What is the power grid and how does it work?
In simple terms, the power grid is just a transportation system for electrons. It is a huge centralized network of power plants, transformers, and power lines that are connected in order to move electricity from a power plant to your home.
Electricity can be generated a number of different ways, but when it comes to the grid, most electricity is created at large central station such as a coal plant, natural gas facility or a large wind and solar farm. All of these power facilities generate electricity in the same general way – some with pollution and others (like wind) without any CO2 emissions.
Whether the initial force is burning coal or the power of the wind, these forces works to turn a turbine, then that turbine works to spin a generator. The motion of the generator produces electrons and the flow of these electrons is what we call electricity. It’s this electricity that now needs to travel from the power plant to your home. It does this by traveling through the grid.
For the sake of explaining how the grid works, lets follow an electron through the system. For the purposes of this story let’s call our little electron Joe. Yes, little Joe the electron! Now Joe could have been produced from any number of sources, a wind farm, a coal plant, etc. But regardless of where Joe was generated he will always look and act the same way. An electron is an electron no matter where it came from, and they don’t have attributes that make them clean other than where they originated. For the purposes of this story (and for the love of clean energy) let’s say that Joe was created at a wind farm without any additional pollution!
After he has been generated from the spinning wind turbine, Joe is sent to the next part of the grid. The first step is for Joe and all of his electron friends to pass through a transformer. Transformers increase the voltage of the electricity that passes through. This helps to prepare the electrons for travel, especially if they need to travel a long distance.
After this Joe is sent directly to the power wires where he will ride the current all the way to your home. Once Joe gets close enough to your house he will be sent through another transformer. This next transformer will reduce the voltage of the electricity that passes through to a useable level. This is important; your house can only handle so many volts.
After that, it’s back to the wires and then right into your home! Joe enters your house through your outlet. After an appliance is plugged in, he is able to travel through the cord of your lamp and up to power your light. Then Joe has officially done his job, bringing electricity through the grid and into your home!
If you want to learn more about the process check out this quick video on the power grid: