how exactly is electricity created and why are there so many ways to do it (ie hydro, coal, nuclear,etc)


how exactly is electricity created and why are there so many ways to do it (ie hydro, coal, nuclear,etc)

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Electricity is just a bunch of electrons moving in the same direction.

There are a bunch of ways to achieve that, but the easiest is wiggling a magnet. When magnets wiggle near electrons, that creates an electromagnetic force, which shoves the electrons along a wire.

This magnet wiggling is how each of the power sources you mentioned works.

Hydro? Get water to spin a magnet near a wire.

Coal? Burn it to boil water to spin a magnet.

Nuclear? Split atoms to heat water to spin a magnet.

There do exist methods (like solar panels) that don’t use spinning magnets. But since spinning magnets is a pretty easy, and surprisingly efficient way of pushing electrons along wires, that’s how most of our generators work.

**Edit:** Just for fun, here’s how a few other methods work.

– Solar panels essentially work from a thing called the photovoltaic effect. Basically, light bonks the electrons off of their atoms and down the wire.

– Batteries work by having atoms that don’t like electrons very much on one side, and atoms that really love electrons on the other side. The atoms that don’t like electrons spit up their electrons, which travel down the wire to the other side where the electron lovers suck them up.

– Thermoelectric generators basically work because the electrons on the hot end are wiggling more than the cold end (because heat is basically just particle wigglyness). The wigglier particles wiggle their way over to the cold side faster than the colds go to the hot, so you end up with electrons moving from the hot side to the cold side overall.

Electricity in powerplants is created by spinning magnets in a coil. The law of induction then forces a current to flow in the coil. A changing magnetic field creates a “whirl” of electrical field.

So that means you can use literally anything that moves to spin the magnet. Burning coal heats water, steam turns turbine. Nuclear decay heats water to make steam. Water or Wind can also drive a turbine.

The only odd one is photovoltaik (wich uses a semiconductor that is set up in a way that light is able to kick an electron over a barrier but it has to take the long way through the consumers to get back) and a few more exotic designs that use similar effects.

Lots of electricity production method (coal, gas, nuclear, wind, solar thermal, etc.) boil water to use steam power to turn an electrical turbine. They are just heat sources, essentially. These turbine generators use “electromagnetic induction,” which means that when an electromagnetic conductor is moved around in a magnetic field (like being spun around by expanding steam), it creates electricity.

All electric power plants except solar involve spinning a really large magnet inside of a stationary coil of wire. The moving magnetic field induces an electric current in the wire, converting the mechanical energy of the spinning magnet into electrical energy.

So you need to get a really large magnet spinning really fast, and there are a bunch of ways to do that. You can make steam and use the steam to spin a turbine. To do that, you can use a fuel to heat the water (coal, natural gas, nuclear). Or you can use already moving water to spin a turbine directly (hydro). Or you can use wind power to spin the alternator (the magnet and coil of wire) directly.

Solar works totally differently, where a solar panel absorbs photons from the sun, and due to complicated semiconductor physics, causes a voltage to form across the panel modules