Electricity: Past, Present, and Future

Most of us take electricity for granted. We can’t imagine life without it, yet amazingly it’s only been with us for a little over a century. As residential and commercial Omaha electricians, we work with electricity every day.  We have a good understand and appreciation for electricity’s history and innovation over the years. But not everyone knows the history, so we’re going to attempt to give a brief overview of some of the major breakthroughs and look at what the future might bring us.

The First Days of Electricity

The first documentation in the history of electricity dates back to 500 B.C. when Thales discovered static electricity by rubbing fur on amber. But it wasn’t until 2,000 years later that English physician and physicist William Gilbert published theories about electricity. For the next one hundred years, electricity exploration was happening everywhere. It wasn’t until 1882 when a house in Appleton Wisconsin became the first American home to be powered by hydroelectricity. The station that powered the home used the direct current (DC) system developed by Thomas Edison.

The Current War

Long before electric power in homes became the norm, the standard form of electricity in the US was the DC system that Edison developed. Nikola Tesla, a student of Edison, believed that AC was a better option because, with the use of transformers, power could be converted to higher or lower voltages easier. Edison argued that AC was more dangerous. Eventually, because it was cheaper to distribute and could supply power to larger areas, AC became the new standard for electricity.

Wiring and Electrical Components

In the early days of home power, electricity was carried by bare copper wires with a small amount of cotton insulation.  Sockets, switch handles, and fuse blocks were made of wood. There were no voltage regulators, and lights would often dim and brighten depending on electrical grid demand. From 1890 to 1920, knob and tube wiring were used for electrical installation. Hot wires and neutral wires were run separately and insulated with rubber cloth, which would degrade over time, which later became a fire hazard.

Metal Conduit

During the 1940s, electricians started using metal conduit. Although the conduit was a substantial upgrade for wire insulation, danger was still high because wires weren’t grounded. If one of the hot wires became damaged, fire or severe electrical shock was often the result.

Grounded Wires

After 1965, grounded wires that direct stray electrical currents back into the ground created a safer environment for homeowners. If your house was built before 1965, ground circuit fault interrupters are an advisable upgrade. Today, homes have circuit breakers that immediately shut off power if they sense an overload, adding an additional safeguard.

The Future of Electricity

According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, renewable energy is the fastest-growing source of electricity in the US, increasing 67 percent from 2000-2016. Wind, solar, hydroelectric, and new generation nuclear will all play roles in generating electricity going into the future. Smart homes wired to respond to homeowner desires look to have staying power as well.

If you have an older home that needs some electrical safety upgrades, need to provide more power for different tools or appliances, or upgrade with different smart home applications, we can help you.

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