R Lang & Associates

          HOME                      ABOUT                      SPACE & AVIATION                     MEDICAL SCIENCE

The World We Live In

.. needless to say
that this display must have given a fair demonstration of what electricity can do.


The world we live in features many new inventions to improve our lives of which have taken place within only the last century or two.  One of these was electricity, many of its discoveries attributed to Michael Faraday, a humble and noble statesman by most anyone’s standard.

As useful and revolutionary that electricity has proven to be, power isn’t without responsibility – just like freedom isn’t without responsibility.  Try putting those two together:  power + freedom = responsibility + responsibility. 

It may be recalled that a public demonstration given at London’s Royal Institution by Humphrey Davy in 1812 was well attended, including Faraday himself.  It consisted of an elaborate electrochemical battery located within a cellar below a stage where two electrode terminals were spaced - and when the switch was thrown - created a magnificent but frightening spark of electricity to its onlookers.  It is needless to say that this display must have given a fair demonstration of what electricity can do. 

Our civilization is networked with electrical power lines supplying our everyday needs of electricity: lights, refrigeration, radios and televisions, computers and office machines, and the myriad of appliances that make our lives productive and sanitary. 

Commercial electrical power begins at a generating plant and is routed to transmission lines operating most often with three-phase alternating current.  It is transported over great distances which means it will incur a resistance (formula:  R = ρL/A) and this loss from resistance is compensated by raising the voltage, sometimes as much as 1,000,000 volts (one million volts).  This higher voltage requires tall transmission towers which are placed within certain corridors away from the public.  Another means to compensate for these losses, and considered even more economical, is to transport electrical power by direct current, known as high-voltage direct current (HVDC).  Southern California receives much of its electrical power by an unusually long DC transmission line operating at approximately one million volts, and converts it back to AC before it enters a home or building. 


What might be hard to believe is that high-voltage overhead conductors are not covered by insulation, made of strands of aluminum alloy sometimes reinforced with steel.  The surrounding air is considered to be the insulator for overhead transmission lines, and thought to be the lowest-cost method.  

If the surrounding air is the insulator for power lines, then it is plainly apparent that people and things must stay clear of power lines.  This includes such activities as kite-flying, ultra-light aircraft, and ballooning. 

Another caution, derived from studies, concerns the issue of living too close to high voltage lines which can be harmful to human health, including an increase to the risk of cancer. 

Amazing dynamos and towering power lines.  High-speed travel and internetwork communications.  Although these revolutionary and powerful techniques improve our lives, it comes with a new set of moral responsibilities.  This is the world we live in.