lighting systems were installed, but the method was limited because they lacked an efficient metering system and an alternating current electric motor. In 1888, Westinghouse and his engineer Oliver Shallenberger created a power meter that would be more effective and the same basic meter technology remains in use today.

Nikola Tesla was one of the most important contributors to the birth of commercial electricity. He was originally an employee of Thomas Edison’s and he invented a system that transmitted alternating current, as opposed to Edison’s direct current system. Edison opposed Tesla’s idea, so Tesla set up his own laboratory and announced his invention of the first practical alternating current induction motor and polyphase power transmission system in 1888. The polyphase system would allow transmission of alternating current electricity over long distances. Westinghouse asked Nikola Tesla to join his electric company where Tesla continued his work on the alternating current induction motor and Westinghouse acquired exclusive rights to Tesla’s polyphase system patent. All of our electric motors today run on principles set out by Tesla, such as the motor that produces high frequency signals that are used in radios and TVs. He also set the standard for the frequency of the transmission current, 60 hertz, which we still operate at today.

Westinghouse and Edison feuded over the distribution of alternating current power and direct current power. Edison used only direct current because he thought that alternating current was dangerous, but Westinghouse thought the risks could be controlled and were outweighed by the advantages. Even General Electric eventually switched to alternating current. In 1893 the Westinghouse Company won the contract to set up an alternating current network to light the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and later to set up the first long-range power network using three giant alternating current generators to harness the energy of Niagara Falls into electrical energy for distribution 25 miles away.

Now over 100 years later, think about how much we use and rely on electricity every day to meet what we consider to be our “basic needs” such as alarm clocks, traffic lights, computers and TVs. When we walk into a dark room and flip the light switch, we expect instant light. It’s interesting to think this was once only a daydream and it took many inventors to make it a reality.

Electric Smart Cars – Rational Reasons and Results When Buying One

March 7th, 2021

There are many reasons for buying any electric smart car, hybrid electric or plugin hybrid electric vehicle. The soaring costs of gas is likely the biggest and most pressing issue when considering buying an electric car. The environment and the planet is another concern. Whatever the reason, buying any BEV, PHEV or green planet-friendly automobile instead of that fossil-fuel burning internal combustion engine car, we’ll certainly have a positive effect on helping save the planet and save you money as well.

In order to make a smart electric car buying decisions, it is important to understand what the different types of electric-powered vehicles, and how smart electric cars work.

There are three types of electric assisted vehicle that utilize an electric motor of some kind. The battery electric vehicle (BEV) is as the name suggests-a battery powered vehicle. There is no other power source for the vehicle, no internal combustion engine (ICE) running on gasoline, and therefore the battery must be charged between uses, and will discharge during use until it runs out. At this point the vehicle can no longer run, so you’ll need to be near a charging point before you run out of gas, I mean electric juice.

Two types of hybrid electric vehicles offer the best of both the electric and the ICE vehicle worlds. The hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) uses an electric motor to either propel the car or to increase the power. Generally the result of this is to extend the distance that it can travel on a tank of fuel, giving the hybrid electric car better fuel economy.

Lastly there is the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV). This runs in a largely similar way to the HEV but with one major difference-the battery can be plugged into a charging point, in order to completely charge the battery to its maximum capacity. The HEV by comparison can only charge its battery with the current generated by its ICE, or through regenerative breaking (a process in which energy is reclaimed during breaking rather than lost). By fully charging the battery the use of electrical power can be prolonged, and the use of gasoline reduced, making the PHEV the more economical of the hybrid electric vehicles.

The drive-train of a BEV is very simple-a battery powers the motor, which propels the electric vehicle. The hybrid electric vehicles will run an ICE and electric motor either in parallel or in series, with both the ICE and electric motor being able to move the electric or hybrid electric vehicle. A capacitor allows energy to be channeled back into the battery too, and in the case of the PHEV a separate charging circuit like that of the BEV is included to separately charge the hybrid electric vehicle.

There are two types of battery that are used in BEV, PHEV and HEV cars. Nickel metal hydride batteries are an older technology, and one that suffers from battery degradation more quickly than others. Newer, lithium-ion batteries are far more efficient, as well as longer lasting in both electric and hybrid electric vehicles. They don’t suffer from memory formation like nickel metal hydride batteries, and tend to be able to provide more power for the engine than the alternative.

