Much of the US Electric Grid Could Go the Way of the Landline Phone
Transmission lines carry high-voltage electricity over long distances. As electricity flows through the wires, some of it dissipates as heat through a process called resistance. The higher the voltage is on a transmission line, the less electricity it loses. Most of the electric current flows close to the surface of the transmission line; using thicker wires would have minimal impact on transmission losses. Transmission-level voltages are typically at or above , volts or kV, with some transmission lines carrying voltages as high as kV [ 5 ].
Power generators, however, produce electricity at low voltages. In order to make high-voltage electricity transport possible, the electricity must first be converted to higher voltages with a transformer. These high voltages are also significantly greater than what you need in your home, so once the electricity gets close to end users, another transformer converts it back to a lower voltage before it enters the distribution network.
Transformers convert electricity from low to high voltage for long-distance transmission, then convert it back to low voltage for use in homes and other facilities. Transmission lines are highly interconnected for redundancy and increased reliability of electricity supply, as this map of U. However, wholesale electricity transactions, which are made between regional grid operators, are regulated by a national agency called the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission FERC [ 6 ].
FERC regulates the electricity grid on a larger scale than PUCs and can resolve disputes among different market participants on the grid. These companies facilitate competition among electricity suppliers and provide access to transmission by scheduling and monitoring the use of transmission lines. The distribution network is simply the system of wires that picks up where the transmission lines leave off. These networks start at the transformers and end with homes, schools, and businesses. Distribution is regulated on the state level by PUCs and PSCs, who set the retail rates for electricity in each state.
The transmission grid comes to an end when electricity finally gets to the consumer, allowing you to turn on the lights, watch television, or run your dishwasher. The patterns of our lives add up to a varying demand for electricity by hour, day, and season, which is why the management of the grid is both complicated and vital for our everyday lives.
The electricity grid has grown and changed immensely since its origins in the early s, when energy systems were small and localized. During this time, two different types of electricity systems were being developed: the DC, or direct current , system, and the AC, or alternating current , system [ 7, 8 ].
Competition between these two systems was fierce.
- Much of the US Electric Grid Could Go the Way of the Landline Phone | WIRED?
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Competing electric companies strung wires on the same streets in cities, while electric service for rural areas was ignored. Despite a campaign by Thomas Edison to promote the direct current system, businessman George Westinghouse and inventor Nikola Tesla won the support of electric companies for the alternating current system, which had the distinct advantage of allowing high voltages to be carried long distances and then transformed into lower voltages for customer use [ 9 ].
As the electricity system grew, the advantages of AC allowed utility companies to build grids over larger areas, creating economies of scale. From roughly to , that approach was locked in place. Under this structure, utilities controlled every aspect of the electricity grid, from generation to distribution to the customer. This led 17 states, plus the District of Columbia, to restructure the management of the electricity grid, allowing customers to buy electricity from competitive retail suppliers [ 11 ].
The interconnected and complex nature of the electricity grid delivers several benefits [ 12 ], including:. A historic blackout in showcased why effective grid transmission is so important. On August 14, , an Ohio power company set off the largest blackout in human history simply due to human error . Offices had to be evacuated, and thousands of people flooded hospitals suffering from the heat .
The Electric Power Grid: Text-Only Version | Energy and the Environment | US EPA
When more people are using electricity during 'peak times' often between 2 pm and 7 pm , the cost of electricity can be higher. Today, most Chicago residents are unaware of this because most of us pay a flat rate for each kilowatt-hour of electricity used, no matter the time of day. Smart meters give Chicagoans the opportunity to sign up for pricing programs including Peak-Time Savings and Hourly Pricing, which reward customers who reduce their electricity usage when costs and demand are high.
Smart meters also eliminate the need for ComEd to estimate your electricity usage because smart meters will automatically send meter readings to the utility company. Smart consumers in Chicago will benefit from energy savings programs like the Retrofit Chicago Residential Partnership. Retrofit programs will help families and businesses take advantage of their smart meter savings opportunities by further reducing energy waste. You can take advantage of free energy assessments, free installation of energy saving products, and connect to financing and other resources to help you complete an energy efficiency retrofit of your house or residential building.
