Tuesday, May 19, 2009

How Texas Electricity Gets From a Power Plant Into Your Home

From the discovery of static electricity by Thales of Miletus in Ancient Greece to the invention of the first electrostatic generator thousands of years later by Otto von Guericke, power as intrigued many a scientist. How does something produce energy, static electricity or electricity itself? Such notables as Ben Franklin, George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison discovered many points about electricity in the 18th and 19th century. It was through this cumulative work by these and many others that our modern idea of electricity was formed.

We see it every day in our homes and workplaces, but how does the electricity get from the power plant to your home? Texas Electricity is delivered to homes through what is referred to as a grid. This is a network of transmission and distribution lines that are either above or below ground. When traveling along the grid, the lines hold a tremendous amount of high voltage. These lines carry the power from the plant to the substation to your home. In different parts of the world you may see the power lines on wooden poles, on metal towers and through transformers that can sometimes just look like a simple white box on a pole. The State Regulatory Commission, or in Texas ERCOT is in charge of transmission costs to the customer.

At your home you will have a meter where the kilowatts are measured and read to dictate what your consumption has been. This is the point of entry from the power lines into your home. A Texas utility company, a Texas power company, a municipality or maybe even a co-op distributes electricity. The original point that your Texas electricity comes from can vary. Companies may own and operate their own power plants within their grid. Companies are known to buy, sell and trade electricity with each other, especially during peak seasons or catastrophes like blackouts. Rolling Blackouts occur when power consumption outweighs power distribution. So as not to overburden the grid, some governments or companies will produce mandatory blackouts while switching power from one portion of the grid to the other to ensure reliable delivery organizations have been formed over the years. Some of these include Independent System Operators (ISOs) and Regional Transmission Organizations (RTOs). The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission deemed these types of firms necessary for the preservation of the grid in the United States. This has been determined to be one of the best ways to keep a handle on the grid so that all consumers of power can have the electricity they need when they need it. It helps regulate the use of the power plants with its customers to assure proper delivery to your home.

There are many types of power plants that deliver electricity. Coal produces over 50% of the electricity in the U.S. followed by nuclear power at 20%, natural gas at 17%, hydroelectric 7%, and renewables at 3%. Each type of plant has its own group of advocates promoting their favorite materials for generation. Fossil Fuel plants operate with coal, natural gas and refined oil products. Each of these fuels are burned within the plant to facilitate the boilers and gears into producing electricity for the public. Nuclear energy will use radioactive material such as uranium or plutonium to heat the core of their generator which produces the electricity. Renewable energy is produce by use of power supplies that are virtually inexhaustible such as solar power, biomass, geothermal and wind power. There are more and more power plants worldwide trying to change over to this last option. The green energy (renewable) will outlast the fossil fuels by tens of thousands of years and there are many rebate programs available to the consumer when installing this type of power into your home for huge savings on your bills.

Climate and delivery system and costs will be the determining factors on the price to the consumer. The cost will also be determinate on what you are powering in your home. Air conditioning usually takes up 16% of your bill while the refrigerator is 14%, heating 9-10%, lighting 9% and appliances 3-5%.

The next time you travel down a Texas road, check to see if you can visually follow with the Texas electricity as it goes from power plant to transformer to towers to transformers and distribution lines from wooden poles to the meter in your home. Observe for yourself how Texas electricity gets from the power plant to your home.

Monday, May 18, 2009

What Determines Your Price for Texas Electricity?

When you look at your power bill, you probably see a confusing list of costs. Many of us have trouble figuring out why we’ve been charged what we have, so we just pay our bills and ignore it. However, you don’t have to go through life without understanding why you pay what you do for electricity. Let’s take a look at how this price is determined. It’s really relatively simple. Plus, once you know how your bill is put together, you can take steps to pay less.

The price of your Texas electricity is going to vary not just according to your electric usage, but according to where you live, how the power was generated, and how it was delivered. Other factors may include whether or not new plants have recently been constructed in your area, plus the cost of maintaining and operating your local power plants. The utility will spread its costs out among its customers, and if its costs go up, so do your rates.

Supply and demand and season can also have an effect on electricity and related items, with gas and oil prices often rising in the winter and summer and dropping in the fall and spring. Electricity usually follows these same patterns. In areas with high demand (like here in Texas), time of day can even have an effect. After all, the power company can offer only so much electricity. If demand exceeds supply, brownouts can occur like they have in years past. The utility has an investment in not letting that happen.

Since the Texas electric companies can only supply so much at a time, they’ll encourage people to enrolly in programs to help manage demand. If you’re in one of these, in the afternoon and the early evening, you may pay more, since this is the time when most people need power, but at other times, especially over night, you’ll get a discount. Many people do their laundry or other electricity intensive chores at off peak hours to take advantage of this lower rate.
While your power may seem expensive, it’s cheaper today than it was in 1960. In real terms, adjusted for inflation, we pay an average of four cents less per kilowatt hour than we did then. Of course, prices have fluctuated over the years, due to economic situations, supply of fuel, and new methods of generating power. In general, your residential rate is going to reflect how much it costs the utility to produce or buy the power you receive.

Before taxes and other services, your total bill for a given month is simply the price of your electricity per kilowatt hour, times the number of kilowatt hours you’ve consumed that month. Since most residences have a lot of appliances that use electricity, some even when they’re off, your bill could climb when you’re not paying attention.

So, how can you reduce the amount you’re paying? Your rate per kilowatt hour is one important factor. You can shop Texas electric rates by going to ChooseEnergy.com and signing up for a lower electric rate. Then - you will need to lower you usage, about nine percent each of the average bill is paying for heating water and lighting. Ten percent is space heating and sixteen percent is air conditioning. Computers, electronics, freezers, dryers and other devices make up the remaining forty percent.

That means that there are a few things you can do to cut down on your bill. Improving efficiency and conserving energy are the best ones. Turn off or unplug appliances and lights when they’re not being used. Insulate doors and windows, and when the time comes to replace an appliance, choose the most efficient one you can. Older refrigerators are particularly bad culprits when it comes to energy use, as are older air conditioning systems.

Think about using your major appliances at off peak times, and see if you can average your annual bill, splitting your monthly payments out to an equal amount if seasonal demand is a problem for your home. Most Texas electricity providers now offer some kind of program to help you save electricity and money. Take advantage of it to see a real improvement in your bills.