Older hybrid electric vehicles may still use lead-acid batteries, but these are generally now considered bad for the environment, and are no longer used.

There are pros and cons to making the move to an electric or hybrid vehicle. They are cheaper to run than ICE cars and have good speed, and hybrid electric vehicles have good range too. But the BEV class can run generally for only up to 40-200 miles, leading to what is known as range anxiety. Hybrid electric vehicles overcome by using the ICE as well, giving vastly superior range.

Another downside is that the batteries wear out and need replacing. This is an expensive part on the car, and on a BEV the battery failure means that the car will completely fail to run. A hybrid at least has its ICE on which to fall back.

However, the overall running costs to the owner are far less than for a vehicle with an ICE. The electric or hybrid electric vehicle has less moving parts and so less chances of failure that needs repair. Fuel efficiency of a hybrid is hugely increased, saving money for every mile driven, and for a BEV is even less as electrical energy is cheaper than gas.

One of the biggest benefits to these vehicles is to the planet. Our oil reserves are finite and dwindling, and their continued use in this way further pollutes the environment. Moving to electric or hybrid electric vehicles will drastically reduce the pollutants emitted, and will slow the rate at which our planet’s natural resources are exhausted.

As far as the economy is concerned, electric and hybrid vehicles could be very positive development. The production of large numbers of these vehicles would require the building or converting manufacturing factories, and the hiring of workers to staff the factories. Claims are often made that our economy is heavily reliant on oil, and that moving away from it would destroy us, but the truth is quite different. By embracing these technologies, our economy can shift its dependence from oil onto alternatives, just as our motoring needs do.

An all-electric or hybrid vehicle may cost a little more to insure than a gas vehicle. Though a small saving is possible thanks to the improved risk profile of people who own electric vehicles, other costs are higher. However, repairing electric or hybrid vehicles currently costs more because there are fewer of these vehicles on the road, and because spare parts are less abundant. This increases repair costs, which insurance companies pass on to owners. Savings in running costs can help offset this.

Options are varied when considering purchasing one of these cars, giving potential owners a good range of choice when it comes to the power, size and range of their vehicle. The following are currently available or soon to be released, highway ready environmentally-friendly cars. Full details are not available for some of those cars that are not yet on sale.

The Nissan Leaf is an all electric car doing 100 miles per charge and up to 90 mph, and starting at $33,720. This is a modern looking car with a reasonable range, and a competitive pricing. The Tesla Roaster is also all-electric, with an incredible 245 miles per charge, 125 mph top speed, and costs starting at $101,500. This is a stunning looking car with an equally stunning performance-and a range like no other electric car.

The Smart-ED all-electric model has a 98 mile maximum range, and a top speed of 60 mph. This small car will be perfect for city driving. Starting at $599 a month for a four year lease.

Ford’s own all electric car-the Ford Focus has yet to be released but is expected to have a range in excess of 100 miles per charge. This car will be available from late 2011, and looks to provide all of the high-tech options that people may want, in a very stylish exterior. Final price and other details have yet to be released.

Chevrolet’s Volt is a PHEV that is capable of speeds of 100 mph. Fuel economy depends on how often you charge the battery, with official figures released at 60 mpg using gas and electric combined. Prices start at $32,780, giving this a reasonable price tag along with good performance.

Toyota’s Prius is a PHEV that has an incredible range of 475 miles on a single tank of gas, when using combined gas and the electric motor. Unfortunately, since it won’t be available till early 2012 there are no more details regarding performance and pricing.

A full hybrid version of the Toyota Prius is also available, with a base price of $23,520. With a combined mileage of 50mpg and a top speed of 112 mph, it has enough power and efficiency for anyone. This is a tried and trusted hybrid car with a good reputation.

Ford’s Fusion has a hybrid version as well, with a starting price of $19,820. With a 700 mile range per full tank of fuel, and 41 mpg, it is powerful and sleek, and has the range to take you wherever you want to go.

The Escalade hybrid from Cadillac is a luxury SUV, and so it’s price tag is a little larger, at $74,135. Fuel efficiency is good for an SUV at up to 23 mpg and a range of up to 575 miles per tank. This SUV balances the needs of a larger family with the desire to be a little more environmentally friendly, and does so with incredible style.

J. D. Johnston