With a Flip of a Switch: How Does Electricity Work?

When flipping on a light switch in today’s times it’s expected that, thanks to electricity, a light bulb will turn on and light up a room. No longer does anyone even wonder how that electricity has been harnessed from the environment or how we get it into our homes. But from grids to solar power and even wind power, electricity is an amazing modern marvel worth investigating.

The Electrical Grid

An electrical grid consists of three main components all working together to allow power to reach our homes and appliances. The three components of a grid are power stations, transmission lines or power lines, and finally transformers.


The power plant which is miles away from our homes is the starting point for the electricity that eventually ends up allowing us to turn our lights on and off. High voltage is required for electricity to travel such far distances, and it must be transformed before it’s used on a small-scale kitchen appliance. This high voltage electricity travels by the lines to the transformers located on power poles (usually spotted throughout our neighborhoods). These transformers work to reduce the power down to an appropriate amount for a home.

Solar Power

Solar power is created by converting sunlight into usable electricity. There are two main ways this is done: photovoltaics (PV) or concentrated solar power (CSP). PV converts light into electric current, while CSP uses mirrors or lenses along with tracking systems to focus large amounts of sunlight into a small beam, thus creating concentrated energy. After electricity is created by harnessing this energy, it can be run through the grid system described above. In addition, an individual home can take advantage of this solar power by installing solar panels on their own property to generate their own electricity completely independent of a power grid. Solar power is increasing in popularity as homeowners search for economical and eco-friendly power options.

Wind Power

Another naturally derived form of energy that can be converted into power is wind energy. Wind turbines help create electricity by harnessing the power of the wind and converting it into usable electricity. Wind mills can be used for mechanical power and wind pumps can be used for drainage or water pumping. A large wind farm will generate enough power using wind turbines that it can be connected to an electric power transmission network, and usable energy can be disseminated.

For many years electricity has been supplied to our homes through grid systems and natural resources. If the energy is coming from hydroelectricity (gaining power through the force of water) or by solar or wind power, that useful energy is transformed into power that can safely run our homes. Electricity is an astounding resource whose power we often take for granted. Knowing how electricity works can help us better appreciate the remarkable technology that it is, and also help us appreciate the environmentally sound ways that have been constructed to help us harness it.


Photo Credit: Electricity Station, Prenton by Peter Craine

Author: nkeithly

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