How is electricity made?
Electricity is one of our most well-used gifts from nature. Learning how to manipulate and use this natural element has dramatically changed our everyday lifestyles in countless ways.
Making Electricity from Steam
A steam power plant (or generator) produces electricity by burning fuels including biomass, coal or petroleum. Steam generated from the process is fed into a turbine. The copper armature (wire) in the generators turns with the rotation of the turbine, producing and electric current. All the coal and nuclear power plants in South Africa are steam based.
Making Electricity from Water
Electricity that is generated from water is called hydroelectricity. Falling water rotates the blades of a hydroelectric turbine, which in turn moves the copper armature inside the electric generator to produce electricity. The largest hydroelectric power plant in South Africa is the 1 000 megawatt Drakensberg Pumped-Storage Facility, part of a larger scheme of water management that brings water from the Tugela River into the Vaal watershed. The country's second-largest plant is situated on the Palmiet River outside Cape Town.
Making Electricity from Wind
A wind power plant rotates the blades of of a turbine, which move the copper armature that lies within the generator, to generate electricity. Windmills have been used in the past to rotate the wheels of attached mills. Modern windmills turn mechanical energy (generated from movement) into electrical energy. The first large scale wind farm in South Africa became operational in the Eastern Cape in 2014, and others are in planning and construction stages. Government’s goal is to increase the country’s renewable energy resources to 17.8GW by 2030. South Africa’s wind farm programme, in conjunction with its Independent Power Producer programme, is therefore becoming a key area of focus.
Making Electricity from Solar Power
Photovoltaic cells utlise the energy of the sun to produce electricity. Direct current (DC) is generated from stationary solar panels - made up of photo-voltaic cells - and is used for many applications, from running small scale irrigation pumps to charging battery-powered devices. Commercial scale power stations are gaining popularity with the increase in the price of fossil fuels. They function by trapping solar energy through large reflectors. The trapped energy is then directed onto receivers that use various technologies to generate electricity by powering gas or steam turbines. South Africa is growing its alternative energy capacity with numerous photovoltaic power stations across the country. The 75 megawatt Kalkbult solar photovolataic power station started to provide the grid with electricity in November 2013. Abengoa, a Spanish renewable energy company, recently announced the completion of its latest concentrated solar power (CSP) plant, Xina Solar One (Xina). By means of Xina and two other plants the company built earlier, Kaxu Solar One and Khi Solar One, the company provides electricity to almost a million people in the Northern Cape, especially during the early evening peak, when this power is needed most.
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