in the U.S. is generated using coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear energy,
or hydropower. Some production is done with alternative and/or renewable
fuels like geothermal energy, wind power, biomass, solar energy,
or fuel cells.
The electricity you use may be generated
from one or more of these methods. No matter which fuels produce
the electricity you use, your lights shine, your radio plays, and
your computer runs in the same way.
Hydroelectric plants use the power of falling water to turn the
turbines that help generate electricity. Water stored behind a dam
is released and directed through special tubes to flow against the
blades of turbines and make them turn.
Coal, oil, and natural gas are known as fossil fuels because they
were formed from the fossilized remains of animals or plants that
lived long ago. Long ago, even before the dinosaurs, these plants
and animals died and settled to the bottom of lakes and oceans to
be covered over by sand and mud. Over millions of years, the earth's
pressure and heat converted their remains into coal, oil, and natural
Coal is extracted from the ground at large
mines. Natural gas and oil are obtained through wells drilled deep
in the earth.
Most of the electricity used in the U.S.
is generated from power plants that burn fossil fuels to heat water
and make steam. The highly pressurized steam is directed at the
blades of turbines to make them spin.
Nuclear power plants use the heat from splitting atoms to convert
water into the steam that turns turbines. These plants rely on uranium,
a type of metal that must be mined from the ground and specially
processed. Fuel rods containing uranium are placed next to each
other in a machine called a nuclear reactor. The reactor causes
the uranium atoms to split and in so doing, they release a tremendous
amount of heat.
Steam (or hot water converted to steam) from under the ground is
used to turn turbines.
The force of the wind is used to spin many small turbines. Most
wind power is produced from wind farms—large groups of turbines
located in consistently windy locations.
Biomass is organic matter, such as wood chips and bark left over
when lumber is produced, and agricultural wastes. Biomass can be
burned to heat water to make steam, which turns a turbine to make
electricity. It can also be converted into a gas, which can be burned
to do the same thing.
Solar energy is generated without a turbine or electromagnet. Special
panels of photovoltaic cells capture light from the sun and convert
it directly into electricity. The electricity is stored in a battery.
Fuel cells produce electricity through a chemical reaction.