5 Things You Didn't Know About the U.S. Power Grid

Have you ever wondered 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,” according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Electric power is generated at power plants and moved to substations via transmission lines. A local system of lower-voltage transmission lines then moves power from the substations to your home. So that’s the basic process... Here are some other fun facts about the U.S. power grid:

  1. The first commercial power grid, known as the Pearl Street Station, was launched by Thomas Edison in lower Manhattan in 1882. Not only was it the world's first central power plant, it was also the world's first cogeneration plant. While the plant’s steam engines provided grid electricity, Edison put the thermal byproduct to use, distributing steam to local manufacturers and warming the neighboring buildings.
  2. The national electric grid is actually comprised of several smaller grids, called interconnections, which move electricity around the country. The two major grids are the Eastern Interconnection, which operates east of the Rocky Mountains, and the Western Interconnection, which covers the Pacific Ocean to the Rocky Mountain States. In addition, three minor grids include the Quebec Interconnection, the Alaska Interconnection and the Texas Interconnection, which covers most of Texas and is maintained separately for political, not technical reasons.
  3. Severe weather is the number-one cause of power outages in the United States. Power outages due to weather cost the economy between $18 and $33 billion each year in lost output and wages, spoiled inventory, delayed production and damage to grid infrastructure. And the number of outages caused by severe weather is expected to increase with the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. That’s why investment in 21st-century technology to increase the resiliency and reliability of the grid is so critical.
  4. One of the key solutions for a more resilient and reliable grid is synchrophaser technology. These devices, about the size of a mailbox, monitor the grid at frequencies not previously possible, reporting data 30 times per second. This enhanced visibility helps grid operators identify and respond to deteriorating or abnormal conditions more quickly, reduce power outages, and help integrate renewable sources of energy into the grid.
  5. Microgrids are another way to improve the reliability and resiliency of the grid. Microgrids are normally connected to the traditional electric grid, but can be disconnected to operate autonomously. They 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, microgrids can provide reliable power during outages. iBi

Source: energy.gov