Several fundamental methods exist to convert other forms of energy into electrical energy. The triboelectric effect, piezoelectric effect, and even direct capture of the energy of nuclear decay Betavoltaics are used in niche applications, as is a direct conversion of heat to electric power in the thermoelectric effect. Utility-scale generation is done by rotating electric generators, or by photovoltaic systems. A very small proportion of electric power distributed by utilities is provided by batteries.
Electric generators transform kinetic energy into electricity. This is the most used form for generating electricity and is based on Faraday’s law. It can be seen experimentally by rotating a magnet within closed loops of conducting material (e.g. copper wire). Almost all commercial electrical generation is done using electromagnetic induction, in which mechanical energy forces a generator to rotate.
Electric generators were known in simple forms from the discovery of the magnetic induction of electric current in the 1830s. In general, some form of prime mover such as an engine or the turbines described above, drives a rotating magnetic field past stationary coils of wire thereby turning mechanical energy into electricity. The only commercial scale electricity production that does not employ a generator is solar PV.
Power transmission is the movement of energy from its place of generation to a location where it is applied to perform useful work.
Three-phase electric power systems are used for high voltage (66- or 69-kV and above) and extra-high voltage (110- or 115-kV and above; most often 138- or 230-kV and above in contemporary systems) AC transmission lines. The towers must be designed to carry three (or multiples of three) conductors. The towers are usually steel lattices or trusses (wooden structures are used in Canada, Germany, and Scandinavia in some cases) and the insulators are either glass or porcelain discs or composite insulators using silicone rubber or EPDM rubber material assembled in strings or long rods whose lengths are dependent on the line voltage and environmental conditions.
Electric power distribution is the final stage in the delivery of electric power; it carries electricity from the transmission system to individual consumers. Distribution substations connect to the transmission system and lower the transmission voltage to medium voltage ranging between 2 kV and 35 kV with the use of transformers. Primary distribution lines carry this medium voltage power to distribution transformers located near the customer’s premises. Distribution transformers again lower the voltage to the utilization voltage used by lighting, industrial equipment or household appliances. Often several customers are supplied from one transformer through secondary distribution lines. Commercial and residential customers are connected to the secondary distribution lines through service drops. Customers demanding a much larger amount of power may be connected directly to the primary distribution level or the subtransmission level.