After you sign up a Retrofit Chicago partner will contact you with resources to make your house or residential building more comfortable and affordable. Start saving energy and money today. Through the City of Chicago's Retrofit Chicago program, Mayor Emanuel identified energy efficiency as a priority for strengthening Chicago to make the city the most affordable, competitive, and sustainable city of the 21st century.
Retrofit Chicago and Smart Grid support the City's environmental roadmap, Sustainable Chicago , and its goals to improve citywide energy efficiency by 5 percent and to establish Chicago as a hub for the growing sustainable economy.
With a smart meter, you can view daily and hourly usage information, sign up for weekly usage reports and enroll to receive high- usage alerts when your usage is trending higher than usual. For additional information and access to your electricity use data, you can use Green Button Download. Coming later in , this tool will have additional features to give customers the ability to share their energy use data with third party vendors for additional management opportunities.
Customers can enroll in both programs for additional savings. You can learn more and enroll in the program by visiting the Peak Time Savings Program website. For this program, the price you pay may vary from hour to hour based on wholesale market prices. Participants have access to hourly prices of electricity, and will receive high price notifications and alerts in addition to other useful information.
A real live wire
Individual cost savings are not guaranteed and will vary month to month based on weather, market conditions, and usage habits. However, the more participants avoid using electricity when hourly prices are high, the more they can potentially save with Hourly Pricing.
By enrolling and simply lowering your use during high price times, you can start saving money. You do have to have a smart meter already installed or have another temporary meter installed that can measure hourly electricity usage. You can learn more and enroll in the program by visiting the Hourly Pricing Program website or calling One way for Chicago residents to leverage their smart meters is to install a smart thermostat in their home. A smart thermostat gives you the ability to control the temperature of your home or building remotely from any internet enabled device.
The device adapts to your lifestyle and helps you save money and energy. The large seasonal variations in electricity demand due to air conditioning means the state has power plants that sit idle throughout many hours of the year. The spare capacity during off-peak hours could make it easier for Texas to meet future electricity demands of EVs.
As a result, California has less generation capacity available than Texas to meet future charging demands from electric vehicles.
Electric power / smart grid
Looking at the off-peak hours for July 19, , we found the ERCOT grid had spare capacity to provide more than gigawatt-hours of additional electricity if idled power plants continued to operate throughout the day, not just during peak demand. Based on our estimates, the charging requirements for a fully electrified fleet of personal cars in Texas would be about gigawatt-hours per day, less than the available surplus of generation capacity.
In other words, the Texas grid could theoretically charge a fully electrified vehicle fleet today if vehicles were charged during off-peak hours. Perhaps even more important than how much electricity EVs would consume is the question of when it would be consumed. We based the above estimates on optimal, off-peak charging patterns. If instead most EVs were to be charged in the afternoon, the electricity grid would need more generation capacity to avoid outages.
To meet that demand, California and Texas would need to build new power plants or buy more electricity from neighboring states than they already do.
The states might also need additional transmission and distribution infrastructure to accommodate new automotive charging infrastructure. All told, the transition to EVs from internal combustion engine vehicles could potentially cost tens of billions of dollars in Texas and even more in California to install new electricity infrastructure if many vehicles were to be charged during peak hours. Incentives could reduce what it will cost to equip the grid for lots of electric vehicles.
For example, utilities could charge different rates for electricity during different times of day and on different days of the week. Known as time-of-use pricing, this practice can encourage vehicle charging when electricity is more abundant during off-peak hours and therefore cheaper to supply. California and other areas, including Austin, Texas , have already begun to use different strategies for implementing time-of-use rates. Other regions might want to watch closely, and adopt the lessons learned in those places as the number of electric vehicles on the road rises.
While EVs might increase the amount of electricity the U.