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How Power Is Generated

How coal, water, wind, uranium, and solar power is turned into power

Everything seems so simple these days. If we’re curious about peanuts, we have the ability to press a couple buttons and boom! In seconds we have access to everything we could ever want to know about peanuts. Sometimes we take for granted everything that had to happen in order to power the devices we love. This article will let you know what we get electricity from and how it is converted into the electricity that will eventually reach your home. It’s amazing to think these resources actually turn into the thing that powers the things we use everyday.

Coal

The most common resource we get our electricity from is coal, but you probably already knew that. The process of extracting electric power from the energy (carbon) stored in coal is multi-step one, carried out by burning the coal. Here is the exact technique used to get the coal into a usable form:

Note: The basic process of converting coal to electricity has not changed in 60 years but the United States’s advancements in the technology for removing emissions have led to cleaner coal.

Natural Gas

Natural gas is another big supplier of power for our homes. While it is is much more complicated to harness, it requires very little processing to be usable. It is high in heating value, or BTU content, and has few impurities as compared to some other fossil fuels, so you can see why it’s advantageous. Here are the steps to producing power with natural gas:

Wind

Wind machines, or wind turbines, produce power using blades to collect the wind’s kinetic energy; a lot of us have seen wind turbines in pictures or have driven passed them before. Places with many wind turbines are called “wind farms.” As the wind blows, it flows over the blades creating lift, (just like the effect of airplane wings) which causes them to turn. The blades are connected to a drive shaft that turns an electric generator. This seems simple enough, but there are many drawbacks to using wind farms.

The major challenges of using wind as a power source is that the wind is that does not always blow when electricity is needed, wind energy cannot be stored, and not all winds can be harnessed to meet the timing of electricity demands. Also there are higher construction costs for offshore wind turbines and there is a risk of destruction from hurricane-force winds sometimes encountered on our southern coasts. Yet another problem is that large wind farms need to be in locations far removed from the populated areas where the energy is needed. Those kinds of places are not that easy to find on a large scale.

Water

It’s weird, but water is actually one of the oldest ways of producing electricity. Hydropower has been around around for hundreds of years and is used widely in the United States. In fact in 2013, hydropower accounted for approximately 6% of total U.S. electricity generation and 52% of generation from all renewables. The total hydropower capacity in the U.S. is about 100,000 megawatts (MW), providing electricity to more than 28 million American homes. Additionally, in the U.S., hydropower is produced for an average of 7 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) in comparison to other renewable averages such as wind – 18 cents per kWh, solar – 13 cents per kWh and biomass – 10 cents per kWh.

Nuclear

Although nuclear power is efficient, it’s another one of those energy sources that take many steps to get it into a usable form of energy for your home. This is an example of how uranium is converted into power for your home:

Note: U.S. nuclear plants are well-designed and operated. They are also defended against attack and prepared in the event of an emergency. In addition to backup systems that monitor and regulate what goes on inside the reactor, U.S. nuclear power plants also use a series of physical barriers to prevent the escape of radioactive material. Everything from the fuel pellets to the fuel rods are encased in materials that limit radiation exposure. All of these items are further contained in a massive reinforced concrete structure (called the containment) with walls that are four feet thick. Also note that the lack of a containment structure is what helped lead to the failure of the Chernobyl plant in Russia. This tragedy is something that cannot happen in the United States since all plants are required to have these containment structures and other safety features.

Solar

Solar energy is converted to electricity by utilizing photovoltaic (PV) devices, or “solar cells.” The solar energy (heat) boils water; the steam drives a turbine; the turbine turns an ordinary generator, which then generates electric power.

Seems simple enough but the big problem with using solar energy as an electricity source is that solar photovoltaic panels create DC power – your home uses AC power. The price the converters is far too high because not enough companies support the production of solar electricity, mostly due to the fact that they have made money off of other power producers. As solar energy begins to receive more subsidies the price of the panels will drop and solar energy can become a more widely used source of electricity. In Florida, that will be a great thing. If you think it’s time for your home to be equipped with solar panels have our licensed electricians here at Professional Ac & Heating a call, and you can utilize the easiest way to get power into your home.

How electricity is generated – U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)

How Is Electricity Generated Explained (electricityforum.com)

Electricity 101 | GE Power Generation

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