It isn’t likely that many people pay much attention to the electrical grid around us and all that goes into powering our world. The lone exception is when that power is interrupted and we find ourselves in a dark room with none of the luxuries we’ve grown accustomed to. Each of us pass by many different instruments that power our homes and likely never notice their work.
Where exactly does that power originate from and from what source? How does it get from it’s origin to your home? It doesn’t take a degree in electrical engineering to find these answers but it does require you to take notice of the complex grid around you. Hopefully after learning what goes into bringing power to your home and you’ll gain an appreciation for the tireless and often thankless work of the local power companies.
Over the last decade energy consumption has increased at an extreme pace and with that alternative power sources have come to the forefront of consumer concerns. Power sources can be grouped into two categories, renewable and non-renewable sources. The three main sources of non-renewable energy that electricity comes from are coal, natural gas, and thermonuclear fission.
Even in today’s ever increasing energy consciousness, these non-renewable energy sources still account for 50-70% of our overall consumption. Major renewable sources include solar power, wind power, tidal power, biomass sources, and geothermal energy. All of the energy sources listed are what is known as primary energy sources. That means they cannot be produced but must be available in nature.
It is because of this there are increased efforts to use renewable energy sources so as not to deplete the Earth’s non renewable energy sources.
How the Grid Works
With a better understanding of what is used to produce the electricity you use in your home, understanding how that electricity gets to your home is next. As you might guess the electrical grid starts at a power plant and in that plant is a spinning electrical generator. What spins that generator are the sources discussed earlier based on your areas available resources.
When the power leaves the generator, it will make it’s way to a transmission substation at the plant. The substation amps up the power from the thousands of volts to the hundreds of thousands to prepare for long distance travel. The electricity leaves on high voltage transmission lines that consist of 3 live wires and one or more ground wires designed to attract lightning.
Of course we can’t send hundreds of thousands of volts into each home. The electricity is “stepped down” from transmission grids to distribution grids by power substations. Regulator banks outside of neighborhoods and subdivisions step down the power once again to roughly 7,200 volts. The last step down occurs at a transformer box either at the pole or underground that brings the voltage to 240 volts.
This provides the appropriate power to operate the 240 or 120 volt appliance commonly found in homes.
The grid in the United States is divided into 3 geographical areas. The Eastern Interconnection runs along the east coast with it’s more powerful lines stretching to the Rocky Mountains. The Western Interconnection stretches from those same Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Finally in attempt to further prove that Texas is in fact their own country, the state has the Texas Interconnection to deliver it’s power.
With the size of Texas, it’s own section of the grid is necessary to deliver the power needed across the large area. Wherever you reside the grid works in the same way. The only difference being what source is used to convert primary energy to electricity. It’s an ever evolving system of networks that each power company works with to ensure your home is almost never without electricity.
However when an outage does occur, we as consumers should be a little more understanding of the time it takes to get the power back on. While the idea of electricity seems simple today, there is still a great deal that goes into powering the country.
Josh McCarthy is from Orlando, Florida. He is a finance major at the University of Central Florida and enjoys trading stock options. He enjoys all athletics and is trying to make money for an engagement ring. Josh is also a professional content writer for www.BobHeinmiller.com.