Everything you don’t know about how electricity works

While we rely on electricity every day of our lives, it’s not something we ever really have to think about – simply switch on a plug or turn on an electrical appliance and, as if by magic, it works. At Lithon, we work according to a similar principle – we take care of the behind-the-scenes ‘magic’ and our clients enjoy the end result. That said, here’s a quick look at this fascinating topic, starting with a quick recap of…

What you may already know

You’d be surprised how much you probably do know about electricity – after all, we’ve all sat in a science class at some point in our lives. Remember atoms, the microscopic building blocks of matter consisting of protons, neutrons and electrons? In certain materials (known as conductors) electrons are able to move from atom to another atom – this movement is electricity. By surrounding the conductor with an insulator (a material that doesn’t conduct electricity) and adding a power source like a battery to a closed circuit, the electrons are forced to move in a single direction and are able to generate light and heat.

Electricity for commercial and domestic use is generated in power stations using energy sources like coal, oil, natural gas or nuclear power or from renewable energy sources like solar, wind and geothermal energy. Electricity is then carried via large transmission lines to substations and from here, via distribution lines to homes and other buildings.

What you may NOT know…

Electricity is a complex process that demands ongoing investigation. Here are a few interesting facts worth knowing.

Electricity causes your heart to beat. As WebMD explains, “The atria and ventricles work together, alternately contracting and relaxing to make the heart beat and pump blood. The electrical system of your heart is the power source that makes this possible. Your heartbeat is triggered by electrical impulses that travel down a special pathway through your heart.”

Science Daily reports that, “Converting livestock manure into a domestic renewable fuel source could generate enough electricity to meet up to three per cent of North America’s entire consumption needs and lead to a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), according to new research.”

Electricity may hold the answer to dementia. Reporting on a study published in Nature Neuroscience in 2019, in an article entitled Electrical Stimulation Makes Old Brains Act Young Again, Live Science noted that, “A short session of brain zapping can reverse some of the effects of aging in older adults, a new study suggests. The technique isn’t ready for non-experimental use yet, and it’s not clear how long the benefits last. But the study authors said they hope that their findings will set the stage for improving cognition in both healthy adults and in people experiencing Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.”

London-based tech company Pavegen has created tiles that convert “footfall into off-grid power” which it has used to create the first ‘smart street’ in the English capital. “Each footstep on a Pavegen walkway generates 2 to 4 joules of off-grid electrical energy or around 5 watts of power for the duration of a footstep,” which is then used to generate birdsong during the day to add to the atmosphere on the street and to power the streetlights at night.

Fun facts

  • Electricity travels at the speed of light.
  • Mosley Street in Newcastle upon Tyne was the first street ever to be lit by electric light bulbs back in 1879. 
  • The sewing machine, fan, kettle and toaster were the first domestic appliances to be electrified. 
  • Electric eels are able to produce shocks of 600 volts.
  • A microwave uses less electricity to heat food than it does to power its digital clock.
  • Almost 100 percent of the electricity used in Iceland is powered by renewable energy.
  • Google reportedly uses enough electricity to continuously keep the lights on in 200 000 homes.

Electrical engineering at Lithon

At Lithon, we have the knowledge and expertise to help our clients with electrical systems study and designs across all voltage levels. These include substations, transmission lines, reticulation networks, low cost reticulation systems (including rural electrification), municipal management services, earthing and lightning protection, building services, energy studies and management. We’re also experienced in various renewable energy systems – from feasibility studies right through to implementation.

Have a project you’d like to discuss? 

Get in touch with a member of our team today – we’d love to hear from you.