Like most South Africans, you rely on electricity daily, but probably don’t give much thought as to where it comes from, or how it magically appears in your home to power your various electronic devices. However, it pays to take a look, as between current global environmental concerns and the changing geopolitical climate, you don’t want to end up ‘in the dark.’
Going with the Flow: How Electricity Powers the World
Simply put, electricity involves the flow of electrons, which are defined by current. There are two main kinds of current: DC or direct current – a ‘flow’ of energy like you get from a battery; and AC, or alternating current (like from your wall outlets) – which reverses the direction of electrons, allowing current flow to turn on and off. But that current must be sourced or created. Luckily, there are many different ways, ranging from the simplest static electrical charge produced by merely rubbing materials together, to the infinitely complex process of harnessing nuclear energy as a power source.
Infinite Potential: Common Energy Sourcing Options
Nearly all forms of sourcing energy involve turbine use. For fossil fuel generated power, this involves combustion for the production of steam and gases to rotate turbine shafts, which, when connected to a generator, convert this mechanical energy into electrical current. In renewable options, however, the source itself typically fuels turbine movement….
Natural gas combustion alone, or as part of a furnace/boiler system, propels turbines to create energy.
Most power plants use coal-fired steam turbines to generate power, though a few convert coal to a gas before using it in turbines.
Petroleum can also be burned to produce combustion gases or steam to power turbines.
With nuclear power, nuclear fission produces the energy-generating steam necessary to spin turbines and generate electricity.
Hydropower from dams and other setups power turbines via flowing water.
Like giant pinwheels, turbines capture energy from the wind for conversion into electricity.
Derived from plant and animal waste, materials are burned directly and used as other fuels to power turbines or internal combustion generators.
Energy from the sun is captured in photovoltaic solar cells, heating fluids to produce steam and drive turbines.
Heat from within the earth is harnessed too for heating water into steam to power turbines.