The Flow of Electricity

The Flow of Electricity

August 25, 2014

Electricity Expectations

Electricity is one of those things we, as consumers, often take for granted, until the power goes out, perhaps during a storm. Other than that, we flip a switch, and without thinking about it, expect our appliances to operate.

How Electricity is Generated

It all begins at the power generation plant. Here, an energy source such as hydroelectric, solar, or wind is used to create electrical energy. This electrical energy is then available to transport to the consumers of this electricity.

But let’s step back and look at electricity from the atomic level. Atoms contain a nucleus with protons (positively charged particles) and neutrons (neutral particles). The outside of the atom is surrounded by electrons (negatively charged particles). The number of positive and negative particles are equal in an atom, until something sets that balance off. When that balance is offset, electricity is created.

A turbine might be powered by water, steam, gas, or other energy sources. That turbine turns mechanical energy into electricity. The electrical current happens when the conductive material wire moves across a magnetic field. In a large generator, a magnet will be attached at the end of a rotating shaft that is wrapped with the conducting material. The magnet turns, producing a small current in that wire.

Distribution of Electricity

Much like natural gas pipelines that take high volume, high pressure gas through large diameter pipeline and move it to smaller diameter, lower volume pipeline as it gets closer to the end user, the electrical grid works the same way.

Step up transformers step up the voltage (and step it back down when it gets close to the end use). Transmission lines transport the electricity to distribution stations.

Electricity leaves the power plant as high voltage, and is stepped down to lower voltage at the stations, where it is then brought to the end user. Once it reaches the household or end user, the owner is responsible for paying by volume usage.

That distribution can be overhead or underground. For overhead lines, you’ll notice transformers on the poles that take the voltage down. Where the lines are buried underground, the electrical transformer boxes are located on individual properties.

Electrical substations can often be seen fenced with rows and rows of distribution lines coming in and leaving. This is where voltage is reduced for municipalities and final end user delivery.