Think about it. We flip a switch and the lights go on. It's amazing. Electricity "energizes" our computers, lights, refrigerators, air conditioners and even amplifies the sound of Keith Richards guitar. Have you ever stopped to think about where that energy comes from, how much it takes to power up the lights in your office, and what types of emissions are created from that simple gesture?
Where Does Electricity Come From? Electricity is created by harvesting energy from a variety of sources, some finite, some infinite. 92% of the electricity generated in the United States is from finite resources, which include natural gas, coal-fired power plants, nuclear energy, hydro-electric dams and petroleum. Renewable resources, such as solar, wind, geothermal and biofuels are a burgeoning industry and make up 8% of the current electricity generated in the US, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). The process of converting energy into electricity varies on the source, however, it is typically performed by utilities at power stations whereby they are then transmitted to consumers who purchase that electricity.
Electricity Flows Through Power Lines to the Consumer. After the electricity is created, it is transmitted through wiring from power plants to power stations that then distribute the electricity through "the grid" directly to the consumer. Look outside, and it's likely you will see overhead power lines, as it's quite expensive to bury power lines underground. Currently there are three major grids: The Western Interconnection, the Eastern Interconnection and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.
Consumers Flip the Switch. Because electricity cannot be stored in the volume we need to meet demands, electricity is created on an as needed basis. Therefore, utilities must accurately predict consumers electrical needs and back up that up with a bit of extra cushioning just in case that demand outpaces the supply. Think California blackouts of 2003 - no thanks!
Demand Keeps Growing! As more and more people are using electricity to listen to Keith Richards amplified guitar via CD and computer, there is a greater demand on creating more electricity, which has a whole host of problems, from transmission losses, to habitat destruction, to the not so clean coal. According to the EIA the US demand grows 12% each year, and that rate of growth is now being demanded by quickly developing countries like China and India.