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How electricity is made and delivered to your house

Updated on July 7, 2011

There are many detailed articles and in fact entire books written about how electricity is generated and transmitted to houses and businesses. Heck, entire college courses cover this concept. If you are looking for extreme details on this, please check out your local library or some of the books featured on this page. If you are looking for the basics, read on.

What Exactly is Electricity

Before we even start with how electricity is generated and transported to your house, we need to define what electricity is. Think of electricity as water flowing through a pipe or garden hose. The water is really electrons in the metal that makes up the wire. The hose is the wire that transports the water (electricity). There are all kinds of fancy definitions, but that is the basics. If you want to know more, check out the Encyclopedia Definition of Electricity.

How is Electricity Generated and Delivered to your Home

The first step is to create electricity at a power plant. Basically, electricity is created by magnets spinning inside of a whole bunch of wires. The magnets spinning around cause electrons to move which creates electricity. What varies for each type of power plant is what causes the magnets to spin (see sections on steam turbines and wind and water powered generators). This electricity producing machine is called a generator. The power created is measured in volts. You use 120 volts in your house, but the voltage levels on the power lines can be 300,000 to 400,000 volts or even more. Voltages are changed by devices called transformers which raise voltages at some points and lowering them at other times.

After leaving the power plant, electricity is transported on power lines. It is more efficient to transport high voltages so the voltage on the lines is very high. Power lines form a huge system or grid that attaches everybody's house and business to the power plants. In the United States, virtually the entire country is attached to the same grid. Texas is almost separate, but there are still a couple ties into the rest of the grid. All power plants add electricity into the system so if one plant goes down, there is still electricity because the other plants just put a little more in.

The power lines deliver voltage to transformers (usually a series of transformers) to change (step down) the voltage to 120V for you to use in your house. At your house, the power comes to one spot before being sent out to the rest of your house. This one common point is either a fuse box or a breaker box depending on how old your house is.

Well, that is the basics of where electricity comes from. Read on to learn some more details.

What is a Steam Turbine and How Does it Help Get Electricity to my House?

Most traditional electricity is generated using steam. Steam turbines are used to spin the magnets inside the coils of wire in the generator. The process starts with a boiler that heats water to create steam. The steam flows to the turbine causing it to spin. Picture water running over a water wheel and you have the concept. Steam flows through the pipes just like water through a hose. This spins the magnets inside the generator which creates electricity. There is a fantastic page the shows how electricity is created by a steam turbine. It has a really cool graphical overview with some animations and information on each step of the process.

What varies in the steam turbine type of energy generation is what powers the boiler. Traditionally, fossil fuels like coal or oil are burned to create the heat needed to generate steam. While these resources are currently abundant, they will eventually run out and they pollute the environment. A more modern and potentially dangerous method of heating water to create steam is a nuclear reactor. They can be very efficient, but have the potential for almost unparalleled disaster. The next section will go over some natural ways to generate electricity that are starting to become more popular. Many energy companies like Ambit Energy in Texas offer environmentally friendly power at competitive rates.

Alternate, Environmentally Friendly Methods of Generating Electricity

There are a couple different methods of generating electricity being used today. They use centuries old technology to turn the turn the magnets in the generators. First you have wind power being harnessed by large windmills. This type of power is usually used to supplement fossil fuel generated power or even power small communities, but it has not become "mainstream" as they say. You also have huge hydroelectric power plants that harness the power of moving water to generate electricity. Certain areas of the country use entirely water generated electricity. Both of these methods can be very expensive to start up, but the power plants don't need to continue to buy fuel to burn to heat the water and make steam. They are only good in certain areas because if there is no wind or water there is no potential for generating electricity this way.

Some companies, like Ambit Energy in Texas and New York, allow you to sign up for "green" energy plans at competitive rates. This type of program uses energy that is partially or fully purchased from wind, water, or even sun powered electric generators. Check it out if you are interested in helping to reduce the use of fossil fuels.

