The Electrical Grid

Jun 2, 2022

Squishy Circuits uses batteries to power circuits. When you flip the battery holder’s switch, electrons flow from the batteries and power the LEDs, motors, or buzzers. In our daily lives, we’re used to having instant access to electricity in our homes.  It turns on our lights, heats our food, keeps our electronics running, and so much more!

So, where is the power coming from to power all of these devices? There surely isn’t a battery behind every outlet that we plug in to, right?

The answer is called the electrical or power grid. The grid works much like our road systems or the internet - electricity goes through a series of transformers, substations, cables, and more on its journey from the plant to your home. It’s not just a straight connection. A lot of organization and engineering has been put into the grid design to make sure everyone can have electricity. 

The grid begins with generation, or the act of creating electricity. Currently, most power grids begin with generation at a power plant. Fossil fuels or coal are burned and energy is generated by spinning a generator. Electricity can also be generated by solar panels, wind turbines, nuclear power, and more! The future is quickly adapting to our changing climate and moving away from burning fossil fuels and centralized power plants. 

Next, the generated electricity is converted to a higher voltage using step-up transformers. This step-up makes it more efficient to transfer over long distances. This high-voltage electricity is then sent through large power lines to substations.

Substations act as the middle link between your home and the power plant. They figure out where the power needs to go and when to send it. When there is demand, such as when you turn on the lights, sensors alert the substation and the substation sends electricity along cables that are held up by power poles or are buried underground to your home.

Before it can be used, the power must be reduced back down to a lower voltage. Have you ever seen those white canisters on the sides of power poles? These are called step-down transformers. They take the high-voltage power and convert it to a lower voltage before it arrives in your home.

Once the power gets delivered to your house, even then the power’s journey is not finished! Each house has an intricate set of wiring directing the power where it needs to go. The power from the step-down transformer gets sent to a fuse box which splits the electricity to different parts of your home and adds safety fuses which turn off the power in case of a fault. Wires in the wall connect each outlet, switch, light, and appliance back to the fuse box allowing us to use the electricity!

The next time you plug something into the wall or turn on the lights, think about the millions of electrons that have been zipping for many miles through wires, transformers, cables, and more! The grid is truly one of our modern marvels.