From the moment you wake up and flick on your coffee machine to that late night TV show binge and turning off the lights after a long day, you’re using electricity. But have you ever stopped to think about exactly what, how and where that power comes from?
Understanding how electricity is generated and transported won’t just wow your friends, you’ll become more power savvy and a better energy consumer too. We break down the journey electricity takes to get to your home or business—and you won’t need a degree in physics to understand it.
Go go power stations
Huge power stations convert energy from sunlight, wind, gas, water and coal into electricity using generators. They then sell the electricity to retailers through the National Electricity Market (made up of power stations, distributors like Evoenergy and retailers like ActewAGL).
Next the electricity needs to be delivered to where it will be used—like cities and major towns—which is where ‘the grid’ comes in.
Get in (transmission) line
The electricity is carried from the power stations over long distances through transmission lines that stretch across Australia’s eastern and southern states—making up one of the largest interconnected electricity systems in the world. The electricity has to be at a high voltage to transmit the energy efficiently over long distances. You might have driven past these huge power lines, they often sit alongside highways.
The electricity then reaches a substation, where machines called transformers lower the voltage so it can be distributed through smaller power lines into suburbs ready for everyday use.
Travelling along the poles and wires
In local areas, the electricity is delivered to homes and businesses through these lower voltage poles and wires. These are operated by Evoenergy in the ACT.
And then, just like that, you flick a switch
Electricity is always there when you flick a switch or plug something in, but as you now know, it’s travelled a long way to get there. Every building that uses electricity has a meter which measures how much you use and a switchboard which divides the electricity into circuits for different areas of the building. And there are things called circuit breakers or fuses inside the switchboard which protect each circuit from overloading and breaking.
Wires inside the walls carry the electricity from the switchboard to your power outlets and switches.
Not too much, not too little, but just enough
So how much electricity is produced? And how do we make sure there’s enough to get to the National Energy Market’s 9 million customers?
As the electricity supply must closely match the demand, a sophisticated system operated by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) manages the generators telling them how much energy to produce every five minutes. You can imagine how complex this is—especially with variable factors like wind and solar in the mix.
The electricity is traded like shares on a stock market—generators compete on price to meet the demand at a particular time. Retailers (like ActewAGL) buy the electricity and then resell it to businesses and households. There are lots of generators and retailers in the market so it’s highly competitive. Prices increase during periods of high demand and decrease during low demand.
It’s about the journey
So there you have it—the ups, downs and shape shifting electricity takes to power up your life.
Keen to better understand your electricity consumption? Read how to use less and save more.