Make Money with Electricity

There is a new aspect to the electricity business in the United States. New companies are starting that allow anybody to get involved in the retail sales of electricity.

These companies pay marketing consultants to advertise and get new customers instead of paying for expensive advertising campaigns. One of the best companies offering this kind of small home based business is Ambit Energy based in Dallas, Texas. Ambit currently serves Texas, New York, and will start serving Illinois in 2008. Several other states will soon follow.

Where does the Electric Company Fit into This?

There are a couple different ways your local electric company fits into the picture. First, you have the traditional monopolistic method. This is the way it has been done for a hundred years without change. There is also a new, deregulated way electric companies fit into the picture.

Originally, electric utilities were set up as monopolies. One company owned everything from the steam turbines generating electricity to the transformers to the power lines that delivered electricity right to your house. The problem with this and all monopolies is that the electric company can charge you anything they want because there is nobody else you can buy from. Fortunately, the government recognizes this as a potential problem and has very strict laws governing prices.

A new electric distribution model has emerged in the last few years. It is a deregulated business model where multiple companies sell electricity and have to compete for customers. In this model, one company or set of companies owns the power plants while a different set of companies is responsible for selling the electricity. Some states like Texas, New York, and soon Illinois allow non-monopolistic companies to essentially buy electricity from the power plants and sell it to consumers. In the place of large companies, small companies even individual people become Energy Consultants and are making a ton of money. This allows a lot of people to profit from energy instead of just one large monopolistic company.

There are good points for both models. In the government regulated, monopolistic model, prices can be kept low if the government sets prices fairly. This can actually lead to lower prices than the deregulated, open market system. However, in the deregulated, open market system, companies have to compete for customers by offering better service and the lowest prices available. To offer low prices, companies have to be more efficient. This is ultimately best for everybody and in the long run, will lead to better prices even if it seems to be more expensive at first. If you do have a choice, you should definitely check out your alternatives to see what is best for you.

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    • profile image

      8 years ago

      hi nice picture

    • profile image

      hjhgjdjf 8 years ago

      ur weird

    • VanBergen profile image
      Author

      VanBergen 8 years ago

      Thanks. On both accounts.

    • profile image

      v  8 years ago

      great explanation

    • profile image

      rachel 8 years ago

      this was a very helpful collomn to help me with mi science fair project..... i have a question to ask you,... where would you go to find more helpful information on how is electricity used today and the history of electricity............... my project is n how to make fruit batteries na dwhich fruit works better

      rachel

    • profile image

      Abbie 8 years ago

      can u pls put in about what u call those triangle things that hold cables high in the air.

    • profile image

      Girlicious 8 years ago

      This web site or whatever helped me a lot cause me and mi group are doing a projet on this so i wanted to ask a question How is it possible that electricity was already in New zealand during then ????

    • VanBergen profile image
      Author

      VanBergen 8 years ago

      I am glad the page helped. I don't understand your question about New Zealand though.

    • profile image

      Cyrus Dorrington 7 years ago

      How is the home's we live in get there power to power the homes in the wide would

    • profile image

      7 years ago

      how is Electricity made???i need to know for my home work

    • profile image

      Zara 7 years ago

      electricity is made in many different ways....ones is the fach method it involves the use of TURBINE to spin and convert kinestic enegry into electricity. Electicity is made when the turbine moves on a large magnet around a very loarge wire this movment serves to eletrify the wire. electricty is then pushed away from this gerneratior though a special transfoormer

    • profile image

      Zara-12  7 years ago

      Love the pic and love the website =)

    • profile image

      Zara-12  7 years ago

      wanna know how the turbine brings the air to it hif its blowing it away i don't understand im really confuse =/

    • profile image

      zara-12 7 years ago

      also the help this website gave me helped me pass electrics =/ i dident wanna fail so thanks =)

    • profile image

      baby cakes 7 years ago

      electricity is so boring....but we carnt live without it!!

