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How Electricity Is Made

Have you ever wondered where electricity comes from? You might be surprised to learn that it comes from magnets! 

In the early 1800s, Michael Faraday discovered "electromagnetic induction", which is the scientific way of saying that if he moved a magnet through a loop of wire, the wire would become electrified.

In 1882, Thomas Edison opened the first full-scale power plant in New York City. Edison's electric generator was a bigger version of Faraday's basic experiment; a big magnet rotates around a wire to produce an electric current.

Today's power plants are bigger and controlled by computers, but the basic process is still the same as it was nearly 120 years ago.

Here's how power plants make electricity:

 train

 boiler

 generator

 turbine

 transformer

Coal is dug up and sent on trains and boats.  

The coal is burned to heat water to make steam.

Inside the generator, the steam spins a big fan called a turbine.

 The spinning turbine rotates a big magnet around a piece of wire & that motion creates a magnetic field that electrifies the wire.  

The electric current flows through the wire and is pushed out through high-voltage transformers.


More ways to make electricity:

Instead of using coal, some power plants use other ways to make electricity:

 Emery Generating Station

Emery Generating Station
     Clear Lake, Iowa

 Duane Arnold Energy Center

Duane Arnold Nuclear Center
      Palo, Iowa

Bent Tree Wind Farm

Bent Tree Wind Farm
     Freeborn County, Minnesota

 Prairie du Sac

Prairie du Sac Hydro
     Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin

 Some power plants burn natural gas instead of coal to make steam.

A nuclear power plant splits apart uranium to release heat energy.

A wind farm uses the wind to spin the blades of the turbine. 

A hydro power plant uses running or falling water to spin the turbine. 


 

Want to learn more?

If you'd like to learn more about the electrical power system, check-out Science of Electricity by Energy Kids.

 

Links for teachers and parents: