Where Does Our Electricity Come From?
Have you ever wanted to know why your lights magically turn on with a flip of the switch? Electric power generation starts with a source of fuel that can be harnessed to create energy. Fuel types include fossil (coal, oil, natural gas), nuclear, and renewable. Renewables reduce emissions during power generation.
The most popular renewable energies come from solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal. In this blog we will be diving into how we receive power to our homes across the country. After understanding how the grid works we will explore our energy sources in Utah and what we can do to change our energy to a more renewable source.
The journey of our electricity starts in a power plant, the fuel that is spent heats water; with the steam they can turn the turbine and generator to convert mechanical energy into electrical energy. The turbine is spun more than 3,000 times a minute! The spinning turbine is connected to a generator that turns a big magnet surrounded by coils of copper wire. The generator magnet causes electrons to move and creates electricity.
Thick wires carry the electric current from the generator to a transformer. Transformers are used to increase or decrease the alternating voltages in electric power applications. This increases the voltage of the electricity before it can be sent to the power grid.
High-voltage lines carry the current to substations on the power grid. The power grid is an interconnected network of substations throughout our Cities; this is where the voltage levels are lowered so it can be used by homes and businesses.
Wires buried or mounted on poles, distribute from substations to smaller, local transformers. Local transformers, mounted on poles or on concrete pads, further reduce the electric voltage to 110–220 volts, which can be used safely in businesses and homes.
Electricity typically enters your business or home through a meter that measures the amount of electricity the owner uses. There, a control panel distributes power through wires in the walls and then to wall switches and outlets. When you switch on or plug-in equipment or appliances, you complete the circuit from the power plant, and electricity operates your appliances and lights.
U.S power generation
The most recent data that can be found is that 31% of the energy is produced by gas, 30% coal, 20% Nuclear, 9% Renewables, and 8% Hydro. This means that in the U.S. we were getting over 60% of our electricity from fossil fuels in 2015. This has negligible effects on our air quality and climate. So what does this mean for you? Depends on what state you live in.
In the Rocky Mountains, a majority of power is produced by fossil fuels, these power plants have been to be a health concern for the citizens in the residents. If you are trying to cut your emissions, you may want to rethink where your electricity comes from. If you own an electric car in Utah and you are charging it with your home, it is important to be aware that your “emission free” car is actually still contributing to carbon emissions because the power you are charging it with is coal. It is just a lot less obvious because the pollution is being emitted from the power plant instead of your car. The other problem with coal in Utah is that it is unhealthy for the residents near the energy plants.
In 2009, it was found that being in a 30-mile radius of coal power plants is a major health concern for children near coal plants. Out of 46,530 children living in a 30-mile proximity 2,603 of them were diagnosed with Asthma.
As a Utahan, what can you do to change the way we generate power? Technology is moving at the speed of light! Sustainable options are becoming more and more available to the public. Solar is the easiest way for homeowners to start generating their own electricity. With increasing demand it’s starting to become a myth that solar and is out of reach. Currently, the federal government and the state of Utah incentivizes homeowners to go solar by giving a 30% tax credit towards residential solar systems. The State of Utah also offers incentives making solar a more financially viable option.
For more information on these incentives visit: http://incometax.utah.gov/credits/renewable-energy-systems
In Utah we have varying amounts of sunlight during the year so during the summer the solar panels are creating more power than the house is using and during the winter it will produce less power because the days are shorter. This is where rocky mountain power’s net metering system comes into play. Excess kilowatt-hours in any given month roll over to the next month and are credited on a kilowatt-hour for kilowatt-hour basis; these credits accrue during a 12-month annual billing period that runs April through March. Any excess kilowatt-hour credits remaining at the end of the 12-month annual billing period ‘expire’ and the value of these credits is forfeited to the Home Electric Lifeline Program, which provides discounted electricity to low-income customers. It is important to note that there is a connection fee to be connected to the net meter it is generally less than 10 dollars a month.
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First step- is giving a solar company correct usage. Call rocky mountain power and request your usage for the last 12 months in kilowatt hours.
Second step- The company that you choose will give you a preliminary proposal for you house according to your energy usage.
It is important to pay attention to the proposals you receive as some companies are less honest than others.
Third step- if the proposal is agreed upon then there will be a site visit, this is where your roof is measured to verify that the proposal is accurate.
Fourth step- Installation of your solar system. Electricians will come over with a crew and install your panels. If your installer is not licensed in your state, it is important to know that your solar system will not be tied to the grid and you may not qualify for certain incentives.
Fifth Step– Monitor your system. After your panels have been installed most can be monitored by an app on your phone.
Overall, I find it empowering to know how our electricity is generated. By understanding this concept, it makes it easier to make sustainable decisions. The power we have is that we are the consumers, and if we want more renewable energies we need to be the ones breaking the trail.