From the power plant to your outlets
As Americans, we sometimes take for granted the fact that we have everything at our fingertips anytime and almost anywhere. Here’s a question for you: What do all of these things, cell phones, televisions, air conditioners and refrigerators, have in common? They are all powered by electricity!
Have you ever wondered just how power gets from the plant it is generated from to the outlets of your home? Well here’s the scoop. Follow the current from it’s source all the way to your house.
To begin, electricity starts off as just another one of Earth’s natural resources. We get our power from coal mostly, but it can also be made by natural gas, water, or wind and transformed using a huge generator. In coal fired power plants, for example, chunks of coal are crushed into fine powder and are fed into a combustion unit where it is burned. Heat from the burning coal is used to generate steam which is then piped throughout the plant.
Next, the high voltage power produced by the generator enters a transmission substation while still at the power plant. Inside the substation, large transformers convert the generator’s voltage up to extremely high voltages (115,000-500,000 volt range) in order for it to travel more efficiently over the transmission lines to transmission substations and transmission step-down substations.The electrical charge goes through high-voltage transmission lines that stretch across the country.
Once the power reaches its delivery point, it goes through a step-down, or reduction of voltage, process at switching stations. Here the 115,000-500,000 volts are stepped down to about 115,000-46,000 volts before being sent to the first component of the distribution system, the distribution substation, and eventually to your home. Power transformers are used to step the voltage down to an acceptable level to bring into your neighborhoods.
As the electricity travels through distribution lines and into your neighborhood, smaller pole-top transformers reduce the voltage again to make the power safe to use in your home. However, the voltage coming from the power transformer, at 25,000 or 13,200 volts, is still too high to go directly into your home. From there, power is distributed across miles (depending on how far your home is from the substation) of power lines to reach a distribution transformer, which steps the power down again to the voltage level required by your home, which is 120 to 240 volts.
Note: In the last five years the cost of transformers has risen 50 percent, partly due to escalating material costs and also to federal regulations requiring higher efficiencies.
Next, the electricity travels through the distribution transformers that are connected to your house through the service drop and it passes through a meter that measures how much our family uses. The findings that are measured through that meter become the basis for your power bill every month.
Electricity is now almost into your home! Now is when it is fed into the electrical panel found in your basement or garage, where breakers (or sometimes fuses) protect the wires inside your house from being overloaded. Electrical panels are ultimately what keeps your home from receiving too much power which could result in a fire or electrical shock.
Finally, the electricity can now travel through wires inside the walls to the outlets and switches all over your house. At this point your home wiring comes into play and enables energy to be sent to your plug outlets and light switches at the touch of a button or flip of a switch. Bet you didn’t think there were that many steps involved to getting power into your home, huh?
Electricity, although it is great, is not something that should be played around with. Electricity can cause a fire or even electrocution and thousands of people die every year from an electrical complication. That’s why whenever you have a wiring or electrical problem don’t try and take matters into your own hands, have it serviced by a licensed electrician who will get the job done right.