What Generates Electricity

generates-electricity Credit: Monty Rakusen/Cultura/Getty Images

While there are many different methods of generating electricity, most electricity that powers homes and businesses comes from electric turbines. These devices spin a magnetic core through copper wiring, creating a charge through magnetic induction. In many cases, the energy to turn the turbine comes from steam generated by coal, natural gas or nuclear fission. In more sustainable cases, moving water or wind turns the turbine and generates electricity.

Michael Faraday discovered the principle of magnetic induction that makes electricity generation possible. As a magnetic field acts on copper wiring, it induces electrons to move through the wires. This generates an electric current. The vast majority of electricity generation methods use very similar turbines to actually generate the electricity, but the source of the energy that activates the turbine may be very different.

The one notable exception to this type of generation is photovoltaic generation. Solar panels use a specially treated layer of silicon that reacts to the ultraviolet rays in sunlight. When the sun's energy strikes the silicon, it causes electrons to flow from the top layer to the bottom layer, creating the beginnings of an electric current. These devices create electricity with no moving parts, which is one reason they have become popular among homeowners who want to reduce their energy costs.