    • profile image

      Car 7 years ago

      really good

    • profile image

      lovely #1 7 years ago

      perfect

    • profile image

      science geek 7 years ago

      Thank you ever so much this helped me with my homework and my teacher would have killed me if i didn't hand it in!! I love the picture but what is the 80 in the corner??? over and out

    • profile image

      rexus 7 years ago

      :-) pretty good

    • profile image

      :) 7 years ago

      Thank you ever so much this helped me with my homework and my teacher would have killed me if i didn't hand it in!!

    • profile image

      selena gomez 6 years ago

      how is electricity made?

    • profile image

      JimsterYO2 6 years ago

      Wow...this really helped me...thanks!!!

    • profile image

      DEONGZ 5 years ago

      THIS helped me a lot more than you can imagine with my phisics project !!!!!!!!THANKS .

    • profile image

      DEONGZ 5 years ago

      THIS helped me a lot more than you can imagine with my phisics project !!!!!!!!THANKS .

    • profile image

      Mhaiee 5 years ago

      How is current electricity applied to home appliances?please reply...ASAP

    • profile image

      monde 5 years ago

      is good what you are saying

    • profile image

      mr RAPIYA 5 years ago

      THE APPLIANCES HAVE THEIR TRANSFORMER WHICH REDUCE THE HIGH VOLTAGE TO BE LOW TO THEIR CAPPACITAINCE WHICH CAN STORD A CERTAIN ENERGY AND EVERY APPLIANCE HAS ITS OWN AVERAGE VOLTAGE WHICH IS CAPABLE TO DILEVE AND TOLARET YOU SEE.

    • profile image

      john 5 years ago

      thnks

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      alsn as 5 years ago

      dude this helped alot

    • profile image

      alsn as 5 years ago

      this is really cool, my teacher wudiv killed me if i didn't do the ASSSIGHNMENT!

    • profile image

      queenoftheworld 5 years ago

      dude i gotta tell you that this is epic =D XD :P

    • profile image

      ashi 5 years ago

      thnks alot

      coolwebsite

    • profile image

      cutepuppy 5 years ago

      hi, t a for the information. my teacher wouldiv

      h l

      a o

      n t

      k

      s

      killed me if there wasn't this websit

    • profile image

      cutepuppy 5 years ago

      nice picture though =D

    • profile image

      cutepuppy 5 years ago

      did you now what i said before? o_o =p

    • profile image

      aslan 5 years ago

      very good info+nice pic very funny

    • profile image

      rip van twinkle 5 years ago

      the VanBergen profile image is cool

    • profile image

      aslan 5 years ago

      is this approved? coolwebsite ANYHOW!

    • profile image

      ?????????? 5 years ago

      can you explain the battery?

    • profile image

      kay 5 years ago

      so me whay is to get there is the way the energy go by for lol

    • profile image

      will 5 years ago

      i'm a webelos scout, and this site totally helps, but in the paragraph. What is a Steam Turbine and How Does it Help Get Electricity to my House?

      i can't find how electricity gets to someones house

    • profile image

      Aubrey 5 years ago

      i can not find how exactly electricity is made or with what is it been made of

    • profile image

      anon 5 years ago

      how was the first electricity in home generated??

    • profile image

      alan van bergen 5 years ago

      The school students i teach call me Einstien cause of my hair style and nice to see your picture resembles him!!

      I live in South africa.

    • profile image

      o.O 5 years ago

      HHahaha

    • profile image

      john 5 years ago

      i can not find how exactly electricity is made or with what is it been made of

    • profile image

      sadaf 4 years ago

      pls give us more information

    • profile image

      Allison wood 4 years ago

      Thanks this really helped !!!!!

    • profile image

      Johne111 2 years ago

      What's Happening i'm new to this, I stumbled upon this I have discovered It positively helpful and it has aided me out loads. I hope to contribute &amp help other users like its helped me. Good job. fddefdcdkeke

    • Exawatt Altena profile image

      Exawatt Altena 2 years ago from Melbourne

      Is there a follow up Hub?

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