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How is electricity generated?

How is electricity generated?

energía eléctrica

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Electricity is a form of energy that is widely used in all areas of society, however, for many, the way in which it is generated, is a complete mystery. To summarise, it could be said that electricity comes from power plants, which obtain this power from different sources of primary energy.

Power plants

Power plants are facilities that are capable of obtaining final energy, electricity, from different types of primary energy sources. Traditionally, these plants generated electricity from non-renewable energies, such as coal, gas oil or natural gas. With new technologies and greater awareness of sustainable development, new types of power plants have emerged based on renewable energies.

The types of plants are directly related to the primary energy used to generate the electricity. Therefore, we can distinguish between combined cycle plants, which use natural gas or wind farms, which use wind to generate electricity. These are just two examples, but there are as many different types of plants as there are types of primary energy: Coal, natural gas, gas oil, solar radiation, wind, tidal, biomass, etc.

How is electricity generated?

The most common way of generating electricity is by transforming the energy contained in primary energy into mechanical energy through different processes in order to convert this energy into electricity with the help of a generator.

Each power plant has its own characteristics for obtaining electricity, which makes it difficult to summarise how exactly it is generated. Therefore, below is a general outline of the main features of the different plants:

  • Coal, gas oil and natural gas plant: These plants obtain electricity by burning fossil fuels. The heat generated heats the water at under a high pressure and moves the turbine that is connected to an electricity generator where the electricity is obtained.
  • Natural gas combined-cycle plant: This plant is similar to the previous one, but more efficient, given that it has two circuits connected to a generator. One of them follows the same system explained in the preceding point and the other is a water-vapour cycle that uses the leftover heat from the combustion gases.
  • Nuclear plant: These plants heat the water at high pressure via the heat released in the nuclear fission. This high-pressure steam, as with the previous cases, moves a turbine connected to an electricity generator.
  • Biomass plant: These plants work in the same way as the fossil fuel plants. The main difference is in the type of fuel used. These plants use biomass, a renewable energy source.
  • Hydraulic plant: These plants are normally located close to reservoirs where water is captured. Electricity is obtained by turning the turbines, connected to a generator, which are moved by the stored water that falls from a great height.
  • Wind farm: These plants are made up of aero generators. These windmills have blades, which are equivalent to the turbines in other plants and a generator. Electricity is generated by pointing the blades towards the wind to make them move.
  • Solar plant: These plants generate electricity from solar radiation. This is the only type of plant that does not use mechanical energy instead, electricity is generated through a series of chemical reactions produced in the solar panels.
  • Geothermal plant: These plants use the heat within the earth to heat water at a high temperature and high pressure, which is responsible for moving a series of turbines connected to a generator. These plants are installed in areas in which the earth reaches high temperatures at shallow depths.
  • Tidal plants: These power stations are still being studied in order to improve their efficiency, although some have already been installed in oceans with strong tides such as the Atlantic Ocean. The way these work is basically by using sea currents to move a turbine connected to a generator.
  • Wave power plant: These plants, which are still in the very early stages of development, generate electricity by using the movement of the waves to move the turbines.

We can conclude that the power generation process is extremely varied depending on the primary energy used and although coal, gas oil, natural gas, nuclear and hydraulic plants are the most common worldwide, the use of renewable primary energy is becoming particularly important with the aim of reducing the effect of electricity generation on climate change. Did you know that there were so many different types of power plants? Which do you think will be the most important power plant of the future?

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