- Here comes the sun – how solar power reaches our home
- The journey of coal
- The ancient origin of nuclear energy
It’s easy for us to take the energy we use for granted. If you feel a little chilly, you switch on the central heating. Fancy a bath? Just one tap of your phone can put the hot water on. But the route of getting energy to your home is no easy feat.
Here’s a quick guide to what goes on behind the scenes to power your home.
The Sun is over 90 million miles away from Earth but it takes less than 10 minutes for light to hit it. Once the sun’s light hits a solar panel it generates a flow of electrons through the panel’s cells, creating electricity. Each cell generates a few volts of electricity and the panel combines the energy they produce to make a bigger electric current and voltage.
For those with solar panels at home, any excess electricity produced is exported back to the National Grid and gets redistributed around the country. One drawback, though, is that solar energy can’t be stored. However, a new development by Tesla claims to address that issue.
The UK’s gas supply mainly comes from the North and East Irish seas. It’s also brought from other countries across Europe. In some cases, the gas is shrunk down 600 times in volume so it’s easy to transport. This gas is burned in a power station, creating heat energy that drives turbines which power a generator. This converts the turbine’s mechanical energy into electrical energy.
The power of the wind was harnessed as early as 5000 BC, when ancient Egyptians used it to sail across the Nile. Today’s technology means that the blades of wind turbines can now turn at 10-30 revolutions per second, converting to electricity via a generator, like a giant version of a dynamo-powered light on a bike. A transformer alters this electricity to the correct voltage for distribution. The National Grid then transmits this power around the country. Like solar, though, there is no way to store this energy.
Uranium, a heavy metal, was formed in supernovas over 6.6bn years ago and can be found in rocks and seawater. It now helps to supply the world with 16% of its electricity. Uranium is converted into fuel pellets that release heat energy when their atoms are split, producing superheated steam that drives a turbine. This turbine powers a generator, which gives us electricity.
Coal seams can run as deep as 800m and stretch for hundreds of miles across the UK. Depending on the distance it needs to go, coal is transported by truck, train or barge. It also makes its way to us in the form of slurry that is transported through a pipeline. The coal goes to a power plant where it is burned and, like nuclear power, drives a turbine to produce electricity.
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