How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 996

How does electricity get to my home?
The electricity you receive comes from a distant power plant. A generator in that power plant produces a substantial electric current of medium high voltage electric charge. This current is alternating, meaning that its direction of flow reverses many times a second—120 reversals per second or 60 full cycles of reversal (over and back) in the United States. This alternating electric current flows through the primary coil of wire in a huge transformer at the power plant, where it produces an intense alternating magnetic field. When a magnetic field changes with time, it produces an electric field and, in the transformer, this electric field pushes electric charges around a second coil of wire in the transformer, the secondary coil. The effect of this transformer is to transfer power from the current in the primary coil of the transformer to the current in the secondary coil of the transformer. Thus the generator's electric power moves along to the current passing through the secondary coil of the transformer. However, the secondary coil has far more turns of wire than the primary coil and this gives each charge passing through that coil far more energy than the charges had in the primary coil. Although the current passing through that secondary coil is relatively small, it acquires an enormous voltage by the time it leaves the secondary coil. The transformer has produced this high voltage power needed for efficient power transmission to a distant city.

This high voltage electric current passes through the countryside on high voltage transmission wires. The value of using a small current of high voltage charges is that wires waste power in proportion to the square of the electric current they are carrying. Since the current in the transmission wires is small, they waste relatively little power.

When this current reaches your town, it passes through a second transformer, which transfers its power to yet another electric current. This current is large and, because it passes through a coil that has few turns of wire, it acquires only a medium high voltage when it flows through the secondary coil of the new transformer. Electricity from this second transformer flows toward your neighborhood through medium high voltage wires. Finally, near your home there is a third and final transformer that extracts power from the medium high voltage current and transfers that power to a very large current that acquires a low voltage when it flows through the secondary coil of the final transformer. It is this very large current of low voltage charges that flows through appliances in your home and those of your neighbors. That final transformer is often visible as a large gray drum on a utility pole or a green box in someone's yard.


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