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How energy comes into your home: from the power station to your television

News 21 March, 2012

* Author: María Luisa González *

How does energy come into our homes? It’s easy to imagine where vegetables come from, starting in the fertile agricultural areas of Levante to the markets in our cities. The tomato growing on the vine is picked by human hand and placed in boxes, then taken in a lorry to our towns and cities.

But this same process is difficult to imagine in the case of electricity, an asset that cannot be touched (and what’s more, should never be touched), but can be seen, and which today is an almost essential requirement for our everyday lives.

Let’s imagine a waterfall. In the Duero river, men and machines manage to build a huge wall which halts the flow of the river; the water gradually accumulates, and there we have our waterfall. If we open the gates of the wall so the water can flow through to the other side – thus eliminating the waterfall– the river will return to its natural level.

But no: we’ll keep the waterfall. Let’s open up a tunnel so we can force the water to flow through. The force of the water turns a mill (the technicians call it a turbine), and that movement applied to a more complex system of machinery (generator) produces electricity.

We’ve managed to produce electricity, but it’s still sitting in the power station in Aldeadávila, in the province of Salamanca. Now we have to transport it to each town, each city, every isolated farmstead, every communications antenna, and every facility built by human hand which requires electricity to function.

At the door of the power station or mill where we’ve generated the electricity we’ll build an area full of power cables, transformers and equipment to raise the voltage of the line. This is so it can be transported over hundreds and thousands of kilometres in great landlines held aloft by enormous towers that we’ve all seen near the roads, or criss-crossing the countryside.

When these large lines draw near a town, we need to build another area in order to reduce the voltage of the electricity, as our homes, offices and factories consume electricity at a lower voltage. We therefore decrease the voltage by building transformers and low-voltage lines so we can bring the electricity right to your television.

Once the energy has been produced and the system that generates it and takes it to our homes has been built, all those kilometres of lines –sometimes overhead, sometimes underground–, as well as the transformers, power stations, high-voltage cables and so on, have to be maintained. This sometimes means struggling against wind, water and snow and in a range of difficult situations, with the sole objective on guaranteeing that our homes and offices are supplied with electricity 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

This work of maintenance is extremely difficult as force of nature can sometimes be even more powerful than the hand of man. If for example a storm brings down a tower full of high-voltage cables, we waste no time at all in sending a team to repair it. And in the meantime we always do everything possible to make sure that the users receive power through other channels. We’re obsessed with making sure that if there is a power cut it lasts a little as possible. But we also have to guarantee that everything is done correctly so as not to cause damage to people or property.

Ultimately, all our technology and safety measures almost always allow us to avoid our customers from going without electricity in the case of a power failure. But there are times when it absolutely cannot be avoided. This is why we would like to apologise for the times when a fault means we all have to go without. There should be no doubt at all that we are always completely committed to resolving any incident in the briefest possible time, by mobilising all the human and material resources within our power.

Author: María Luisa González
Bio: I have been working for the same company for 34 years; all my career has taken place in the electricity sector. I have been involved in many tasks, including working as a lawyer and later on, as an executive in the Electricity Network business. In addition, I have collaborated for 3 years with Radio Nacional de España, on Juan Ramón Lucas’s women talk-show ¨On days like today¨.

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