Most of us use electricity on a day to day basis. In fact, that should be rephrased to ‘moment to moment basis’ seeing just how much the various electric appliances have become a completely integral part of our lives. When we talk of electricity, we don’t just mean that which comes from the mains power supply. We are also talking about that which comes from batteries, you know, like that which you use on your shaving machine in the morning, or that which you use on your mobile phone every time you call someone or write a text message. Chances are that you if you reading this anywhere, you are using electricity, in whatever appliance, to do so.
But while so many of us use electricity on a moment to moment basis, very few of us bother to find out what, exactly, electricity is. Sure, some of us do find ourselves occasionally wondering on what electricity is, but very few actually bother to go a step further and find out the answers to that question. It doesn’t help that most of our education systems are designed in such a way that kids specialize too early, so that many of them never go far enough as studying something as fundamental as electricity in their elementary and high school physics. The end result is a society which is completely ignorant when it comes to basics of electricity.
So what, exactly, is electricity?
Well, simply put, electricity is a form of energy. It originates from the flow of electrically charged sub-atomic particulates, specifically the ones known as electrons. Electrons are among the components that go into the making of atoms; the atoms being the particles out of which all things are made. It is that flow of electric charge that results in the force through which electricity does the various things it is tasked to do.
In order for the flow to take place, one of the points in the system needs to have more of the electrons than the other point. This is analogous to the situation we see in the flow of water, where, in order for the flow to take place, one point need to be higher than the other, so that the water can flow along the slope thence created. When there is a similar difference in electrons, which makes it possible for them to flow, we end up with that which is described as an electricity potential. This is measure in volts. The phenomenon is best observed in electric batteries, which usually start with a high voltage measure – to indicate a high electric potential, because when a battery is new (or newly charged, for the rechargeable variety), one point has very many electrons, and the other point very few- making it possible for the electrons to flow from the point that is rich in them toward the point that is poor in them, thence creating a force which can be harnessed and put to various uses.
Various forms of energy can be converted into electricity, though electricity (being a form of energy) cannot be created out of nowhere. Wherever we see electricity being produced, we know that it is some other form of energy that is being converted into electric energy – and definitely not electric energy being created. It is about conversion, not about creation. In hydro-electric power plants, it is the kinetic energy inherent in the flowing water that is converted into electric energy. In nuclear power plants, it is the energy produced pursuant to nuclear reactions that is converted into electric energy and harnessed for various purposes. At the lowest level, it is the energy produced pursuant to chemical reactions in batteries that is subsequently converted into electrical energy, and harnessed to power the various appliances.
In all these situations, the whole thing is about the energy so produced being used to force the flow of electrons in various things (for instance, the electrical conducting wires), with the flow of electrons creating the force we know as electricity.