UK Energy - where does it come from?

Ever wondered where your energy is generated?

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We’re often asked – where does energy come from? The answer: it all began way back in 1831, when Michael Faraday first passed a magnetic bar over copper wire to produce “a wave of electricity” – and that experiment is generally the basis for how we go about producing energy today.

I say ‘we’ because you might not know it, but at npower we produce about 10% of the electricity used in Great Britain. But how do we get our energy from source to switch? We’ve broken the process down into five simple steps, so keep on reading to find out…

Electricity: from source to supply in 5 easy steps:

1. We supply electricity and gas to businesses and households across the country from our eleven coal, oil, biomass and gas-fired power stations. These power stations have big boilers that burn a fuel to make heat. A boiler is like a teapot on a stove – when water boils, the steam makes a whistle. In a power plant, the water is brought to a boil inside the boiler, and the steam is then piped to a turbine.

2. Attached to the turbine is a generator which rotates when the steam drives the turbine. As it spins, the generator uses the kinetic energy from the turbine to make electricity. The generator is similar to a very large electric motor, which has a powerful electro-magnet surrounded by a series of windings – the modern day equivalent of Faraday’s bar magnet and coil of wire!

3. After the steam goes through the turbine, it is cooled in a condenser and becomes water again. The heat released from this process is carried away by cooling water.

4. When the electricity finally leaves the power station it enters a transformer to boost the voltage up to 400,000 volts. The power lines lead into substations near businesses, factories and homes. Transformers change the very high voltage electricity back into a lower voltage.

5. The National Grid is the only company licensed to transmit electricity from generating power stations to local distribution companies through the wires and pylons that stretch across the country. After passing through an electricity meter, the electricity goes through a fuse box before being available at the socket in your home or business.

The role of renewable energy

The UK has a huge amount of renewable resources, including the best wind resources in Europe. We know we need a mix of clean energy technologies for the future to make sure we have a secure, clean and affordable energy supply for the future – and so generating energy using wind, biomass, hydro, wave tidal and other renewable technologies is crucial.

Wind turbines are one of the largest sources of renewable energy in the UK and use the force of the wind to rotate the turbine blades, connected to a small generator.

Biomass has an increasing role to play in producing renewable energy. In 2011, we converted our power station in Tilbury from a coal-fired plant to run on 100% biomass fuel, using sustainably-sourced renewable wood pellets.

Biomass is the only energy option that delivers rapid low carbon energy on demand, which means that the use of biomass for power generation will contribute towards an affordable and clean energy supply for the future.

Renewable generation by itself won’t be able to fill the anticipated energy gap in the short term. The UK has a target to supply 15% of electricity from renewables by 2015 – we have an important part to play in reaching that target.

The UK needs a diverse mix of energy generation to reduce CO2 at the same time as guaranteeing an affordable and secure energy supply. We can’t rely on just one source – we need a mix of technology, like our Pembroke Power Station – the biggest and most efficient gas-fired station of its kind in Europe. npower renewables is the biggest developer of renewable technology in the UK – it’s in the middle of building the largest offshore wind farm in Europe, Gwynt y Môr, off the coast of North Wales, that will supply energy for over 400,000 homes.

Over the past few years we’ve invested over £4.5 billion in new renewable and gas technology – but much more investment is still needed to keep the lights on in the UK. Decisions about which technologies to develop and how to pay for it are still being made. Take a look here to read about the debate on future energy supply.

What are your thoughts on the future of UK energy? Please leave us a comment below.

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