Beginning in 1850 the average amount of energy used by each person began to increase steadily, according to the EIA.11 The growing use of coal was not the only reason for the increase. It also coincided with two important energy developments. The first was an advancement in the technology available for one of the fundamental forms of energy: electrical energy. Electrical energy is energy released from the movement and interaction of negatively charged elemental particles, called electrons, and positively charged elemental particles, called protons. It can occur naturally, such as in lightning or in static electricity, or may be deliberately produced, such as through a generator. The second important development from this period was the discovery of large supplies of a fossil fuel that is now the most widely used energy resource in the world: oil. Developments in electricity and in energy from fossil fuels represent two major trends out of which arose many of the modern-day global issues related to energy supply and natural resources.
One of the initial steps in the development of electrical energy was Benjamin Franklin's 18th-century discovery that static electricity and lightning were expressions of one and the same form of energy—electrical energy. This discovery helped to lead to a better understanding of electrical energy. In the 1830s the British scientist Michael Faraday further advanced understanding when he discovered that an electric current could flow in a wire within a magnetic field. His work demonstrated basic principles of electricity production: electromagnetism, induction, generation, and transmission. Technologies that began to make use of electrical energy in the 1830s included the telegraph, a device that electronically transmitted messages over a distance through a wire, and electroplating, the use of an electric current to cause a coating to adhere to a surface.
Other advancements in electrical energy technology quickly followed. In the 1860s James Clerk Maxwell, a Scottish mathematical physicist, demonstrated that electric and magnetic fields travel in waves through space. Maxwell developed a mathematical theory that expressed four basic laws of electricity and magnetism. His equations became the basis for many uses of electrical power in the late 1800s and later for the development of radio and television. The first electric railway was introduced in 1878, and electricity was also found to have applications in the heavy chemicals and metallurgical industries. Furthermore, an electric motor created by the American electrical engineer and inventor Nikola Tesla replaced the coal steam engine in some industries and yielded greater productivity.
But advancements in electrical technology probably had the most revolutionary effect through one particular form of energy: light. This was one form of energy for which demand had greatly increased after the introduction of the coal steam engine. For the many factories and businesses that had sprung up since, the onset of evening represented an obstacle to labor and productivity. In 1878 the American inventor Thomas Edison founded the Edison Electric Light Company. He created the first practical incandescent electric light in 1879. The lightbulb, in which a filament gives off light when heated to incandescence by an electric current, was modeled on an 1878 prototype created by Edison. With this introduction of artificial lighting, one of the remaining limitations on industrial productivity—the onset of evening— diminished. Lightbulbs began to replace the oil lamps used in industrialized nations such as the United States and England. From 1880 to 1914 there was an annual growth of more than 10 percent in electrical consumption in the world's major industrialized countries.
Edison also entered into a partnership with Werner and William Siemens in 1881 to design Europe's first public lighting network in London. In 1882 Edison established the first electricity generating plants in London and New York. They were powered by coal. In 1889 Edison consolidated his various electric businesses into the Edison General Electric Company.
Another contemporary energy-related issue began to surface at this time: the inadequacy of the energy infrastructure, which caused limitations on energy production. Early electricity generating stations produced electricity in the form of direct current (DC), an electric current that flows in only one direction and cannot easily be transmitted over long distances. Transmission over distances greater than three miles required the use of large, expensive copper cables. Another problem was that early generating stations, along with corporations and factories that were also creating their own electricity, generated power at different voltages and cycles.
When Edison General Electric merged with another U.S. electrical power distribution company in 1892, forming General Electric, diversity among the two companies' existing generation plants, combined with the use of DC, hindered the establishment of effective regional electricity networks. The lack of infrastructure made it impossible to connect the electrical networks of different cities.
However, within a few years, generation plants implemented the use of a rotating coupler, a device that could group their various systems, and alternating current (AC), an electric current that, unlike direct current, flows back and forth. It can also be transmitted over long distances with minimal energy loss. George Westinghouse, a U.S. inventor and manufacturer, first promoted this type of current in the 1890s.
This stage in energy history again illustrates that when societies find new ways to generate energy (in this case, the coal steam engine) they become more advanced and therefore require a greater amount of energy (here, a need for light), and so they seek out additional ways of generating this energy (here, through electric light and electricity in general). Electricity, ironically, also led to an increased use of coal, because coal powered the plants that generated the electricity. (This continues to be coal's primary function in energy production today.)
Outside the United States and England, electrical power took hold in other countries, too. Germany was one such country; it also grappled with the need to establish an infrastructure to unify its electricity networks. In 1926 its Central Electricity Board allocated public funds to unify and centralize the distribution of electricity. Still, right up until the 1940s, Germany and other industrialized countries would continue to struggle with a lack of sufficient regulation and centralization to keep their electrical power networks running smoothly. Compounding this situation was the fact that electric utility companies were able to form monopolies, controlling the related functions of generating electricity, transmitting it over distances, and distributing it to customers. One outcome of electric utility monopolization was that electricity consumers had little or no choice of providers. The monopolizing companies could set prices that were much higher than they might have been had other companies been able to enter the market and initiate competitive pricing. Also, because each monopolizing utility company controlled the generation and distribution of electric energy in a specific service area, interconnection with utility transmission networks in other service areas met with technological hurdles and compatibility issues, affecting energy reliability and efficiency. Additionally, utility monopolization gave electricity providers the power to install facilities they considered necessary without weighing input from consumers, who were all but bound to the electricity provider in their service area.
