Michael Faraday was one of the most important experimental physicists who ever lived. His work in understanding and using electricity has allowed many of our technological advances in the last two centuries.

Where does our electricity come from?

The data in this section comes from a report by the Department for Energy and Climate Change.  It is a useful resource for looking at trends in energy use.  You have a look at all their publications here: http://www.decc.gov.uk/

Charts used in this activity came from this publication.

Although there are some categorical answers to the questions in this section, some of the questions ask the students to put forward plausible reasons why they see a trend.  There are no right or wrong answers here, and these questions could be used as a starting point for a class discussion.

You can download a worksheet to fill in here.

Chart  1

How many years does Chart 1 cover?
30 years, from 1980 to 2009.

What is the general trend in electricity consumption?  What are the reasons for the trend?
Electricity production is increasing, because more electricity is being used now than in previous years.

Why do you think energy consumption dropped from 2008 to 2009?


There have been campaigns to reduce electricity use, as well as improvements in the efficiency of household appliances.  In 2009 there was an economic downturn, which meant people had less money to spend and would think more about (not) wasting electricity.

Chart 2

What years are we looking at in this chart?
1980, 1990 and 2009.

What are the main trends you can see in the different types of fuel used over this period of time?
The amount of coal and oil used has dropped dramatically, while gas use has increased.  Wind power started being used more between 1980 and 1990 and is now an important renewable form of electricity.

What type of fuel provided most of our electricity in 1990, and what type of fuel do we use most to produce our electricity today?
Coal in 1980, and gas today (at least, 2009).

Which of the renewable power sources supplies more of our electricity?
Wind.

Chart 3

In 2009, how much of our energy came from geothermal or solar power?
1%.

Biomass comes in lots of different forms.  Have a look at the Biomass section on the right

hand side.  What kind of materials make up biomass?
Materials from plants or animals.

Which fuels in the Biomass section are most likely to be fuels for cars?
Biofuels.

Which fuels in the Biomass section are likely to be used to directly heat homes?
Wood.

Curriculum Links

Christmas
Science

Working scientifically

Analysis and evaluation

  • interpret observations and data, including identifying patterns and using observations, measurements and data to draw conclusions
  • present reasoned explanations, including explaining data in relation to predictions and hypotheses

Physics

Calculation of fuel uses and costs in the domestic context

  • fuels and energy resources

Energy changes and transfers

  • processes that involve energy transfer: changing motion, dropping an object, completing an electrical circuit, stretching a spring, metabolism of food, burning fuels
Geography

Human and physical geography

  • human geography relating to: population and urbanisation; international development; economic activity in the primary, secondary, tertiary and quaternary sectors; and the use of natural resources
  • understand how human and physical processes interact to influence, and change landscapes, environments and the climate; and how human activity relies on effective functioning of natural systems.
History
  • Ideas, political power, industry and empire: Britain, 1745-1901

Scottish Curriculum Links:

Science

SCN 3-04b

Planet Earth - Energy sources and sustainability

By investigating renewable energy sources and taking part in practical activities to harness them, I can discuss their benefits and potential problems.

 

SCN 4-04a

Planet Earth - Energy sources and sustainability

By contributing to an investigation on different ways of meeting society's energy needs, I can express an informed view on the risks and benefits of different energy sources, including those produced from plants.

 

SCN 4-04b

Planet Earth - Energy sources and sustainability

Through investigation, I can explain the formation and use of fossil fuels and contribute to discussions on the responsible use and conservation of finite resources.

Technologies

 

TCH 3-01a

Technological developments in society

From my studies of technologies in the world around me, I can begin to understand the relationship between key scientific principles and technological developments

 

TCH 4-01a

Technological developments in society

I can compare traditional with contemporary production methods to assess their contribution in the world around me and explain the impact of related technological changes.

 

TCH 4-01b

Technological developments in society

Having investigated a current trend of technological advance in Scotland or beyond, I can debate the short- and long-term possibilities of the technological development becoming a reality.

 

TCH 4-01c

Technological developments in society

I can debate the possible future impact of new and emerging technologies on economic prosperity and the environment.

 

TCH 3-02a

Technological developments in society

From my studies of sustainable development, I can reflect on the implications and ethical issues arising from technological developments for individuals and societies.

 

TCH 4-02a

Technological developments in society

I can examine a range of materials, processes or designs in my local community to consider and discuss their environmental, social and economic impact, discussing the possible lifetime cost to the environment in Scotland or beyond.

Unlike many of the other great thinkers of the time, Michael Faraday did not come from a wealthy family and did not have a great education.  His father was a blacksmith, and Faraday had educated himself before getting a job working for Humphrey Davy, who was a wealthy and important scientist at the time, after proving he was smart enough.

Because of his background, he started an event which continues today: the Royal Institution Christmas lectures.  Designed to provide scientific education to children, each is a series of lectures around one topic.

christmas lecture


Faraday gave his last Christmas lecture in 1860. It was based on the chemistry of the candle.  Candles relate to Faraday's work in many ways. His work on electric generators ultimately meant that candles were replaced with electric lighting, a simpler, cleaner and safer way of illuminating our homes.

Michael Faraday's work has provided us with power in the past and into the future.  His work on electrolysis may help us produce hydrogen as a clean power source for our cars while his electricity generators can use renewable resources, like hydroelectric and wind power to generate electricity for our homes and industry.

 

Where does our electricity come from?

You can download a worksheet to fill in here.

Have a look at the data produced by the Department for Energy and Climate Change.

decc graph 1

 

1. How many years does Chart 1 cover?

2. What is the general trend in electricity consumption?  What do you think are the reasons for the trend?

3. Why do you think energy consumption dropped from 2008 to 2009?


decc graph 2

4. What years are we looking at in Chart 2?

5. What are the main trends you can see in the different types of fuel used over this period of time?

6. What type of fuel provided most of our electricity in 1990, and what type of fuel do we use most to produce our electricity today?

7. Which of the renewable power sources supplies more of our electricity?

 

decc graph 3

8. In 2009, how much of our energy came from geothermal or solar power?

9. Biomass comes in lots of different forms.  Have a look at the biomass section on the right hand side.  What kind of materials make up biomass?

10. Which fuels in the Biomass section are most likely to be fuels for cars?

11. Which fuels in the Biomass section are likely to be used to directly heat homes?

12. In 2009, 6.7% of the electricity generated in the UK came from renewable sources.  By 2020, The UK aims to produce 15% of its energy (electricity, and for transport but not aeroplanes) from renewables.  What ways can you suggest that we be able to meet this target?