Electricity 101:Where does Electricity Come From?

Thursday October 20, 2016

Where Does Electricity Come From?

Electricity is a funny thing. We use it everyday, we love it, we depend upon it, and yet many of us don’t really understand how it works.

We take it for granted that when we flip a switch, a light comes on, or that when we plug our toaster into the outlet, it toasts our frozen waffles.


Electricity is a marvelous, mesmerizing, almost magical thing, but we’ve become so accustomed to it, we don’t often stop to think about how it works.

Where does electricity come from? Do you know?

Electricity is created in power plants using various forms of energy. In the United States, most electricity is created by burning 
fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, oil) and then converting the thermal energy into electricity. In Michigan, about 82% of our power comes from coal. However, burning fossil fuels is bad for the environment. Coal, for example, emits mercury, sulfur dioxide, and carbon dioxide, which are harmful to both human health and the health of our planet.

Luckily, there are other sources of electricity that are safer, more sustainable, and environmentally-friendly. These include wind energy, solar energy, geothermal energy, and biomass. At this time, the use of renewable resources for electrical energy is not tremendously widespread. Only four states garner 10% or more of their electricity from renewable resources (they are Maine, Iowa, Minnesota, and California). 

So where does electricity come from? Coal, natural gases, oil, the sun, the wind, and water, amongst other sources. All of these resources fuel power plants.

But what happens at the power plant? How does all that energy become electricity?

Most power plants use magnetic conduction to produce electricity. The potential energy of fuel sources is converted into mechanical or thermal energy, which turns the blades inside a turbine. The blades are attached to a shaft that turns when the blades begin to move. When the shaft turns, wires are spun around a magnetic field inside a generator. This causes electrons to flow. And if you didn’t already know, electricity literally is the flow of electrons. So that’s all there is to it!

The generator is connected to wires, which send the produced electricity to a switchyard. There, the voltage of the electricity is raised and it is sent out to consumers like you!


 

 

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