Behind The Light Switch: What Is A Power Grid And Its Sources of Energy?

Behind The Light Switch: What Is A Power Grid And Its Sources of Energy?

Posted 08.09.2012 in Articles by Jess

Most of us don't think about where our electricity comes from until we go to turn the switch and nothing happens or until we get the electricity bill in the mail. From cooking our meals to taking hot showers, not sitting in the dark to watching TV, electricity plays a crucial role in almost every aspect of of modern life. Without electricity there'd be no playing video games, charging our cell phones, turning our computers on. As the world grows more conscious about our electricity consumption, we hear more and more about different kinds of energy resources – solar, wind, hydro, etc. With so much power behind that tiny light switch, where does it all come from?

A power grid is the system in which power travels from the power plant to your house. It does this in three ways: 1. Power stations that produce electricity from combustible fuels like coal, natural gas, biomass or non-combustible fuels such as wind, solar, nuclear, or hydro power, 2. Transmission lines that carry electricity from power plants to demand centers, and 3. Transformers that reduce voltage to distribution lines that carry power for final delivery. 

After electricity is made at a power plant by huge generators, the current is sent through transformers to increase the voltage to push the power long distances. The electrical charge goes through high-voltage transmission lines that stretch across the country. It reaches a substation where the voltage is lowered so it can be sent on a smaller power line. Then it travels through distribution lines to your neighborhood where smaller pole-top transformers reduce the voltage again to make the power safe to use in our homes. It connects to your house through the service drop and passes through a meter that measures how much our family uses. The electricity goes to the service panel in your basement or garage where breakers or fuses protect the wires inside your house from being overloaded. Lastly, the electricity travels through wires inside the walls to the outlets and switches all over your house. 

So the question of how it gets to our homes is answered but how electricity is made still remains unanswered. Well, there are a few different ways to make electricity. Coal is dug up and sent on trains and boats to power plants where it's then burned to heat water to make steam. Inside the generator, the steam spins a big fan called a turbine. The spinning turbine rotates a big magnet around a piece of wire and that motion creates a magnetic field that electrifies the wire. The electric current flows through the wire and is pushed out through high-voltage transformers. Remember that there are different kinds of power plants. Some power plants burn natural gas instead of coal to make steam. A nuclear power plant splits apart uranium to release heat energy while a wind farm uses wind to spin the blades of the turbine. A hydro powered plant uses running or falling water to spin the turbine. Each power plant is generating energy but using different resources. 

Without the power grid, we wouldn't have the convenience of flipping a switch for electricity. Having electricity in your home is more than just plugging something in or pushing a button, it's a complex system of wires, lines, turbines, and generators. There's no one set way to make electricity nor one energy resource that must be used. 


Image (CC) Poppy Photography  

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