14 Fascinating Facts About Electricity and the History of Power

Posted by Melissa Tamberg on August 1, 2017

You may want to curse your elementary school teacher. Despite what you probably learned as a child, Benjamin Franklin did not invent electricity.


We’ll give Ben this much: His kite experiment demonstrated that lightning is electricity, and he was the first to use the terms positive and negative charge.


But in reality, electricity has always existed — naturally. For example, lightning is simply a flow of electrons between the ground and the clouds. And when you touch something that gives you a shock, it is actually electricity moving toward you. So modern electrical devices such as motors, light bulbs and batteries do not create electricity; they are just innovative inventions that harness and consume it.


The first discoveries of electricity were made by ancient Greek philosophers, who realized that when amber is rubbed against cloth, lightweight objects will stick to it. This basis of static electricity was just the beginning of numerous discoveries made about electricity over the centuries.


We at Eaton thought it would be cool to take a look back and share 14 fascinating facts about electricity and the history of power:


  1. Civilization’s first significant energy invention was fire, and it was only about 5,000 years ago that humans began using other energy sources such as wind.
  2. About 5,000 years ago, the energy consumed for survival averaged about 12,000 kilocalories per person each day, an amount that had doubled by AD 1400. After the Industrial Revolution, the demand nearly tripled to an average of 77,000 kilocalories per person in 1875. And by 1975, it had tripled again to 230,000.
  3. In America, the first natural gas light was created in 1821; the first oil well was dug in 1859; and the first gasoline car was built in 1892.
  4. Thomas Edison built the first power plant, and in 1882 his Pearl Street Power Station sent electricity to 85 buildings. People were initially afraid of electricity and parents would not let their children near the lights.
  5. Thomas Young was the first to use the word “energy” in its current sense, replacing the traditional term vis viva, meaning “living force.”
  6. Only 10 percent of energy in a light bulb is used to create light. Ninety percent of its energy creates heat. Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) use about 80 percent less electricity than conventional bulbs and last up to 12 times longer.
  7. Refrigerators in the U.S. consume about the same amount of energy as 25 large power plants produce each year.
  8. Enough sunlight reaches the earth’s surface each minute to satisfy the world’s energy demands for an entire year.
  9. The amount of energy Americans use doubles every 20 years. And between 2008 and 2030, world energy consumption is expected to increase more than 55 percent.
  10. Overall, coal makes up 2/5 of the world’s electricity generation, with the U.S. producing half of its electricity in that manner. China uses coal to generate more than three-fourths of its electricity. Australia, Poland, and South Africa produce an even greater percentage.
  11. Ten countries produce 2/3 of the world’s oil and hold the same percentage of known reserves. Saudi Arabia tops both lists.
  12. Idle power consumes more electricity than all the solar panels in America combined. For instance, in the average home, 75 percent of the electricity used to power electronics is consumed while the products are turned off. The average desktop computer idles at 80 watts, while the average laptop idles at 20 watts. A Sony PlayStation 3 uses about 200 watts, both when it’s active and when it’s idle.
  13. On a hot summer afternoon, California consumes the entire output of two large nuclear reactors pumping water.
  14. One ceiling fixture can use $2,000 to $5,000 of electricity over its useful life.



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