Fuel for thought: How does energy get to your home?

  • 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.

 

Solar 

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.

Infographic detailing how solar energy gets into the home. "The sun is a staggering 90 million miles away but it takes less than 10 minutes for its light to reach the solar panel, the energy is converted to an alternating current via an inverter, any excess power produced can be sold back to the grid, the journey to your home is short and sweet"

 

Gas

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.

Infographic showing how gas gets to the home. "The UK's gas mainly comes from the North and East Irish seas. Some also comes from Europe, it's transported to power stations through pipes and on ships, the gas is then mixed with air and burned. The pressure turns turbines which generates electricity, it's then transmitted across the UK on the grid, until the electricity finally reaches your home"

 

Wind 

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.

Infographic showing how wind energy gets to the home. "Wind energy goes as far back as 5,000 BC, when ancient Egyptians used it to sail across the Nile, today, wind is also used to generate electricity, a transformer converts the electricity to the right voltage for distribution, the grid then transmits this power around the country, the electricity finally reaches your home"

 

Nuclear 

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.

Infographic to show how uranium gets to the home. "Uranium was formed in supernovas over 6.6 billion years ago, it can now be found in rocks and seawater, uranium pellets are used to turn water into steam, the steam then powers turbines which generate electricity, the grid transmits the electricity across the UK, the electricity finally reaches your home"

 

Coal

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.

Infographic showing how energy from coal gets to your home. "In the UK, coal mines can go as deep as 800m, the coal is transported by trucks, trains and barges, when it reaches the power station, it's burnt. The head turns water into steam. This powers the turbines that generated electricity, the grid transmits electricity through the power lines, until it finally reaches your home."

 

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