Major uses of electricity

EBR Staff Writer Published 26 January 2018

After the discovery of electricity way back in the 18 century, it has now become impossible to imagine the world without electricity. Electricity has become essential part in every sphere of human life.

A vast economic growth witnessed across the world has led to a sharp increase in the demand for electricity in the past several decades. According to International Energy Outlook 2016 published by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), world’s net electricity generation is projected to increase 69% by 2040, from 21.6 trillion kilowatthours (kWh) in 2012.

The rising demand resulted in the invention of many new sources of power generation. Besides, the environmental damage caused by coal-fired power plants has been a key driver behind the invention of new sources to produce electricity.

Currently, electricity is being generated from a wide range of sources, including wind, solar, nuclear and biomass, among others. However, coal continues to be a major source of power generation, although it is being replaced by natural gas, renewables, and nuclear power. According to report by World Energy Council, coal fuelled 40% of the world’s electricity in 2015. It is projected to continue to “supply a strategic share over the next three decades.” Due to growing concerns over the damage caused by coal-fired power plants, many countries are contemplating to phase out thermal power plants in the coming years.

Here are the major uses of electricity:

Household purposes: A significant amount of the total electricity produced globally is used for household purposes.  It is used for computing, water heating, television, refrigeration, cooking and lighting, among others. According to the EIA, electricity use in the US in 2016 is over 13 times higher than that was recorded in 1950. In 2016, electricity used for air conditioning was the single largest contributor for total power consumption in the US.

Image: A significant amount of the total electricity produced globally is used for household purposes. Photo courtesy of Suriya Kankliang/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Industry: Industries also use huge amounts of electricity to power a diverse range of manufacturing processes. Due to a surge in industrial activities, industrial consumption of electricity has gone up sharply in the past few decades. In some manufacturing processes, electricity is used to increase the temperature of components in order to achieve desired product shape. While some industrial facilities build their own power generation plants, others rely on supply from utilities.

Transport: Electricity is widely used by public mass transit systems and by electric vehicles across the world. Electricity is used as fuel by railway networks in many countries. Electricity is also used to charge batteries for electric vehicles. As many countries frame policies to contain environmental pollution caused by burning of fossil fuels in transportation, vehicles that run on batteries are gaining prominence. So, electricity is seen as a major contributor in the transition to greener transportation. According to an International Energy Outlook 2017 report published by the EIA, the share of electricity used in transportation is projected to double between 2015 and 2040, led by increase in the number of plug-in electric vehicles and rise in electricity usage for rail networks. However, the electricity use in transportation sector is estimated to occupy just 4% of total delivered electricity consumption in 2040.    

Image: Brussels-South, overhead wires suspended across multiple tracks. Photo courtesy of Smiley.toerist/Wikipedia.

Commercial buildings: Electricity finds its vast usage in commercial buildings that include offices, hospitals, schools, police stations, warehouses, hotels, and shopping malls, among others. It is used for lighting, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. A large amount of electricity is currently being used for street lighting in almost every country. Medical facilities require continuous supply of electricity. According to EIA report, electricity use is estimated to increase the most in residential and commercial buildings over the period of 2015–40 due to growth in personal incomes and rising urban migration in non-OECD countries.    

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