History of Electricity

Most people nowadays don’t think of or remember a time without electricity.  To them, it is a foreign concept of not living with electricity.  However, that is not the case, relatively speaking electricity is a newer, modern convenience, seeing as how electricity as we know it has only been around roughly 300 years.

Thomas Browne first used the word electricity in print in 1640, when referring to static electricity.  In the Pseudodoxia Epidemica, Browne described the production of static electricity occurs, when two items are rubbed together.  Otto Von Guericke, invented the electrostatic generator in the mid-1600s, which would generate a high voltage charge at a low current.

Nearly 100 years later, in 1745 the Leyden jar was invented.  The invention of the Leyden jar was enormous.  The Leyden jar was a glass jar, that was coated with metal foils and then filled with water.  There was a stopper connected to one end of a wire that ran through it and at the other end an electrostatic generator was hooked to it.

In 1746, while visiting family in Boston, Benjamin Franklin met Dr. Spence.  Spence showed Franklin a Leyden jar, which sparked his interest in electricity.  Six years later, Franklin performed his most famous experiment, the Kite experiment.  The Kite experiment proved that electricity could be harnessed from the clouds.

Luigi Galvani published his “De Viribus Electricitatis in mutu musculari commentarius,” that explained animal electricity (electrical fluid in the body), in 1791.  Galvani noticed that his dissected frog legs would seamlessly come to life under various conditions, for example, his lab tech placed a dissected frog on a table that was previously used for electrostatic experiments, when Galvani placed a scalpel to the frog, the frog’s leg twitched.

Galvani’s most notable opponent was Alessandro Volta.  Volta believed in metallic electricity, which is explained by an electrical charge that passes between two dissimilar metals. Then in 1800 Volta, created the Volta pile.  It was first battery and provided constant electricity to a circuit.  Many advances have been made to Volta’s battery, the first one took place in 1836, and known as the Daniell Cell.

British scientist Michael Faraday found the basic principles of electric generation in 1831.  Faraday realized that he could create an electric current by moving magnets inside copper wires.  The process that he invented in 1831, is what is used on a much larger scale today.

1858 the first trans-Atlantic cable was laid; however, there was still no standard names in measurement.  Then in 1861 Josiah Clark and Charles Bright proposal a universal standard for names; however, they are not the names we use today.

There are four basic physical quantities for electricity and four units of measurement.  There is voltage, which is measured in Volts (V), after Alessandro Volta.  A volt is an electrical force, which is determined by the current flowing in a circuit multiplied by the resistance. Volts and current have a direct relationship, as volts increase, so does the current.  The rate of electrons passing through a conductor is called the current.  The current is measured in Amps and named after Andre-Marie Ampere.  Ohms is the unit of resistance and named after Georg Ohm.  Resistance is very important because if there was no resistance then a current would continuously flow.  Watts measure the amount of power released per second and is named after James Watt.

Thomas Edison patented the incandescent light bulb in 1880.  The lightbulb was brighter, safer, and more consistent then fire and gas.  Edison partnered with JP Morgan to give privileged members of New York City society, homes with electricity.  The lightbulbs were run by small generators.  The invention of the lightbulb, not only introduced a new type of energy but threatened the gas light industry.

With the backing of JP Morgan, Edison launched several businesses that eventually turned into General Electric in 1882.  In September of that same year, the first central power plant was built in Manhattan, known as the Pearl Street Station.  Edison connected a large bank of generators to homes and businesses with a network of underground copper wires.  This was an important shift from a small scale to a larger one and was the model for the entire industry.

Edison hired Samuel Insull as his assistant in 1881.  Insull had a strong head for business and created the model for electricity because it was different from anything from anything else at the time.  Electricity needed to be consumed the moment it was produced; Insull wanted to make it more efficient, affordable and accessible for everyone.  Insull knew that whoever mastered the power grid, would control electricity, so he left General Electric for Chicago Edison.

