Term: Electric Grid

Electric Grid

The electric grid refers to an intricate process providing electricity to millions of customers through a series of complex connections. The system includes the generation of electricity at power plants, the transmission of electricity across power lines, and the distribution of electricity into customers’ homes and businesses through individual meters.

Generation

The majority of the world’s electricity is generated at power plants by converting mechanical energy into electrical energy. This conversion requires energy from various fuels such as coal or natural gas. These primary sources of energy move the blades of a turbine that are connected to an electrical generator. The heat that is produced is used to create steam which moves the blades. Wind and water generation differ. These sources directly come in contact with and move the blades to create electrical energy. Solar power is created through the use of photovoltaic cells which turn sunlight into electricity.

Transmission

Often times generation sites are located far distances from the end-users of electricity. This means the electricity must be carried along power lines over many miles. Starting at the generation site, electricity passes through a transformer which ‘steps up’ or increases the voltage of the electricity allowing it to move faster and more safely than at lower voltage levels. The electricity is carried to substations where another transformer ‘steps down’ the voltage and brings it to a safer level for consumption.

Distribution

After arriving at the substation and the electricity’s voltage is decreased, the electricity is passed through the electric meter and into the customer’s home or business. There are three types of distribution systems:

  1. Radial Distribution System-This type of system is the least expensive to build. It consists of a single power source that feeds an entire group of customers. When the power source fails the entire group of customers loses power until the line can be fixed and power restored.
  2. Loop Distribution System- This system loops through the service area and returns to the starting point. It usually is attached to an alternative power source so that when one fails the other one can supply power.
  3. Network Distribution System- This system is the most complex and most expensive to build. They are multipole loop systems joined together to make one system A single customer can have access to 1,2 or more power sources which increases reliability. However, due to its cost, it is often used only in densely populated areas.

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