How Power Plants Work
Electricity is actually the flow or movement of electrons through a material. Electric generating plants typically produce electricity using magnetic conduction. This happens when a large number of conductive wires are spun around inside a magnetic field, causing electrons to move (i.e., electricity to flow).
In a generating plant, the potential energy of various types of fuels (fossil, nuclear, or renewable) is converted into another form of energy (usually mechanical or heat energy). This energy is used to turn fan-like blades inside a turbine. These blades are attached to a pole-like shaft. When the blades inside the turbine begin to turn, the shaft begins to turn. This causes wires located inside a magnetic field within the generator to turn. The resulting flow of electrons is electricity. More or less electricity can be created by varying certain factors including: the type of materials used in the wire, the speed at which the turbine rotates, the size of the magnetic field, and the number of wire coils inside the magnetic field, among others.
Wires coming from the generator are used to conduct the flow of electricity out to a neighboring switchyard, where the electricity is “stepped up” (i.e., the voltage is raised) so that it can be sent to customers.
Steam-electric plants produce electricity by using heat energy to turn water into steam. The highly pressurized steam then travels through pipes to the blades in the turbine. When the steam hits the turbine, it causes the blades to spin.
Hydroelectric generating facilities use mechanical energy (i.e., the movement of water) to cause the blades in the turbine to turn.
In a steam-electric solar generating facility, heat from the sun’s rays is used to create the steam that is needed to rotate the turbine.