How Electricity Gets to You

It's hard to imagine our homes without electricity. There would be no TV, computer or video games. You'd have to do your homework by candlelight or oil lamps. You wouldn't be able to listen to your favourite bands on the radio or CD player – instead you'd have to make your own music!

But what is electricity?

Electricity is a form of energy that starts with atoms. You can't see atoms because they're too small, but they make up everything around us. There are three parts to an atom: protons, neutrons and electrons. Electricity is created when electrons move from atom to atom. There are a number of ways to make electrons move, but most electricity is produced at power plants.

How do power plants work?

It all starts with a source of power. At Yukon Energy, we use water to create most of our electricity. That's why most of our plants are called hydroelectric facilities: hydro means water.

Power plants that use water to make electricity are built near rivers. Our Whitehorse plant, for instance, is on the Yukon River. Dams are built across rivers to hold back the water. The water is then directed through big pipes and it falls against the blades of giant turbines. The turbines have blades on them that turn when the water hits them, just like the blades of a pinwheel turn when you blow on them. Once the water hits the blades, it returns to the river.

The turbine blades are attached to a big metal rod, and at the end of that rod are large magnets. When the blades turn, they make the rod and the magnets spin very fast. The magnet end is surrounded by heavy coils of copper wire, and the spinning magnets cause electrons in the wire to begin to move, creating electricity.

What happens to the electricity after that?

It moves through wires into what's called a power transformer. The electrical voltage (the strength at which electricity flows) is fairly high and the transformer makes it even higher to help it flow through wires called transmission lines. Those wires are attached to wooden or metal poles that you see along roads and throughout communities.

All the wires are made of metal – usually aluminum or copper. That's because metal is a good conductor – electricity travels through it easily. By the way, water is also a good conductor, and because our bodies are mostly made of water, electricity can travel through us easily. That's not something we want to happen though, because if we have electricity going through us we'll likely be seriously hurt or even killed. That's why grown-ups warn you to stay away from high voltage sites and not to stick your fingers in a wall plug.

Electricity travels fast – about 310,000 kilometres per second. If you moved that fast, you could probably make several trips around the world in the time it takes to turn on a light!

Sometimes, when electricity has to travel a long way it gets a little weaker as it moves along the lines. It needs a boost (like you need food to replace the energy you've burned after playing outside all day). That's where substations help. Substations are large box-like power transformers that sit in fenced-in areas. You'll see signs on the fences that say "high voltage – stay away". It's really important that you obey those signs (remember what you learned about electricity being able to travel easily through your body).

How does electricity get into my house?

When wires reach your house, another transformer on the power pole makes the electricity just the right voltage so you can use it safely.

The wire is connected to a meter box that keeps track of how much electricity is being used. There are wires in your house connected to plugs, also called outlets. These outlets let you plug in your boombox, television set, or any thing else electrical. What an amazing journey electricity takes to get to your home!