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Lights On!

The Science of Power Generation

Mark Denny

Publication Year: 2013

Power generation is a relatively recent concern because humans had little need for sustained power until the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Today, modern civilization is wholly dependent on the production and distribution of power. Without it, our way of life would be extinguished. In Lights On!, Mark Denny reveals the mysterious world of power generation. He takes us on a fun tour, examining the nature of energy, tracing the history of power generation, explaining the processes from production through transmission to use, and addressing questions that are currently in the headlines such as: • Is natural gas the best alternative energy source in the near term? • Could solar power be the answer to all our problems? • Why is nuclear power such a hard sell, and are the concerns valid? Devoting individual chapters to each of the sources of power—electrical, coal, oil and natural gas, hydro, nuclear, and solar—Denny explains the pros and cons of each, their availability worldwide, and which are in dwindling supply. Making clear that his approach is that of "a scientist and engineer, not a politician or businessman," Denny addresses environmental concerns by providing information to help readers understand the science and engineering of power generation so they can discuss contemporary energy issues from an informed perspective. For those who wish to delve deeper into the science, a technical appendix provides estimations for a variety of power generators. Anyone who is interested in how energy works and how it is transformed to power our lives will get a charge out of Lights On!

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

Thanks to Vincent Burke and Jennifer Malat at the Johns Hopkins University Press for ensuring the smooth transition of this book from conception to production. Thanks to Carolyn Moser, once again, for her expert copyediting. I am grateful to Dr. Charlotte Geier for permission to reproduce figure 2.4. ...

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pp. ix-xiv

This book is about energy and power—the kind that we need to heat our houses and light our streets, to get us from A to B, and to drive our industries. Power generation is a relatively recent problem historically because the human need for power was minimal until the Industrial Revolution. ...

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1. Newton’s Legacy

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pp. 1-27

‘‘Energy is not a material thing,’’ a physicist of the late nineteenth century might have said. Einstein would demur at this statement, and because of him, the physicists of later times think differently. Material or not, energy is a property of objects—a characteristic with a well-defined meaning. ...

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2. What All the World Wants

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pp. 28-58

In the early days of the first Industrial Revolution in England at the end of the eighteenth century—a time when mankind was on the cusp of changing the world—a far-sighted and savvy businessman liked to show visitors around his new Birmingham factory. ...

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3. The Vital Spark

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pp. 59-83

Electricity is the medium, not the message. It is the vehicle through which power is transferred very rapidly, and quite efficiently, from generating plant to user. We saw in chapter 1 that electrical power is not readily stored but that it moves quickly. Electric current is the common currency of power, readily converted as needed. ...

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4. Old King Coal

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pp. 84-103

Coal has a black image. Just as some people hate cigarettes but depend on them, so humans for centuries have had a love-hate relationship with coal. Coal mining and coal burning are dirty, unhealthful, ugly, bad for the environment, and vital for industry. ...

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5. The Seven Sisters—Old and New

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pp. 104-133

In chapter 2 we saw something of the oil industry’s past; here, I examine in more detail its present and future. Oil is our biggest single source of energy, as we saw in figure 2.6. Most of this energy is used for transportation, and almost all transportation is fueled by oil. Natural gas—often but not always associated with oil for geological reasons— ...

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6. Water, Water, Everywhere

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pp. 134-150

We move on from fossil fuels and consider our first renewable source of energy: hydroelectric power. Hydro is by far the best-developed, most mature technology for generating electricity from a renewable resource, and this fact is reflected in the figures: worldwide, hydro is responsible for 99% of the renewable energy we exploit. ...

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7. Too Cheap to Meter

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pp. 151-176

Although nuclear power is technically not a renewable resource, it is often considered such because the fuel reserves are enough to last for much longer than the reserves of other power generation technologies—anywhere from 80 years at the low end of estimates to millions of years at the high end. ...

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8. Here Comes the Sun

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pp. 177-196

The main renewable energy sources are wind power and solar power—the subjects with which we begin this final chapter. We start off with a survey of wind power technology and capabilities. You might reasonably wonder why wind power should fall under this chapter title. In fact, winds are driven by solar power.1 ...

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pp. 197-198

When two people disagree fundamentally, we know that at least one of them must be wrong. When experts disagree, the rest of us can only make educated guesses as to what is right. In this book I have quoted several experts on the subject of energy and future energy sources and have investigated the subject from the semidetached point of view ...


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pp. 199-206


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pp. 207-226


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pp. 227-238


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pp. 239-247

E-ISBN-13: 9781421409979
E-ISBN-10: 1421409976
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421409962
Print-ISBN-10: 1421409968

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 23 halftones, 29 line drawings
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 867740732
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Lights On!

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Energy conversion.
  • Energy storage.
  • Renewable energy sources
  • Power resources.
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