PCN - US Electric Power Grid

Source: Photo by Andrey Metelev on Unsplash

Do you know how the electricity you use is produced? Or at least, do you know how does it get to you? And no, we’re not asking about your utility company’s name. Electricity tends to be forgotten until we don’t have it, or until we get our utility bills. And we most of the times just assume that electricity will appear in our places by the flip of a switch. But what is behind that flip? The electric power grid.

Electricity in the United States goes through a complicated infrastructure that stretches across the country, ensuring that individuals all around the country have access to reliable energy. 

We will debrief how that vast network of power plants, transmission lines, poles, wires and distribution centers work together to bring you the energy you’re using to read this article

Basic electric power grid principles

Electricity, regardless of the source, is usually generated in a power plant. It is then transported through a complex system of electricity substations, transformers, and power lines known as the electric power grid, which connects electricity producers and consumers. Most local grids are interconnected for commercial and reliability reasons, establishing bigger, more dependable networks that improve energy supply coordination and planning.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, “in the United States, the power system consists of more than 7,300 power plants, nearly 160,000 miles of high-voltage power lines, and millions of low-voltage power lines and distribution transformers, which connect 145 million customers.” So, as you could see, the electric power grid in the US is made up of tons of high-voltage & low-voltage power lines. It entails many distributions transmission lines that link the power facilities to you, the final customer.

North American main Electric Power Grids

Local grids join other grids to build bigger networks. In general, in the US, the power system is made up of three main electric power grid that are mainly independent of one another. On this map made by EPA you can find the three main Electric Power Grids:

US Electric Power Grid - EPA map

Western Interconnection

The Western Interconnection entails States that are located west of the Rocky Mountains. It covers from the Great Plains to the Rockies and up and down the West Coast. The Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC) is the entity that aims to safeguard the reliability, monitor compliance and enforcement for the entire Western Interconnection system.

As stated by the WECC, this electric power grid serves over 80 million people. It covers almost 1.8 million square miles in 14 states, including Canadian provinces like BC and Alberta, and the northern part of Mexico’s Baja California. The Western Interconnection is distinct from the other North American interconnections in many respects due to its distinctive terrain, demography, and history.

Key facts:

- 87% of the territory encompasses is public or protected land.

This is a great difference and poses various issues when it comes to planning. Some important issues are the protection of sensitive species, ecosystems, and vegetation, as well as the maintenance of game rangeland, migration corridors, and key rivers and streams. Native American tribal lands and sacred places, national parks and monuments, and state parks are all considered when building the system.

- Periodic major wildfires

This electric power grid periodically encounters significant environmental risks such as wildfires, posing a danger to the BPS’s reliability. In the West, minor wildfires near major population centers intersecting with limited corridors of high-voltage transmission lines pose a particular dependability risk.

- Different supply-demand patterns

Long, high-voltage lines were developed to connect isolated generating resources with distant population areas. During the spring and summer, when demand in the Northwest is at its lowest, these resources have the most capacity. This enables utilities in the area to sell a significant amount of extra power.

Eastern Interconnection

This electric power grid includes the area of east Rocky Mountains & the northern part of Texas. As stated by the EIA, The Eastern Interconnection consists of 36 balancing authorities: 31 in the United States and 5 in Canada.

Key facts:

- It’s the largest electric power grid of the three major ones

Eastern Interconnection (EI) is a massive and intricate network with 5,600 generators, 50,000 nodes, and 60,000 transmission lines that must all be kept in perfect working order. The EI has been in operation for nearly a century and supplies electricity to around 240 million people. The two networks, when combined with the Canadian Eastern Interconnection, comprise the world’s largest coordinated power system.

Texas Interconnection

Yes, you guessed it! This electric power grid includes most of Texas territory. The grid is managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT).

Key facts:

- Federal regulation: the main reason to have a separated electric power grid

Small generating facilities sprang up across Texas in the decades after Thomas Edison’s turn-on of the country’s first power plant in Manhattan in 1882, delivering electric light to communities. Utilities began to join up later, particularly during WWI. During WWII, many Texas utilities banded together to construct the Texas Interconnected System, which enabled them to connect to the huge dams along Texas rivers while simultaneously sending extra electricity to serve the war effort’s ramped-up factories.

Initially, the Texas Interconnection was built as two different systems, one for the north & one for the south of the State. It was later blended into one in 1935. This electrical power grid had an interest behind its creation and it was to stay out of the reach of federal regulators.

- Despite normal beliefs it is not completely isolated

The electric power grid of Texas is not completely isolated from the other grids, in fact it is connected to the Eastern Interconnection by two DC ties. However, despite the fact that all of the North American interconnections have the same average frequency, the individual interconnections are not in sync with one another and hence cannot be connected directly via AC transmission lines. To connect the various regional networks, high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission systems are used instead

These are the three major electric power grids in the US. They’re ruled by balancing authorities that guarantee that demand and supply in the electricity system are finely adjusted in real time. This equilibrium is required to keep the power system operating safely and reliably. If there is a mismatch, local or wide blackouts occur because the demand and supply are out of balance.

If you want to learn more about energy deregulation, or about how the electricity gets to you, you’re at the right place. Check out our latest articles & shared Industry segments about to learn more about it, and to find saving tips, and everything you need to know to make that Energy Choice. Go On, Be Powerful with PowerChoiceNow.

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