A History of Electricity Generation: Solar Power, Kinetic Energy and Wind

Even ancient civilizations recognized the power of electricity. But harnessing this power and using it for specific purposes has only been something humans have had the ability to do for about 250 years. Electricity can be generated in a variety of ways. Kinetic, solar, and wind generation are three examples of types of energy that can generate electricity.

Electric Generators

Electric generators don't create electricity. Instead, they convert chemical or mechanical energy into electrical energy. Electric generators work by capturing power created by motion and converting this power into electrical energy. An electric generator in a home may run on propane, gas, or diesel fuel, creating mechanical power that is then forced into a circuit to create an electrical current. After the electrical current has been created, it moves through copper wires to power electrical systems or external machines.

Electrochemistry Batteries

Batteries have electrochemical cells that are able to store chemical energy to convert to electrical energy. Generally, batteries contain voltaic cells that may also be called galvanic cells, and these types of cells generate electrical energy spontaneously. Benjamin Franklin first used the word "battery" for linked capacitors, but the first batteries were developed thousands of years ago. Inventors have worked to improve batteries over the years, developing dry-cell batteries, nickel-cadmium batteries, alkaline batteries, and lithium batteries.


Turbines are devices that harness the kinetic energy of a fluid like water, steam, air, or combustion gases, then generating electricity. Kinetic energy is energy produced via motion. Anything that can move has kinetic energy. Movement may involve vibration, rotation, or translation, which means moving from one place to another. Turbines are a type of engine, because they require an input to generate an output. As fluid enters the turbine, the blades move in a spinning motion to generate electricity. Turbines are often used for hydropower and wind power. Turbines are also used in heat engines, because they require little maintenance and they work very efficiently. Wind turbines work when the wind makes the blades of the turbines rotate, which spins a generator and creates electricity. Wind power can be used for specific tasks such as powering equipment or it can be used just to generate electricity.

The Photovoltaic Effect

The photovoltaic effect generates electric current when exposed to sunlight. Solar panels generate electrical energy using the photovoltaic effect. Edmond Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect in 1839 when he was conducting experiments with wet cells. Solar cells have two types of semiconductors that are joined to create an electric field. Negatively and positively charged particles move in different directions, creating a current that produces solar energy.

1600 - William Gilbert created the word "electricity" from the Greek word "electron."

1752 - Benjamin Franklin proved that lightning and static electricity were the same when he tied a key to a kite string and flew it during a thunderstorm.

1800 - Alessandro Volta invented the first electric battery.

1821 - Michael Faraday discovered electro-magnetic rotation.

1831 - Michael Faraday proved that electricity could be induced by making changes in an electromagnetic field.

1837 - Thomas Davenport invented the first electric motor.

1841 - James Prescott Joule discovered that energy is conserved in electrical circuits that involve current flow, thermal heating, and chemical transformations.

1844 - Samuel Morse created the electric telegraph.

1876 - William Grylls Adams and Richard Evans Day used the photovoltaic principle with selenium, using solar power to generate electricity.

1878 - Joseph Swan invented the incandescent light bulb, which quickly burned out.

1879 - Thomas Edison invented an incandescent light bulb that lasted for about 40 hours.

1883 - Nikola Tesla invented the Tesla coil, which is a transformer that converted electricity from low to high voltage.

1884 - Nikola Tesla invented the electric alternator to produce alternating current.

1893 - Westinghouse Electric Company used alternating current to light the Chicago World Fair.

1897 - Joseph John Thomson discovered the electron.

1913 - The first electric refrigerator was invented.

1961 - The first electronic desktop calculator was invented.

2004 - High-power light emitting diodes were developed with full color range.