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Electric power is derived from electricity – the flow of both negatively and positively charged particles. All matter is made up of atoms. In the center of the atom is a nucleus containing positively charged particles called protons and uncharged particles called neutrons. The nucleus is also surrounded by negatively charged particles referred to as electrons.
Electrons and protons are equal in number and the charge of each is also equal. When the set-up of the charged particles is disturbed or knocked off balance, the atom may lose or gain an electron, resulting in an electric current.
Electricity was not widely understood before Benjamin Franklin’s kite experiment in a lightning storm in the mid-1700s in Philadelphia. He was the first to label protons and electrons and to posit the first theories of electricity.
Electricity is measured in watts, a term owing itself to its inventor, James Watt, who also invented the steam engine. One watt represents a small unit of power. 750 watts is equivalent to one horsepower.
Electric generators, also known as dynamos, are used to generate electricity and convert it into either mechanical or electrical energy by relying on the relationship between magnetism and electricity. Generators achieve this by moving a wire or other electrical conducting materials across a magnetic field, causing an electric current to spark in the wire.
Large generators have a stationary conductor consisting of a rotating shaft and a conducting ring that is coiled around the wire. The wire acts as an electric conductor. Each electrical current that occurs throughout the sections of the generator are combined into one large electrical current.
Typical generators generate electricity through one of the following: a turbine, engine, water wheel, or other device capable of converting electrical energy into mechanical energy. Most of the generation of electric power in the U.S. is accomplished with a steam turbine engine, a device consisting of shaft-mounted blades. Steam turbines generate energy by converting the kinetic energy of a mobile fluid (liquid or gas) into mechanically driven energy.
Steam can be produced through a number of different sources, including coal, petroleum, natural gas, nuclear power, and hydropower.
Other sources of power that can produce electricity include geothermal power, solar power, wind power, and biomass.