Electricity is one of civilization’s most complex engineering feats
Ever wonder why they call it electricity?
It’s named after those little pieces of atoms called electrons, and that’s the place to start in understanding how power plants make something that reliably lights your home.
Almost all of your electricity starts with the scientific phenomenon that spinning a magnet inside a coil of wires will generate electricity. Large turbines at the power plant turn in different ways: falling water at a hydroelectric dam; burning coal or natural gas at a fossil fuel station; atomic energy at a nuclear power plant; or the rotating blades of a wind turbine. One exception is solar energy, which produces electricity when materials are activated by sunlight.
Most large electric generating plants need large banks of transformers to boost the voltage for the cross-country trip through wires held up by tall transmission lines and towers. As it nears your neighborhood, the voltage is reduced at the substation. Lower voltage makes the electricity safer for home energy use. As the electricity gets closer to your home or
business, voltage is reduced again by smaller transformers—the ones mounted on utility poles or in green boxes in your yard.
Beyond those basics, all that flowing electricity has to be coordinated so it gets to the right house when needed and organized by line crews. Safety is always top priority.
That’s a lot of power in the simple flip of a switch!