With the click of your finger, I have the ability to make a fan spin. Can you guess how I can do that?
A mixture of wind, coal, and water brings me to life when the turbines turn on and this is where my journey begins…
Phase 1: Generation
As the magnets within the coil of wire inside the turbine moves, I start to move quickly within what is called, ‘The generator’ which is located somewhere in a place called the generating station. Then, I get pushed through a familiar line of wire known as the transformer where the voltage seems to be higher and pushes me away from the generating station to longer distances where my journey is bound to end.
Phase 2: Transmission
After some time, I make my way to another pitstop known as the transmission lines. It feels dark here and I can sense that I still have a long journey ahead across the country in this high-voltage coil of wire.
I travel in the same dark loop and not long after, I reach another point where the voltage is lower compared to the transmission line. That is when I realize that I have reached the substation. I have a feeling that I am going to get transferred to a whole new set of power lines and guess what? I was right! My journey resumes through smaller power lines which make it easier to travel and I definitely have more space to breathe and explore a new place.
Phase 3: Distribution
Time flies and I am enjoying my ride through the substation. Little do I know that I am going to enter an unfamiliar territory. I am taken aback by surprise when I make my way through another piece of coil known as distribution lines.
Shortly after, I reach another pitstop containing a small set of transformers which reduces the voltage again for safety concerns. As I wonder where my journey ends, I find myself passing through a meter connecting to a whole other circuit system. I then realise that my journey is ending as I enter the service panel where circuit breakers and fuses are attached. (Warning: Please do not touch the service panel without adult supervision)
Finally, I travel through a wire designated for me within the walls to my final pitstop known as the power outlet. As I hear the flick of a finger on the switch located on the outer section of the power outlet, I know that it is time to prove my worth and power!
Now that you know about my journey from the power station, can you guess what I am?
(My Journey: 1. Generator – 2. Transformer – 3. Transmission Lines – 4. Substation – 5. Distribution Lines – 6. Transformers – 7. Power outlet)
Yes, you are right! I am an electron. Electricity is generated when electrons (mobile charge carriers like myself) move around. This journey of mine is how electricity is transmitted from a power station to your house so that you can utilise your everyday appliances — like turning on the fan!
Despite the fast-paced and enjoyable journey to your homes, my fellow electrons and I encounter some problems. Let me tell you more!
Problem 1: Poor distribution
Did you know that around 60% of power is lost while traveling from the power station to your homes?
This is sometimes due to the aging parts of the electrical grid which is considered to be very expensive to replace.
One known solution for this is to improve what is known as the power grid system. Which helps to calculate how electricity needs to get distributed to different homes. However, improving the power grid system can be very expensive so that is why my fellow electrons and I still encounter this problem today.
Problem 2: Poor storage
Upon generating electricity, the power plant must make use of the energy generated to distribute them or choose to be at the risk of overloading power. So, there is a need for energy to be stored in suitable vessels which are cost-effective and of longer shelf lives to ensure power is not lost unnecessarily.
As you might know, there are a variety of storage technologies that can store energy such as batteries and hydropower storage facilities. However, each of the facilities has its own advantages and drawbacks. With advancing technology, there are other new or improved storage technologies in the market such as:
Pumped hydropower facility, which uses the motion of water to generate electricity. It involves pumping water uphill at times of low energy demand.
During periods of high demand, the water stored uphill in a reservoir is released and used to generate electricity. However, pumped hydropower facilities require a large land space to build in, which might put certain ecosystems in harm’s way while clearing the land.
Then we have another commonly found storage facility—batteries, which have been around since the 1800s and convert stored chemical energy into electrical energy. The world’s largest battery energy storage system so far is the Moss Landing Energy Storage Facility in California, US. This was where the first 300-megawatt lithium-ion battery comprising 4,500 stacked battery racks became operational in January 2021.
Last but not least we have another storage facility known as the compressed air energy storage, which has been used since the 1870s to deliver on-demand energy for cities and industries. The process involves storing pressurised air or gas and then heating and expanding it in a turbine to generate power when needed.
In sum, I hope that the rising problem of energy storage and distribution can be tackled with the help of advancing technologies with minimal impact on the environment. Subsequently, when these problems are addressed, my electron buddies and I can enjoy a safer and better journey for complete utilisation of your basic needs at home.
Written by Samiksha Manoharan
Illustrations by Sung Jernin