In Chicago, he built the power grid.  He consolidated smaller electric providers and closed some of the smaller generators, and created larger and more efficient GE generators.  He was able to make high voltage transmission lines and was able to give electricity to the suburbs and the countryside.  He created a network power grid, which made it more reliable.

Insull wanted to keep electricity inexpensive, however, electricity had always been intertwined with politics. Edison had to bribe New York politicians to start the Pearl Street Station.  Eventually, a statewide regulation was created by public utility commissions and was modeled after the one that the railroads used.  The states were able to establish a maximum rate that could be charged to consumers, in return the electric companies were virtually granted a legal monopoly.  In 1907, only Wisconsin and New York followed this practice, then by 1914, 45 states followed this model.

In 1920, the Federal Power Commission was created.  In 1935 the Federal Power Commission created the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission under the Federal Power Act.  The FERC wanted a cost-based regulation and it no longer allowed electric companies to operate out of state.  The Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 wanted to have power bought from an independent generator.  It also pushed for renewable sources and to promote a safer environment.  The EPA was established in 1970 and the Department of Energy was created in 1977.

In the 1996 FERC imposed open access, however, it still remains heavily regulated with federal intervention from the EPA, FERC and the Department of Energy.  FERC decided in 2005, to regulate the power grid to make it more reliable.  The EPA in 2014 put a limit on carbon dioxide emissions to try and push towards a more reliable natural resource.

Electricity has come a long way since the 1600s.  It is a growing industry that is essential to modern life.  Electricity provides modern civilization with multiple conveniences for our everyday life.

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Electrical upgrading

Old Homes and Electricity

Everywhere a person looks, there is a new home renovation show on. Some of these contractors are doing remodels on older homes, and they are doing every type of remodeling imaginable. It is more common for older houses to not be up-to-date, have code violations, and have health hazards in them. A large health and safety hazard is not updated electrical wiring.

Electricity started to become a normal standard in the United States in the 1920s, by 1925 half of the homes in the United States had electricity and by the 1930s some homes with electricity started using appliances. During the 1920s the electric circuits were only needed for lighting and a few appliances; however, now with all the modern technology, the electric circuits are more heavy-duty. Older homes used a 60-amp electrical system, while now houses have a 200-amp/240V system. Most insurance companies won’t give insurance coverage for houses that use a 60-amp electrical system; however, sometimes they will ensure houses that run a 100-amp/240V system.

Knob and Tube (K&T) wiring became popular in the 1940s. K&T were neutral and hot wires that were covered by a cloth, the wires would run parallel with each other roughly a foot apart. Ceramic knobs were used to anchor wires and ceramic tubes were used where wires would cross or would connect to the framing. K&T wiring is not grounded and is also designed to be air cooled. Two problems with K&T wiring are: the size of the wiring can make it inadequate for today’s electrical appliances, and the wiring could have unsafe junctions that could cause arcing or start a fire.

During the mid-1960s and 1970s, aluminum wiring became a popular substitute for copper wiring. The change from copper to aluminum happened because of the expensive cost of copper. The aluminum did not conduct as well as the copper, so electricians had to modify the wire to a larger gauge. Sometimes the aluminum corrodes, which causes the wires to loose connections that can cause arcing or fires. Another problem occurs when the current flows through the aluminum and then the wire heats up and then cools down. When this occurs over and over it causes the wire to creep. When the wire creeps, it can cause overheating and loose connections.

Currently, non-metallic (NM) is the type of wiring that is currently being used. NM refers to the fact that the outer covering is made up of PVC. NM is either 12 or 14 gauge and it has either 2 or 3 conductors, plus the grounding going through it. The main issue with NM wiring is if it is not properly wired or not properly grounded.

There are ways to update the electrical wiring. Sometimes the fix is as simple as replacing a new cover for the junction box or staying with the wattage limit or calling the electric company (if it is fray wires in a weatherhead). Other times the fix is more complicated such as re-wiring or replacing switches or receptacles, and depending on a person’s ability it might be best to call in an electrician.

There are many things to consider when either buying or remodeling an older home. Older homes need to be safe for a person or a family to live in. One way to do this is by having an updated electrical system.

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