How stuff works - electricity generation

23 November 2016

Electricity plays an important role in our lives. We use it every day. It heats our homes, charges our phones, powers our washing machines and lights our rooms.

It’s hard to imagine that a little more than 100 years ago, electricity hadn’t been discovered and people had to rely on burning wood or coal to heat their homes and cook dinner.

Today, we’re lucky enough to get our energy delivered to us at the flick of a switch, but many of us might not understand how electricity works, or where it comes from.

We’re about to break it down for you so that you can better understand where your electricity comes from and how it powers your homes. 

What is electricity?

Electricity starts with atoms, which are tiny particles made up of even smaller elements called protons, electrons and neutrons.

When electrical and magnetic forces move from one atom to another, an electric current is formed. In power plants, spinning turbines force the movement of electrons, which generates electricity.

To explain this some more, check out this video.



What is electricity?


How electricity is generated

To generate electricity, first of all we need a fuel source.

Fuel sources include coal, gas, hydropower, geothermal, wind and solar. Coal and gas use the same principle to generate electricity - they turn a turbine so that it spins magnets surrounded by copper wire to create a flow of electrons across atoms, creating electricity.

You can find out how electricity gets to your home here.

Fuel sources explained

To get the turbines to spin, we need a fuel source. In Australia, most of our electricity supply comes from traditional fuels such as coal and natural gas. We also use renewable energy to generate electricity and here in Australia, it accounts for around 14 per cent of the electricity produced.

Traditional sources: Coal and gas

Coal and gas work in similar ways to produce electricity. Both of these fuel sources are burned to heat water. The water then creates steam which turns the turbine, generating electricity.

Renewable sources: Hydropower and wind

Renewable energy sources such as wind and hydropower work differently. The water from hydropower and the wind generated by wind power are used to turn the turbine and generate electricity.

Renewable source: Solar

Solar photovoltaic panels convert solar radiation into electricity using semi conductors, which generates electrical power. A number of Australians are making the switch to solar power as it can provide a greener, renewable energy source.

If you’re interested in exploring energy options for your home, you can compare Origin’s electricity plans and see an estimated cost for your usage.


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