Electricity 101

Electricity is an essential part of our lives. But have you ever thought about how it really works?

Before electricity, people used kerosene lamps and candles for light and stoves for heat. Machines relied on steam engines, or human and animal power. Wow, how things have changed! That’s the transformative power of electricity—we almost can’t imagine life without it.

Electricity is a secondary energy source, which means it’s produced from another energy source. These primary energy sources can be non-renewable (like coal and natural gas) or renewable (like wind and solar power). In the United States, fossil fuels still generate more than 60% of the electricity we use. Nuclear power generates about 20%, while renewable energy sources make up the remaining 20%.

How Electricity is Generated and Delivered

Electricity diagram
  1. Electricity is produced in a generating plant, where a primary source of energy is used to rotate magnets within metal coils to create a current.  
  2. From there, the high-voltage electricity moves through a transmission substation where it is amped up to send long distances. 
  3. The power travels over transmission lines. In the United States, the network of high voltage lines is known as the grid.
  4. The transmission lines send the electricity to local substations that decrease the voltage to a level that residential and business customers can use. 
  5. The stepped-down electricity moves through distribution lines. 
  6. From distribution lines, electricity moves to secondary lines, or tap lines, that deliver it to your neighborhood. 
  7. Then, the power heads to the transformer on the pole near your house or in the box in your yard and on to your individual meter.

Common Electricity Terms

  • Base Load: The minimum amount of power needed to meet the requirements of our customers. Regulated utilities like KCP&L are required to be able to provide this amount of power 24 hours per day, seven days per week. 
  • Electrical Current:  A flow of microscopic particles called electrons sent through wires and other conductors. It is produced when magnets are rotated within copper coils. Utilities generally rely on alternating current (AC) because it can be transported hundreds of miles longer than direct current (DC).
  • Grid: The interconnected group of power lines and infrastructure that delivers electricity from the generating plant to customers. 
  • Watt: A unit of electrical power which gives the rate at which work is done or energy used. A kilowatt is 1,000 watts of power. A megawatt is equal to one million watts or 1,000 kilowatts. Large power plants like our Iatan 2 Generating Station create up to 850 megawatts of power at one time.
  • Kilowatt Hour: A unit of measure for electricity indicating a supply or consumption of 1,000 watts continuously over the period of one hour. The amount of electricity you use as a customer is measured in kilowatt hours, and rates are charged by the kilowatt hour. 
  • Transformer: A device used to take electricity from one voltage to another. Transformers take high-voltage electricity produced and transform it to lower-voltage electricity that is usable in homes and businesses.