Electricity is the energy which makes lightbulbs shine, drives the most eco-efficient cars and gives life to Frankenstein’s monster. It is a marvellous thing, but it cannot get into your home on its own. Pressing a switch is easy; making sure something happens when you flip that switch... not so easy.
It is indisputable that in any debate about the greatest invention in mankind’s history, the ability to generate electricity would win out. Modern society simply would not exist without electricity; our lives would be changed beyond recognition
Have you ever wondered where the electricity that powers your home comes from? This is the first instalment in a brief series which will show you the energy hardcore behind many of the things you do every day.
What is electricity?
Everybody uses it, almost without thinking, but how many of us can actually define what it is?
Electricity is the energy generated by the movements of electrons (negative charge) and positrons (positive charge) within conductive materials.
Amounting to the same thing: opposites attract, so the positive and negative charges come together, to create two types of electricity: static electricity (generated by friction) and dynamic (known as an electrical current).
Where does electricity come from?
Electricity’s journey to your plug is very long, but occurs at astonishing speed. It is not magic; it is not science fiction. It is a step-by-step process which explains many of the doubts that arise with regard to the electricity sector:
- Generation: electricity is produced in plants capable of drawing electrical energy from primary energy sources. These primary energies may be renewable (wind, solar power, tidal power, etc.) or non-renewable (coal, natural gas, oil, etc.). The companies which (fully or partly) own the various power plants sell the energy generated to companies which supply it commercially.
- Transmission: once the energy has been processed and turned into electricity, it is sent through overhead or underground wires from the plants to substations. There, transformers ensure sufficient electrical voltage. Substations tend to be above ground near to power plants, or on the outskirts of cities, though if they are not too large, they may also be within the actual city, inside a building.
- Distribution: from the substations, electricity is distributed to the homes in the surrounding area. As a consumer, you cannot choose your electricity distributor; it is determined by where you live. That company is responsible for ensuring electricity reaches your home properly, and takes care of repairs when needed. It is also the company which owns your electricity meter, and sends readings from it to your commercial energy supplier.
- Commercialisation: what you certainly can choose is your commercial energy supplier. It is the supplier who sends you the bill: the supplier buys the energy from the generation companies, and sells it to you. Commercial suppliers are the ones who offer various rates and offers, although in Spain, there is a free market (you pay under the terms of your contract, as happens with your mobile bill) and a regulated market (what you pay is set by a system designed by the Government).