Consumers encountered such problems with General Electric, which controlled everything from the manufacture of electric motors to the distribution of power. The Commonwealth Edison Company, which was led by Samuel Insull, a former assistant to Thomas Edison, was another monopoly. By 1910 Insull had developed what was the largest electricity distribution network at that time, capable of transmitting electricity over long distances. In his network, electricity was generated as DC at a few central power stations, changed to the more efficient high-voltage AC, and transmitted throughout a city via a network of wires. In substations in different parts of the city, transformers and converters changed the electricity back to low-voltage DC for nearby homes and businesses. Eventually under this system electricity was sent through entire states and then multistate regions. It became the standard way to distribute electricity.
Between 1920 and 1929 electricity output in the United States increased 106 percent; in Europe, 116 percent. By 1939 it increased another 38 percent in the United States.12 But as U.S. utility companies began to form monopolies, there were calls for reform. The administration of the U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt (1932-45) helped to reform the electric sector. His
New Deal program took a direct role in developing U.S. natural resources by establishing the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933 and the Rural Electrification Administration in 1935. The New Deal administration enacted laws to address problems caused by monopolies and to dissolve public utility holding companies.
The energy-related event that is perhaps most relevant to the global energy-related issues of today is a 19th-century development in which, as Tom Mast writes, "oil shoved aside coal as the world's primary fuel, just as coal had replaced wood."13 From ancient times human beings had found various uses for petroleum, or oil, which sometimes seeped from the ground. They mainly used it as a fuel for lighting—burning it in torches or distilling it and using it in lamps. Kerosene, a fuel derived from the distillation of petroleum, filled oil lamps as early as the medieval period, and small quantities of oil were produced and sold in the 1800s, mainly for lighting. By 1857 kerosene had almost completely supplanted whale oil, a more expensive and scarce oil that had been used for lamp lighting in earlier generations. Gas, a product derived from the distillation of oil, was also used as a fuel for lighting—mainly to light workshops and factories in early 1800s London. In 1812 the first gas company was founded, and in the 1830s the perfection of the petroleum distillation process and improvements in gas storage units spread the use of gas lighting to other industrial cities.
However, the "oil industry" as we know it today really began in the United States at the end of the 19th century. One can trace its beginnings back to an event that took place in 1859, when the U.S. entrepreneur "Colonel" Edwin Drake struck a large oil deposit 69 feet beneath the earth in Titusville, Pennsylvania. This was the first U.S. oil well, and its discovery soon led to the development of oil fields, places where oil could be extracted and produced for energy. At first horse-drawn carts transported the oil over the rough Pennsylvania terrain. Within six years, however, the first U.S. oil pipeline, a line of pipe with pumps and valves for conveying oil, was constructed to facilitate the oil transportation process. Drake's oil discovery and the subsequent development of oil fields and pipelines are considered founding events of the oil industry—precedents of the energy-intensive, fossil fuel-dependent lifestyle that eventually developed in industrialized nations by the 20th century. Oil is today the most popular fuel in the United States, accounting for 40 percent of U.S. consumption of energy resources in 2005, according to the EIA.14 The entire world consumed 82,459 million tons of oil in 2005 alone, reports the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2006.15
The Invention of the Automobile and the Impact on the Environment
With this intense dependency on fossil fuels has arisen a mounting concern over what the prolific consumption and production of oil have been doing to the environment since the initial 1800s Titusville oil discovery. The burning of fossil fuels releases not only carbon dioxide, but also sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and ash particles—all pollutants. Some studies by climate scientists show that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide and these other pollutants have raised the average overall temperature of the Earth by several degrees. Some scientists believe that even a slight change in average global temperature can radically alter weather and climate patterns, as the warmer air melts the ice of the arctic regions, heats up the oceans, and causes more frequent and violent storms. This issue is often referred to as the problem of global warming or global climate change.
The oil discovery happened to coincide with events that greatly raised the value of oil in everyday life. The first of these events was the invention of a new type of engine, the internal combustion engine. This radical new engine was powered by combustion, a rapid chemical process that generates heat. Unlike in the steam engine, where combustion took place inside a separate furnace chamber, combustion in the internal combustion engine took place inside the engine itself. Because of this feature, the internal combustion engine was lighter than the steam engine and therefore more portable and suitable for a greater variety of energy needs. In addition, the internal combustion engine ran best on gasoline, a liquid fuel composed of a mixture of small, light hydrocarbons. Gasoline is one of the products of a process that crude oil undergoes in refineries, where crude oil is heated and broken up into smaller molecules to remove its impurities. Gasoline was a more ideal fuel than coal for powering the new engine, for various reasons. First, it had the desirable quality of being easy to handle, since it was by nature a fluid—not a solid that needed to be broken down, like coal. It was also able to produce enough energy to keep the internal combustion engine running efficiently. And since it could be carried directly within the combustible engine machine itself, it was easily transported, unlike coal. Further, when oil-based fuels such as gasoline were transported in bulk, they did not need to be moved via railways, as coal did; they could be distributed via pipelines. With the newfound use for gasoline, the oil being discovered and extracted in large quantities was now in greater demand. The ease and convenience of oil-based fuels for transportation continue to maintain oil's status as the most consumed energy resource in the world. According to the EIA, oil-based fuels now power about 90 percent of all transportation in the world.16
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