I have to admit, until recently, I had no idea how my electricity was produced and I barely glanced at my electricity bill.
Even worse, I would take the time to open it and glance over it as if I was actually absorbing the information. Or knew what it all meant.
In reality, I didn’t have a clue what I was looking at, what it meant for my family, my budget or the planet.
About a year ago, while writing up some info for the blog, I decided to focus and do some research into our electricity bill and beyond.
My search for info landed me in a self-led crash course on the basics of how electricity is produced. I’m not going to lie, it ain’t the most exciting topic but I did find it pretty useful!
Here’s what I learned…
How is Electricity Produced?
Before doing any research, I would have answered this question by saying something like coal is burned which causes something to turn which makes electricity.
Hmmmm…I think I was a little off but I’m going to let myself off the hook. Knowing how electricity is produced isn’t something I’ve needed to know much about. It just wasn’t on my radar. Kid stuff, kid stuff and more kid stuff has been on my radar! 🙂
So, how is it produced? Well, I’ll tell ya…
On a very basic level, here is the process:
Coal is mined and sent to power plants.
The coal is burned to heat water which produces steam.
Inside a generator, the steam produced spins a large fan called a turbine.
The spinning turbine rotates a big magnet around a piece of wire. That motion creates a magnetic field that electrifies the wire.
The electric current flows through the wire and is pushed long distances throughout the country until it reaches a substation. Once there, the voltage is lowered so it can travel across local wires and eventually into your home.
Pretty simple, huh? 🙂
What’s Used to Produce Electricity?
As I mentioned, coal is one source used to produce electricity, but there are others too.
Some power plants burn natural gas instead of coal to make steam and spin the turbine.
A nuclear power plant splits apart uranium to release heat energy. The heat is used to create the steam that will spin a turbine.
A wind farm uses the wind to spin the blades of the turbine.
A hydro power plant uses running or falling water to spin the turbine.
A biomass-fired power plant burns wood chips and other organic material to instead of coal or natural gas.
A geothermal power plant uses steam from reservoirs of hot water found below the Earth’s surface to spin the turbines
How Does Electricity Get to Your House?
The electricity generated (using a variety of resources) by power plants across the country are connected to each other through the electrical system which is also called the “grid”.
All of the electricity produced (again, using various resources like coal, wind, etc.) is transmitted and distributed via the wires and poles you see outside your home (or buried underground in some communities) and all along roads in your town.
If one power plant can’t generate enough power to keep up with the demand, being connected allows another power plant elsewhere in the country can pick up the slack.
What’s On Your Bill?
If you’re like me and don’t really take a close look at your electricity bill you might be a little confused. Not for long! Here’s a quick overview of what to look for.
You’ll see two sets of charges.
One group of charges details your distributor charges and the other details your supplier charges.
The distributor charges are the costs your local utility company charges you to deliver the electricity or gas supply to your home.
It covers things like billing, meter reading, equipment and maintenance. The monthly distributor charges are based on the number of kilowatt hours (kWh) your home uses during the billing cycle.
The supplier charges are the costs of the actual amount of electricity your home used.
The supplier portion of your bill is the part that you can now shop around for to find the best rate…and for the type of energy sources you want to use.
We’ll get more into why you can shop and how to shop for a different energy supplier a little later.
What’s In Your Electricity?
It’s likely that you can take a look at your electricity bill to see what sources of energy are used to generate the electricity coming to your home. If not, you may be able to take a look at your energy suppliers website for more information.
When I checked a year or so ago I found that my electricity sources included 96% from non-renewable sources:
– 43.5% coal
– 17.5% gas
– 34.7% nuclear
– .3% oil
In contrast only 4% of my electricity was from renewable sources:
– captured methane gas
– wood or other biomass
Until relatively recently, I didn’t haven’t a choice about what sources of energy were being used to generate my electricity. Now I do!
Can You Choose Your Energy Supplier?
I won’t go into the details of the history of deregulation of the energy industry in the US but the main take-away is that in many states today, consumers can choose their energy supply company.
You stay with your local distributor, but your supplier can change.
This allows you to “shop” for the best pricing AND choose the source of your energy.
(To find out if you can choose your energy supplier, visit The American Coalition for Competitive Energy Suppliers for state-by-state info)
This was a BIG deal for me!
I really, really wanted to have solar panels installed on our roof so we could use clean, renewable energy for our home.
Unfortunately, after exploring all of our options with a solar energy company, it didn’t work out. For one, we couldn’t generate enough energy with the amount of shade on our roof to make it worth it. And, two, my husband thought solar panels were ugly. If you’re married, you get that you have to pick your battles! 🙂
However, all was not lost on my desire for clean, renewable energy!
In my state, Maryland, we have the ability to choose our energy supplier!
Now, our electricity is from 100% wind energy – a clean, renewable, make-me-feel really green, like I’m doing my part option!!
Do You Want to Choose?
If you’re interested in learning more about energy choice, I’m here to help!
I’m super excited to be working with a local company, Electric Advisors, as a consultant for residential renewable energy!
Since 2006, Electric Advisors has been helping commercial clients take advantage of energy choice to help their organization’s bottom-line. They are committed to promoting renewable energy and helping clients find a plan that works for them.
I’m so excited to be able to help you make the switch to renewable energy by finding a plan and a price that work for you!
Please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org! I’d love to help you!