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Nav Location: SEC Home  >  ABC's of Electricity


ABC's of Electricity

A LetterWhat is electricity? Nobody knows the full answer. But we do know that electricity occurs naturally. Electricity happens when an outside force upsets the balancing force between protons and electrons (basic elements of every atom). Electrons in the atoms transmit an electrical charge through solid matter, such as metal, to produce an ELECTRIC CURRENT.

You can't store electricity. Once you generate it, you have to use it right away or it disappears.

B LetterHow does an electric power plant operate? Electricity is generated inside a power plant. The power plant burns a fossil fuel, such as coal, natural gas or oil, to produce a lot of heat. The heat is used to boil water. The steam from the boiling water is used to spin a big fan called a turbine. The turbine turns a big magnet inside a generator to create and electrical charge. The electrical charge is captured in wires that carry the power to your home or school.

Some power plants use the pressure of falling water to spin the turbine, which turns the generator. This process is called hydroelectric power. Still another way to make electricity is called nuclear energy. Instead of burning fossil fuels, a nuclear plant uses a material called uranium. When split into microscopic pieces, uranium releases a large amount of energy, which is used to boil the water to make steam.

C LetterHow is power delivered? (Transmission) Electricity leaves the generator as a high voltage current and passes through a transformer, which steps up voltage even higher, depending on the distance it must be transmitted. It then enters a transmission station, which is a mat or grid interconnected to many other transmission lines to create a network of power. Next, it flows to a substation transformer where the current is stepped down to lower voltage, for use by local areas. From there, it travels from the substation to your neighborhood through distribution lines. Finally it reaches the pole transformer where it is again stepped down to 120-140 volts and flows into your home on demand.

D letterHow is electricity measured? Electricity is not easy to measure. It passes through electrical appliances in a circuit or closed loop. If you have no electrical appliances on in your home, very little power passes through the circuit. As electrical devices are turned on, current must pass through your home to drive them. Power companies measure the flow of electricity in terms of a kilowatt hour. A kilowatt hour is an amount of force (1,000 watts) passing through your meter over a period of an hour.

Electrical pressure is measured in volts. Transmission wires operate at high voltages - up to 500,000 volts - to help electricity travel over long distances.


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