Physics of the Power Grid

979 words | 4 page(s)

Electricity generation refers to the process by which electric power is produced from other primary energy sources (Grigsby 1). Michael Faraday came up with the method in the 1820s and 1830s whereby a loop of wire moves in between magnetic poles (Grigsby 1). Even a disc of copper can be used in place of the loop of wires. This happens at a power station. After generation of the electric power comes the transmission, the distribution, storage of the electrical power, as well as, the recovery by means of pumped-storage techniques (Grigsby 2). At the power station, electromechanical generators generate the electricity as they are driven by power from heat engines that are fueled by nuclear fission or chemical combustion (Grigsby 2). The electromechanical generators can also be driven by flowing water that creates kinetic energy, and even by wind kinetic energy (Grigsby 2).

Turbines are the primary generators of electricity (Grigsby 4-1). Burning gas, water, wind, and even steam are used to drive the turbines to drive an electric generator to produce electricity (Grigsby 4-1). This happens at the power plant where the generator and turbines convert the mechanical energy they have into electrical energy. The fuel is used in the production of gas, steam or even fluid which then turns the turbine blades; revolving them as fast as 3000 times per minute (Grigsby 4-1). The turbine is always connected to a generator rod as it spins. The rod turns a huge magnet that is surrounded by copper wire coils. It is the fast-revolving magnetic generator that leads to the movement of electrons in the copper coils (Grigsby 4-2). This is what is known as electricity. The voltage of the power is increased by a transformer. Thick wires are used in carrying the electricity current coming from the generator towards a transformer where the voltage is increased to 500,000 volts and sometimes more (Grigsby 4-2). This is always before the generated electricity can be transmitted to the electricity power grid.

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From the electricity power plants, high-voltage lines of transmission carry the electric current towards a network of electricity substations interconnected nationwide (Singh 19). This is known as the grid (Singh 146). Upon reaching the substation, transformers are then used in the reduction of the voltage of the electric current so that factories, homes and even shopping malls can consume it (Singh 146). This happens through power lines from substations. The powerlines are held by mounted poles or buried (Singh 149). They carry the electricity from the substations towards local transformers that are often smaller; and reduce power voltage to between 110 and 220 volts for homes and businesses. The electricity has to pass through a meter which measures the quantity of electricity power used in an establishment (Singh 157). From the meter, there is a control panel tasked with distribution of the electricity via wires in walls towards outlets as well as switches (Singh 245). Upon switching on of an electric equipment and plugging in of an appliance that uses electricity, the circuit from the electricity power plant is completed. The electricity then operates the lights and electric appliances plugged in for use.

Natural gas and coal are the most popular electricity sources in the Unites States (Muyskens, Keating and Granados). However, coal use in power generation is declining. This is due to the Clean Power Plan which seeks to encourage a trend whereby power plants reduce carbon pollution levels as well as issuing rewards to companies as well as states which adopt clean energy sources (Muyskens, Keating and Granados 1). The US has 511 electric power plants that are coal powered. In total, they are responsible for the generation of 34 % of the electricity produced in the US in 2015 (Muyskens, Keating and Granados 1). Coal is particularly popular in the Appalachia, the Midwest, as well as, the East Coast. Additionally, it is a primary energy source in Utah, Wyoming, Arizona and Montana (Muyskens, Keating and Granados). In the 1980s, it was the key power generation energy source. This has, however, changed as natural gas has been on a steady rise (Muyskens, Keating and Granados). As a result, coal accounts for one third of power generated in the US. Put into perspective, it is the principal electricity source in America’s 22 states (Muyskens, Keating and Granados).

The US has 1740 electric power plants that are natural gas-powered (Muyskens, Keating and Granados). These plants also account for one third of electricity generated in the US; standing at 30% of electricity generated in 2015 in the US (Muyskens, Keating and Granados). Vast natural gas supplies coming from shale deposits across the US means that 15 states in the US can now count on natural gas as the predominant electricity source (Muyskens, Keating and Granados). Such states include Virginia, states on the Gulf of Mexico, New York, Georgia, Nevada, Massachusetts and California (Muyskens, Keating and Granados 2).

As far as nuclear power generation is concerned, the US has 99 reactors spread across 63 nuclear power plants (Muyskens, Keating and Granados 3). These plants and reactors account for 20 % of the electricity produced annually in 2015 (Muyskens, Keating and Granados). While Illinois, South Carolina, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire get a majority share of electricity from nuclear sources, there are 20 states in the US that do not have nuclear power generation sources at all (Muyskens, Keating and Granados 4). The US also has 1436 hydroelectric electricity generation plants. These plants are responsible for providing 7 percent of electricity in the country (Muyskens, Keating and Granados). Wind power accounts for 5 percent while solar power comes in at 1 percent of the power generated in the US electricity grid (Muyskens, Keating and Granados). Oil also produces 1% of the power in the grid.

  • Grigsby, Leonard L. Electric Power Generation, Transmission, and Distribution, Third Edition. New York: CRC Press, 2016. Print.
  • Muyskens, John, Dan Keating and Samuel Granados. “Mapping how the United States generates its electricity.” 31 July 2015. The Washington Post.
  • Singh, S. N. Electric Power Generation: Transmission And Distribution. New Delhi: PHI Learning Pvt. Ltd., 2008. Print.

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