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The electrical power journey, from generation to your living room

Whether the electricity market in your state is regulated or deregulated, the industry commonly includes four separate processes: generation, power transmission, distribution, and retailing. In regulated areas, the government generally owns and operates these processes. To better understand how electricity makes it into your living room, let’s take a closer look at each process.1. Electricity GenerationIn the first step, electricity is created from other forms of energy. This usually takes place at a power station using electromechanical generators. These generators can be powered by combustion, nuclear fission, water or wind power, or an alternative source of energy. In total, there are seven different methods of generating electricity:

  1. Static electricity: physical separation and transport of a charge (as in lightning)
  2. Electromagnetic induction: transformation by an electrical generator, dynamo, or alternator from kinetic energy
  3. Electrochemistry: transformation of chemical energy into electricity (as in a battery)
  4. Photoelectric effect: transformation of light into electrical energy (as with solar energy)
  5. Thermoelectric effect: transformation of temperature differences into electricity (thermocouples, thermopiles, etc.)
  6. Piezoelectric effect: transformation using anisotropic molecules
  7. Nuclear transformation: transformation by creating charged particlesthis differs from most nuclear power plants, in which the heat of nuclear reactions is used to drive a heat engine

2. Electric Power Transmission In this step, power is transferred from the generation areas to substations closer to the customers via transmission lines. These are the power lines which can be seen along the road, travelling away from the power plants. North America has three main power grids made up of interconnected transmission lines: the Western Interconnection, the Eastern Interconnection, and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. The electricity in these lines is transmitted at high voltages of 110 kV or more to reduce energy loss.3. Electric Power Distribution This third stage marks the end of the delivery process. Electrical power is transmitted from the grid to consumers via power lines, substations with pole-mounted transformers, and lower-voltage distribution wiring. Occasionally, electricity meters are also employed.4. Electricity RetailingRetailing is done by a provider known as an “electric company” or “power company.” Customers are usually charged a monthly service fee and an additional per-kWh rate based on their usage. In deregulated areas, consumers can choose their electrical company based on price or method of generation. Most companies also give the option to pay a fixed rate, regardless of the amount of energy used during the month, to help alleviate the risk of the electricity market.