Electricity is arguably the most essential element of our lives—next to water—but we never see it. We consume it—in our homes and businesses, even in our cars (if they’re electric powered), yet very few of us understand how this “power-full” commodity is created and delivered to us.
Here’s a quick primer that may also help you understand the key elements of the deregulation debate.
Electricity is manufactured at a generating facility that uses some form of fuel—gas, coal, oil, water, nuclear fission, even wind power—to turn water into steam. The steam spins turbine blades that cycle a generator, thus creating electricity. (With hydroelectric power, no fuel is burned; it is the force of water that directly spins the turbine blades.
Electricity is one of the few commodities that cannot be created then stored on a shelf to await a customer’s demand for it. Electricity is actually created as we need it. When you flip a switch in your home, the electricity you need is created by the utility that serves you; it is sent out over a complex grid to reach your home or business. There are four major regions or power grids that serve the entire nation. Georgia is served by the Eastern Grid which also serves portions of Canada. These regional power “pools” put the power where it is needed, when it’s needed.
The first stop for the electricity as it leaves the power plant is a transformer that steps up the voltage to as high as 765,000 volts and sends it into the transmission system. Transmission lines—those heavy cables strung across a network of towers, carry power over long distances to where it is needed. As the power nears its final destination, the voltage is stepped down by another transformer at a substation.
Before the electricity turns on the lights in your home or business, it must travel over local distribution lines, and again, it may be stepped down by yet another transformer to either 120 volts or 240 volts of “alternating current.”
Once the electricity reaches its final destination, you are billed for the amount you use on a per kilowatt-hour rate of use. For example, if a 100 watt bulb operates for 10 hours, that’s 1,000 watt-hours of electricity, or 1 kilowatt hour. The typical American household uses about 908 kilowatt-hours each month.
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