Top 9 Things You Didn’t Know About America’s Power Grid
We all know that when we flip a switch, turn a dial or point a remote, the lights come on, the stove ignites, the home begins to warm or cool. But where does the power come from and how does it get to homes, buildings and other places where it’s used? The source is commonly referred to as The Grid. The country’s primary Grid system was originally established in the 20s and 30s and is in serious need of updates to make it more efficient, less wasteful and a lot less harmful to the environment.
For a quick Grid 101, here’s some abbreviated info from Energy.gov. There’s a lot more good information, graphs and videos on the website, including about efforts underway to bring it up to 21st Century standards and incorporate renewable energy resources.
Things You Didn’t Know About the Power Grid System
9. Ever wonder how electricity gets to your home? It’s delivered through the grid—a complex network of power plants and transformers connected by more than 450,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines. The basic process: Electric power is generated at power plants and then moved by transmission lines to substations. A local distribution system of smaller, lower-voltage transmission lines moves power from substations to you, the customer.
8. Thomas Edison launched the first commercial power grid, The Pearl Street Station, in lower Manhattan in 1882. The offices of The New York Times were some of Edison’s earliest electricity customers.
7. America’s electric grid is comprised of three smaller grids, called interconnections, that move electricity around the country. The Eastern Interconnection operates in states east of the Rocky Mountains, The Western Interconnection covers Pacific Ocean to Rocky Mountain states and the smallest—the Texas Interconnected system—covers most of Texas.
6. The electric grid is an engineering marvel but its aging infrastructure requires extensive upgrades to effectively meet the nation’s energy demands. Through the Recovery Act, the Energy Department invested about $4.5 billion in grid modernization to enhance its reliability. Since 2010, these investments have been used to deploy a wide range of advanced devices, including more than 10,000 automated capacitors, over 7,000 automated feeder switches and approximately 15.5 million smart meters.
5. What is the distinction between grid reliability and resiliency? A more reliable grid is one with fewer and shorter power interruptions. A more resilient grid is one better prepared to recover from adverse events like severe weather.
4. Severe weather is the number one cause of power outages in the United States, costing the economy between $18 and $33 billion every year in lost output and wages, spoiled inventory, delayed production and damage to grid infrastructure. The number of outages caused by severe weather is expected to rise as climate change increases the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. Preparing for the challenges posed by climate change requires investment in 21st century technology that will increase the resiliency and reliability of the grid.
3. One of the key solutions for a more resilient and reliable grid is synchro-phaser technology. These mailbox-size devices monitor the health of the grid at frequencies not previously possible, reporting data 30 times per second. This enhanced visibility into grid conditions helps grid operators identify and respond to deteriorating or abnormal conditions more quickly, reduce power outages and help with the integration of more renewable sources of energy into the grid. To date, nearly 900 of these devices have been deployed as a result of Recovery Act investments.
2. Micro grids—localized grids that are normally connected to the more traditional electric grid but can disconnect to operate autonomously—are another way that the reliability and resiliency of the grid can be improved. Micro grids use advanced smart grid technologies and the integration of distributed energy resources such as backup generators, solar panels and storage. Because they can operate independently of the grid during outages, micro grids are typically used to provide reliable power during extreme weather events. As part of the Obama Administration’s commitment to rebuild communities affected by Super storm Sandy, the Department partnered with the State of New Jersey and other organizations to examine the use of micro grids to help keep the power on during future extreme weather events.
1. Since 2010, the Energy Department has invested more than $100 million to advance a resilient grid infrastructure that can survive a cyber incident while sustaining critical functions. The Department’s cyber security work involves ongoing collaboration with a number of public and private partners including 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.
As of this writing, we’re no longer certain that the concentrated efforts initiated by the previous administration will be carried out. But we are certain that dramatic changes are needed. Our current grid system is antiquated and falling apart. Deferred maintenance has led to blackouts on the eastern seaboard and fallen electrical wires that caused devastating fires like the ones that ravaged Sonoma and Napa counties last year. On top of that, about two-thirds of all electric power is lost just getting it to the point of use. And it’s largely coming from finite resources that produce carbon emissions, contributing to climate change and air pollution.
CB&D has a history of building homes that require significantly less energy and incorporate renewable energy sources such as photovoltaic panels. We’ve invested in training and technologies that help us achieve standards such as Passive House that can reduce a home’s energy demand by around 80 percent.
The obvious and growing consequences of climate change are breaking up the status quo of the macro grid and leading to considerations like micro grids that rely to a greater extent on renewable energy sources. Innovators are now moving into the marketplace and offering ways to bring power closer to the points of use as well as developing storage systems for renewable power sources such as solar and wind. We are moving toward a more nimble, flexible grid that does more of what we need and want.
As always, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions.