Electricity: Powering many of your needs every day
Electricity powers everyday conveniences, from your coffeemaker to your bathroom lighting and more. But what is it, and how does it reach your home – and what are you really paying for when you review your monthly bill from your retail electric provider? Let’s take a look.
What is it?
Electricity is a flow of electrons that can be collected, stored, transferred and used to power every day appliances and much more. Electricity is really an energy carrier, making it a secondary energy source. Once primary energy sources, like fossil fuels, are converted through processes like combustion, they generate electricity that can be converted for transmission and delivery over power lines.
Energy sources for power generation
- Fossil fuels, like oil, coal and natural gas are the most common primary fuel sources used to generate electricity. Today, power plants burn fossil fuels to power electromechanical generators that pass a direct current between magnets to generate electricity.
- Water and wind can also be used to generate electricity when passed through turbines, and are often considered cleaner forms of energy generation. Texas has been a leader in developing wind-based energy generation.
- Solar (photovoltaic) panels capture the sun’s rays, and convert free electrons within the panel into electricity when they contact a circuit wire.
- Nuclear fission, or creating energy by splitting atoms, supplies about 12 percent of the world’s electricity. The energy released during fission is captured to fuel electromagnetic generators that produce electricity.
Once generated, electricity is then converted into a direct current that can be transmitted over wires at high voltage. The electricity flows into a transformer, where it is stepped down from its high voltage and transformed into an alternating current that can be delivered in smaller levels of power to your home or office. Occasionally, a transformer can be overloaded and fail (explode) by a lightning strike or damage to power equipment tied to the power grid. And the local utility, which maintains delivery equipment including transformers, can be called to repair the damaged equipment and restore power.