Things you should Know about the Electric Grid
When a light goes on in our houses, or we are charging our phones, it is easy to forget about how the electricity is actually getting into our homes and powering our appliances. However, the electric grid is a huge component in how all of these are possible. This article will tell you things you need to know about the electric grid.
The Function of the Electric Grid
An electric grid is responsible for distributing electrical power from the power plant to your house. Since large amounts of energy can not be stored, it must be distributed as it is created. The electric grid must work constantly to be aware of the shifting demand of power and to continuously provide it as needed. There are 450,000 miles of high voltage power lines and 160,000 miles of high overhead transmission lines in the United States all acting to distribute this power.
If you think about how the electric grid looks, it may not be easy to conjure this image, but it is likely you have seen these devices more often than you think. If you live in a rural or suburban area, it is probably in plain view and you see it so often that your brain is conditioned to not even notice it anymore. Maybe the next time you are walking or driving around your neighborhood, you should make a point to look out for it.
How Electric Grids are Laid Out
Electricity begins at the power plant. Most users will only require low voltages of electricity, probably about 110V. However, it is transported out of the power plant at much higher voltages, usually about 250,000 to 500,000 volts. The electricity travels through a transformer that first increases the voltage. This voltage is sent through transmission lines and carried to various parts of the country where the transformer works to lower the voltage again.
Once this is done, the voltage is carried through another transmission line to another type of transformer, called a polemount transformer. These are typically seen at the top of power line poles. These transformers will bring voltage down to a level where it can be safely used in your homes.
America’s electric grid is actually comprised of three smaller grids, called interconnections. These move electricity around the country. The Eastern interconnections operates in states east of the Rocky Mountains, the Western Interconnection covers the Pacific Ocean to the Rocky Mountain states and the Texas interconnection covers most of Texas.
Upgrades to the Electric Grid
The first electrical grid was launched by Thomas Edison in the Pearl Street Station in lower Manhattan in 1882. Since then, a lot of upgrades have been made to improve the functioning of the grid.
Just like technology is always evolving, upgrades are constantly being made to the electric grid as well. This keeps the grid functioning properly and ensures its ability to meet the nation’s growing demands. The Recovery Act called for a $4.5 billion dollar investment to modernize the grid and enhance its reliability. These investments have been used for a wide range of advanced devices including 10,000 automated capacitors, over 7,000 automated feeder switches and approximately 15.5 million smart meters.
An electric grid that is functioning efficiently will work with a minimal amount of power interruptions. It will be able to quickly recover from adverse weather conditions, which are the number one cause of power outages. These weather conditions can result in great costs, not only for the reparation of the grid, but also for losses in businesses due to a lack of the ability to power offices, stores and keep food fresh.
In order to make a more reliable grid, synchrophaser technology is being put to use. These are mailbox size devices that monitor the health of the grid, reporting data 30 timer per second. This helps grid operators identify issues within the grid that could include deterioration and abnormal conditions, reducing power outages.
Synchrophaser technology is also helpful in making the grid more compatible with advancing renewable energy resources. Solar panels and wind generators are being integrated as part of a smart grid that will employ digital technology so that it is possible to manage energy resources more efficiently and access remote sources of renewable energy like geothermal power and wind farms.
Microgrids are also work to make electric grids more reliable. These are localized grids that are normally connected to the more traditional electric grid but can also disconnect to operate autonomously. They use smart grid technologies and distributed energy resources like backup generators, solar panels and storage. Because they are able to operate independently of the grid they have potential to be useful during power outages. They are currently being researched to determine their usefulness during power outages due to extreme weather events.
Despite the recent advances made to the electric grid technology, efforts continue to improve its functioning. Since 2010, the Energy Department has invested more than $100 million to create a resilient grid that will survive a cyber incident while remaining functional. This research involves the collaborative efforts of the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the intelligence community, private industry and energy-sector stakeholders.
In the Case of a Power Grid Outage
Although there are many improvements being made to the electric grid to make it more efficient, it does still fail occasionally. In the event of an electrical outage, it is best to be prepared. Make sure you have flashlights and fresh batteries at the ready as well as plenty of water, canned foods and off the grid cooking supplies. Backup generators can also come in extremely handy.
Now you know much of what you need to know about the electric grid. This will help you get a better grasp on the technology used to power the appliances and devices in your house, as well as being aware of advancements made to help sustain power through electrical disasters. The electric grid is an amazing piece of technology and it’s important to gain information of how it functions in our everyday lives.