Have you ever wondered how power gets to the various plugs you use every day throughout your home? That energy has actually gone through quite a journey to get to your home from its initial generation point. While this process is fairly complicated, this blog boils it down to the simple facts you need to know to better understand where the energy you use is coming from.
Electrical energy starts at a large generator installation. All generators are essentially the same—converting some other form of energy into a usable form of electricity. But how they do this and the amount of energy they produce varies greatly.
There are a ton of different types of generators, but there are a few that we primarily use here in the United States:
- Coal generators: Coal generators produce power by burning coal to create thermal energy. This thermal energy is used to create steam that is blasted through a turbine to spin a generator crankshaft. Turning the generator creates an electrical current that is harnessed as energy.
- Natural gas generators: Natural gas generators produce power in an identical way to coal generators, with the only difference being the fuel source. Instead of burning coal, burning natural gas generates the heat needed to produce the steam. However, because natural gas is much cleaner than coal, these power plants are much better for the environment.
- Hydroelectric power: Hydroelectric power is the practice of harnessing the energy found in moving water and converting it to electricity. Flowing water is fed through a specialized turbine that spins a motor to generate power. This is typically done in large hydroelectric dams.
- Wind power: Wind power uses the energy found in wind to create energy. Wind pushes the blades of a windmill, turning a motor to generate electric power.
- Solar farms: Solar farms use massive collections of solar panels to collect solar energy and convert it to electrical power.
- Nuclear power: Nuclear power uses a thermonuclear reaction to create a tremendous amount of heat. This heat is used to convert water to steam that is then pressurized and sent through a generator turbine to create electrical energy. This type of generator has no natural emissions but does produce nuclear waste that needs to be stored.
The energy produced at a generator needs to begin its journey immediately. Therefore, customers purchase the energy from a generation station the instant it is produced, thanks to contracts and business deals. From the generation station, the power is sent to its next destination along massive, high-voltage energy lines that can stretch for hundreds or even thousands of miles. Because this power is alternating current, it can travel longer distances with less loss, particularly at extremely high voltages.
That next stop is known as a substation. Substations are the point where power begins the process of distribution through more localized electrical infrastructure. The power that reaches a substation enters at voltages in the hundreds of thousands, so a substation’s job is to start to step this power down and send it to the various areas it services.
The next step is a transformer, and this is the point where power has more or less reached the area it will eventually be used in. There are two primary types of transformers: power transformers and distribution transformers. Power transformers step the incoming energy down from voltages that can exceed 100,000 to a much-safer level of around 25,000 volts. This may still sound like a lot of power (and it is), but it is a much safer amount of electricity to send along transmission lines in neighborhoods.
Distribution transformers take this even further by stepping the energy down from around 25,000 volts all the way to either the 120 or 240 volts that an average home will use. These are remarkably common pieces of equipment—in fact, distribution transformers are typically found in every neighborhood, and sometimes in multiple places in a neighborhood. They’re typically a large metal box bolted to a cement pad that probably has a number of decals warning about high-voltage power inside. You might even know where one is.
Inside every distribution transformer is a wire that connects the transformer to your house. This line is known as a service drop. This is the final step of the journey before electrical energy reaches your house, but it is still considered part of public infrastructure since the energy here has not yet gone through your electrical meter.
Finally, energy passes through your utility meter—a specialized device that keeps track of the amount of energy you use over a particular amount of time. Once energy passes through your meter, you as a customer have purchased it and you are free to do with it as you please. Likewise, all electrical components located on the other side of your meter are considered your property, and therefore you have the responsibility to maintain and repair them.If you need help with an electrical problem in your home, call the experts at Lightning Bug Electric by dialing (404) 471-3847 today!