Our electrical power system delivers electricity to our homes. The power plant generates electricity. Wires carry the power to homes and businesses. Along the way, transformers change the voltage of the electricity.
Click on image for full size
Electric Power Delivery System
When you switch on a light in your house, you are using the electrical power system. A power plant generates the electricity. Electrical power travels along wires to your house. The light switch channels the electricity to the light bulb.
We use AC (alternating current) electricity in our homes and businesses. The electrons don't actually flow along the wires. Instead, they vibrate back and forth very quickly (60 times each second!). When you plug in an appliance, the outlet supplies power to move electrons that are already in the wiring of the appliance.
Voltage is one measure of electricity. If you think of an electrical circuit as being like water in pipes, voltage is like the pressure of the water. Sometimes we use a different voltage electricity for a special purpose. High voltages are good to use when electricity will travel a long distance. Less energy is lost during the trip if we use high voltages. Lower voltages are better to use in our homes. Lower voltage electricity is safer.
When electricity leaves a power plant, we use a device called a transformer to increase or "step up" the voltage. The high voltage electricity (more than 100,000 volts!) is then ready for the long trip over power lines to your neighborhood. Near your house, more transformers are used to change the voltage again. This time the transformers decrease or "step down" the voltage to a safer level. We use 110 volt electricity in our homes.
Space weather can mess up the electrical power system by damaging transformers. Space weather storms can cause direct current (DC) electricity to flow in wires. Transformers are made to work with AC power. DC power causes transformers to overheat or even catch on fire.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
Our online store
includes fun classroom activities
for you and your students. Issues of NESTA's quarterly journal, The Earth Scientist
are also full of classroom activities on different topics in Earth and space science!
You might also be interested in:
There are two types of electrical currents that can flow through wires: direct current (DC) and alternating current (AC). Direct current (DC) flows in the same direction all the time through an electric...more
Space weather "storms" can cause problems on Earth. They can even mess up our systems that make electricity and that deliver electricity to peoples' houses. Sometimes really big space weather storms can...more
Our electrical power system supplies our homes and businesses with electricity. Space weather storms can mess up the power system, leaving us without electricity. A transformer is a piece of equipment...more
Space weather causes electricity to flow in our atmosphere. Sometimes that electricity lights up the sky by causing the aurora (the Southern and Northern Lights). Electric currents in the atmosphere can...more
Sometimes a whole electric power system shuts down. This can happen after a strong space weather storm. It is hard to get the whole system running again after it has been shut down all the way. The main...more
In 1989 a space weather storm caused an electrical blackout over a large area. Six million people in eastern Canada lost electrical power for 9 hours or longer. The blackout of the HydroQuebec power grid...more
Radiation can damage electronic circuits. Radiation can also cause electronics to malfunction. Radiation can damage the materials used in electronics over time. That can make the electronics wear out sooner....more