Electricity is a necessity that is crucial to modern lifestyles and is often taken for granted. It powers our communication, our transportation, and our households, yet we don’t know what electricity is or how it gets from power plants to our homes. So, what is electricity in the first place? Electricity is a form of energy that results from the existence of charged particles, either statically (as an accumulation of charge) or dynamically (as a current). But where does electricity come from? Learn more about what fuels electricity and the electricity generation process from Payless Power, a leader in Texas electricity.
Where Does Electricity Come From?
In order to understand where electricity comes from, the different sources of electricity, like solar, nuclear and wind energy for example, must be distinguished from one another. Then, we can explore how those sources fuel the electricity generation process, from power plants all the way to the customer’s home. Knowing the full journey that electricity takes will provide a better grasp and appreciation of how electricity fuels our lives.
What Sources Fuel Electricity?
There are many different sources of electricity that are used across the country and their dominance varies state by state. In an attempt to have a greener footprint, the country has started to shift from majorly using coal to natural gas, which as of 2018 generated 35.2% of the total electricity in the United States according to the United States Energy Information Administration. While natural gas can help reduce the emission of carbon dioxide and other pollution in the short term, it still produces a lot of greenhouse gases. An alternative to burning fossil fuels to create electricity is to use nuclear energy, which currently generates over half of the electricity in New Hampshire and Illinois. While nuclear energy has a smaller carbon footprint than fossil fuels, a solution has not yet been found for the spent fuel generated.
Texas and Other States Are Using More Renewable Energy Sources
In order to have the most positive environmental impact, states are aiming to move towards using more alternative renewable energy sources including wind energy, solar power, hydroelectric power, geothermal energy, and biomass energy. Though as of 2019, Texas uses natural gas to generate the majority of its electricity at 60.1%, with coal losing share at just 17.7%, the lone star state still produces more power from wind in total than any other state at 12.9% of its total electricity production. In fact, Texas has already reached its 1999 goal of installing 10,000 megawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2026 per the renewable energy requirement they adopted.
Electricity Generation Process
Now that we know about the variety of electricity sources that our states can pull from, we can learn about how those sources are used to generate electricity, be it through coal, natural gas, nuclear energy, wind power, solar power, or other sources. Once generated, we can then understand how electricity is transmitted and distributed to homes all across the country.
Producing Electricity at Power Plants
Whatever the energy source may be, all electricity generation starts with a generators at power plants. The energy sources are used to indirectly or directly move the turbine blades that are connected to electricity generators. Fossil fuels including coal, natural gas and oil, as well as nuclear energy, and alternative renewable energy sources including biomass, geothermal, and solar thermal, are burned in a boiler to create steam, which then turns the turbine blades. On the other hand, hydro power and wind power directly move the turbine blades using flowing water and wind, respectively. As the turbine blades spin, electricity is produced in the generator.
Transmission and Distribution of Electricity
Once electricity has been generated, it must go through a multi-step process before it is ready for residential or commercial consumption. From the generator, electricity moves to a step-up transformer where the voltage is increased to minimize power losses over the long transmission distances that electricity must travel from generator to customer. This high voltage electricity travels across transmission lines to a local area distribution substation where the voltage is stepped down and prepped to travel across local power lines, which local utility companies own. Once it reaches the pole closest to your home, the electricity passes through one final transformer to get to a voltage of 240/120 volts, which is the level of power that consumers use at home.
Know Where Your Electricity Comes From
If you are looking to have a greener footprint, check and see if your electricity provider offers any plans where some or all of the electricity comes from renewable energy sources like wind or solar power. To note, this might come at a more expensive electricity rate, but the stronger the demand for renewable electricity, the more accessible it will become!