Electrical energy is a huge part of our lives, at home and at school. So where exactly does our electricity come from? How is it connected to nature? And, why is it important that we use it wisely?
The path of hydroelectricity starts with rain and snow falling to the earth. A hydroelectric dam collects water that has run off mountains (melting snow and ice) and rainwater in a reservoir. The water is channeled through the dam by large pipes, called penstocks, to turbines. The energy of the falling water is used to turn the turbines, which generates electricity.
The electricity travels long distances over high-voltage wires called transmission lines. When transmission lines get close to a town or city, they go into substations. The electricity is then sent along the power lines we see in our communities.
Power lines are sometimes buried underground but often suspended by power poles to distribute the electricity to your neighbourhood. The grey cylinders on power poles are transformers that reduce the voltage so the electricity is safe to be sent into homes, schools and businesses. Pad-mounted transformers, the locked metal boxes you see on some street corners, are used in those areas where the power lines run underground.
Meters measure the amount of electricity that passes through them and into buildings. The electricity flows through wires to electrical outlets so we can use it to power lights, computers, devices, appliances and machines.
We use energy every day to cook our food, heat our homes, fuel our cars, and power our lights and computers. All of the energy we use ultimately comes from the sun and earth (coal, oil, natural gas, solar, water, wind). It’s important for students to understand that our energy use affects the environment.
Fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) come from underground and were formed a long time ago from the fossilized remains of plants and animals. Fossil fuels are known as non-renewable energy sources because they take millions of years to form. The burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) creates greenhouses gases that contribute to global warming and in turn, climate change.
In B.C., the majority of our electricity is made using the power of moving water (hydroelectricity) because large fast-moving rivers are abundant in our province. Other renewable sources of energy include the sun, the wind and geothermal sources from underground. These energy sources have less of an impact on the environment than non-renewable sources.