Electricity's long journey to your home

It's always there when you flip a switch or plug in a cord, but electricity has to travel a long way to get to your house. The generating station where your electricity is made might be hundreds of miles away!

All the poles and wires you see along the highway and in front of your house are called the electrical transmission and distribution system. Generating stations all across the country are connected to each other through the electrical system (sometimes called the "power grid"). If one generating station can't produce enough electricity to run all the air conditioners when it's hot, another generating station can send some where it's needed.

Here's how electricity gets to your house:

  1. Electricity is made at a generating station by huge generators. Generating stations can use solar, wind, coal, natural gas, or water.
  2. The current is sent through transformers to increase the voltage to push the power long distances.
  3. The electrical charge goes through high-voltage transmission lines that stretch across the country.
  4. It reaches a substation, where the voltage is lowered so it can be sent on smaller power lines.
  5. It travels through distribution lines to your neighborhood. Smaller transformers reduce the voltage again to make the power safe to use in our homes. These smaller transformers may be mounted on the poles, or sitting on the ground (they’re the big green boxes, called pad mount transformers).
  6. It connects to your house and passes through a meter that measures how much electricity your family uses.
  7. The electricity goes to the service panel in your basement or garage, where breakers or fuses protect the wires inside your house from being overloaded. (Safety tipNever touch a service panel!  It is only to be operated by your parents or a professional.)
  8. The electricity travels through wires inside the walls to the outlets and switches all over your house.
Icons demonstrating steps 1-8.