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The clean energy industry generates hundreds of billions in economic activity, and is expected to continue to grow rapidly in the coming years.

Electricity Generation

Most power plants, whether they are nuclear, hydroelectric, fossil-fueled or wind, do essentially the same job, transforming kinetic energy, the energy of motion, into a flow of electrons, or electricity. At a power plant, a generator is used to make electricity.

Inside a generator, a magnet called a rotor spins inside coils of copper wire called a stator. This pulls the electrons away from their atoms, and a flow of electrons is created in the copper wires. Those electrons can then be sent along power lines to wherever electricity is needed.

In a generator, magnets pull electrons away from atoms in copper wire creating a flow of electrons in the copper wire. This flow of electrons is what we know as electricity.

Giant wheels called turbines are used to spin the magnets inside the generator. It takes a lot of energy to spin the turbine and different kinds of power plants get that energy from different sources. In a hydroelectric station, falling water is used to spin the turbine.

In nuclear stations and in thermal generating stations powered by fossil fuels, steam is used. A wind turbine uses the force of moving air.


Thousands of fuel bundles are inserted into the core of a nuclear reactor where the uranium atoms split giving off vast amounts of heat. The heat is used to boil water to create steam, which then spins a turbine and generator producing electricity.

Nuclear power stations are able to produce tremendous amounts of electricity from a very small amount of fuel. A single 2.5 centimetre nuclear fuel pellet can produce the same amount of energy as 807 kilograms of coal, 677 litres of oil, or 476 cubic metres of natural gas.

As well, because nuclear power plants do not burn any fuels, they produce virtually no smog or greenhouse gas emissions. They do however produce nuclear waste which needs to be handled and stored very carefully.

Hydroelectric Power

Hydroelectric power stations convert the kinetic energy of falling water into electrical energy. Hydroelectric stations use either the natural drop of a river, such as a waterfall, or a dam is built across a river to raise the water level and provide the drop needed to create a driving force.

Water is collected at the top of the dam in what is called the forebay. From there, the water flows into a pipe called a penstock which carries it down to a turbine water wheel. The water pressure increases as it flows down the penstock.

The pressure and flow of the falling water drives a turbine which in turn spins a generator. This creates electricity that can be sent across transmission lines to wherever the power is needed.

Hydroelectricity is one of the most economical and environmentally friendly ways of generating electricity. It produces virtually no smog or greenhouse gas emissions and is a renewable energy source – the water can be used again and again.

Thermal Power

Thermal generating stations burn coal, oil or natural gas to generate electricity.

In the case of a coal-fired generating station, the coal is stored in large coal piles just outside the station. From there, the coal is brought into the station on a conveyor belt where it is fed into large pulverizers that crush the coal into a fine powder.

Large fans blow the coal powder into a giant furnace where it is burned giving off vast amounts of heat. The temperature in the furnace can reach over 3,000 degrees Celcius.

The furnace is surrounded by tubes filled with water. The immense heat from the burning coal turns the water in the tubes into steam. The steam is then transferred under pressure at high speed through large pipes to a turbine where it pushes the turbine blades causing them to spin.

From there, the process is the same as in a nuclear or a hydroelectric generating station; the turbine spins the generator producing electricity.

The steam is condensed back to water using cooling water, usually from a nearby lake or river. It is then pumped back into the water tubes surrounding the furnace to continue the process.

Wind Power

Wind turbines that generate electricity operate in much the same way as a hydroelectric generating station. Instead of falling water, wind turbines use the kinetic energy of blowing air to spin the blades of the turbine which are connected to a generator.

The amount of electricity a wind turbine can produce depends on the strength and consistency of the wind at any given time. Generally, the wind needs to be blowing at 14 km/hr for a wind turbine to start producing electricity. With increasing wind speed, the power output increases to a maximum at 50 km/hr.

Most types of power plants can run 24 hours a day, however, wind turbines can only generate electricity when the wind is strong enough. Typically the wind is stronger at night than during the day and also stronger in winter than summer. Because of this, wind turbines cannot always be relied on to help meet peak electricity demand.