It’s easy to take electricity for granted. It’s there when you need it to light up our homes, power the TV or charge your smartphone. But few British Columbians know the details of electricity’s journey, from rain or snow to a dam in the mountains, all the way to our homes.
This fun, visual guide covers the basics of hydroelectric generation, how that electricity gets to our homes, and how we can use that energy wisely and safely. And it’s fun, with puzzles and questions that build understanding of how it all works and how we can use it more wisely and safely.
The story of hydroelectricity starts in nature with the water cycle. Snow falls in winter where it collects in high-alpine glaciers and creates a dense, thick snowpack. In the spring, this snowpack melts and the run-off makes its way down the mountain and into streams and rivers. Water from the melting snow and ice, as well as rainwater, collects in reservoirs behind dams.
When water in a hydro reservoir is released it moves through large pipes, called penstocks, to turbines, which are like wheels with blades. The energy of falling water spins the turbines and generates electricity.
The electricity is transported to your home, traveling long distances over high-voltage wires called transmission lines. These transmission lines are held above the ground by tall metal transmission towers.
When the electricity gets near a town or city, it goes into substations. A substation contains many wires and transformers and is surrounded by a fence. The substation reduces the voltage, divides the electricity and sends it in different paths over wires called distribution lines. These distribution lines take the electricity to your home and can be either above ground or underground.
When you see grey cylinders on power poles, they’re called transformers. They reduce the voltage on the distribution lines to an amount that can be safely used in buildings. You may also see metal boxes with warning signs where newer houses are built. These boxes are called pad-mounted transformers. They do the same things as the transformers on the poles, but are for underground distribution lines.
As the electricity enters your house or school, it passes through a meter. The meter measures the amount of electricity your household uses. The electricity flows through the meter, through wires in your house and ends in electrical outlets in the walls. To use the electricity, you plug the appliance or device into the outlet.
Earth has a limited supply of water that is cycled over and over again. The water cycle is an important process on earth because living things, including animals and humans, need water to grow and survive. Water is used for drinking, growing food, providing habitat, generating electricity and more. The sun has been driving the water cycle on Earth for billions of years. The four main stages of the water cycle are evaporation, condensation, precipitation and runoff.
And then the cycle begins again.