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Electrical Grid/ Power Grid

Electric power transmission is the bulk transfer of electrical power (or more correctly energy), a process in the delivery of electricity to consumers. A power transmission network typically connects power plants to multiple substations near a populated area. The wiring from substations to customers is referred to as Electricity distribution, following the historic business model separating the wholesale electricity transmission business from distributors who deliver the electricity to the homes. Electric power transmission allows distant energy sources (such as hydroelectric power plants) to be connected to consumers in population centers, and may allow exploitation of low-grade fuel resources such as coal that would otherwise be too costly to transport to generating facilities.

Usually transmission lines use three phase AC current. Single phase AC current is sometimes used in a railway electrification system. High-voltage direct current systems are used for long distance transmission, or some undersea cables, or for connecting two different ac networks.

Electricity is transmitted at high voltages (110 kV or above) to reduce the energy lost in transmission. Power is usually transmitted as alternating current through overhead power lines. Underground power transmission is used only in densely populated areas because of its higher cost of installation and maintenance when compared with overhead wires, and the difficulty of voltage control on long cables.

A power transmission network is referred to as a "grid". Multiple redundant lines between points on the network are provided so that power can be routed from any power plant to any load center, through a variety of routes, based on the economics of the transmission path and the cost of power. Much analysis is done by transmission companies to determine the maximum reliable capacity of each line, which, due to system stability considerations, may be less than the physical or thermal limit of the line. Deregulation of electricity companies in many countries has led to renewed interest in reliable economic design of transmission networks. However, in some places the gaming of a deregulated energy system has led to disaster, such as that which occurred during the California electricity crisis of 2000 and 2001.

Overhead transmission

Overhead conductors are not covered by insulation. The conductor material is nearly always an aluminum alloy, made into several strands and possibly reinforced with steel strands. Copper was sometimes used for overhead transmission but aluminum is lower in weight for equivalent performance, and much lower in cost. Overhead conductors are a commodity supplied by several companies worldwide. Improved conductor material and shapes are regularly used to allow increased capacity and modernize transmission circuits. Conductor sizes range from #6 American wire gauge (about 12 square millimeters) to 1,590,000 circular mils area (about 750 square millimeters), with varying resistance and current-carrying capacity. Thicker wires would lead to a relatively small increase in capacity due to the skin effect, that causes most of the current to flow close to the surface of the wire.

Today, transmission-level voltages are usually considered to be 110 kV and above. Lower voltages such as 66 kV and 33 kV are usually considered sub-transmission voltages but are occasionally used on long lines with light loads. Voltages less than 33 kV are usually used for distribution. Voltages above 230 kV are considered extra high voltage and require different designs compared to equipment used at lower voltages.

Since overhead transmission lines are un-insulated wire, design of these lines requires minimum clearances to be observed to maintain safety. During adverse weather conditions of high wind and low temperatures, overhead conductors can exhibit wind-induced oscillations which can encroach on their designed clearances. Depending on the frequency and amplitude of oscillation, the motion can be termed gallop or flutter


High voltage overhead power lines.

Nikola Tesla's Alternating current polyphase generators on display at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. Tesla's polyphase innovations revolutionized transmission.

American Electric Grid

Total breakdown of electrical producing systems in the United States.

Underground transmission

Electric power can also be transmitted by underground power cables instead of overhead power lines. They can assist the transmission of power across:

Densely populated urban areas

Areas where land is unavailable or planning consent is difficult

Rivers and other natural obstacles

Land with outstanding natural or environmental heritage

Areas of significant or prestigious infrastructural development

Land whose value must be maintained for future urban expansion and rural development

Some other advantages of underground power cables:

Less subject to damage from severe weather conditions (mainly wind and freezing)

Greatly reduced emission, into the surrounding area, of electromagnetic fields (EMF). All electric currents generate EMF, but the shielding provided by the earth surrounding underground cables restricts their range and power.

Underground cables need a narrower surrounding strip of about 1- 10 meters to install, whereas an overhead line requires a surrounding strip of about 20- 200 meters wide to be kept permanently clear for safety, maintenance and repair.

Some disadvantages of underground power cables:

Under grounding is more expensive, since the cost of burying cables at transmission voltages is several times greater than overhead power lines, and the life-cycle cost of an underground power cable is two to four times the cost of an overhead power line. According to the British Stakeholder Advisory Group on ELF EMFs, the cost is around GBP 10M/km, compared to GBP 0.5-1M/km for overhead lines. This is mainly due to the limit of the physical properties of the insulation placed during installation, keeping the runs to hundreds of meters between splices, which are most commonly placed in manholes or splice-boxes for repairs.

Whereas finding and repairing overhead wire breaks can be accomplished in hours, underground repairs can take days or weeks, and for this reason redundant lines are run.

Operations are more difficult since the high reactive power of underground cables produces large charging currents and so makes voltage control more difficult.

The advantages can in some cases outweigh the disadvantages of the higher investment cost, and more expensive maintenance and management.

Most high-voltage underground cables for power transmission that are currently sold on the market are insulated by a sheath of cross-linked polyethylene (XLPE). Some cable may have a lead jacket in conjunction with XLPE insulation to allow for fiber optics to be seamlessly integrated within the cable. Before 1960, underground power cables were insulated with oil and paper and ran in a rigid steel pipe, or a semi-rigid aluminum or lead jacket or sheath. The oil was kept under pressure to prevent formation of voids that would allow partial discharges within the cable insulation. There are still many of these oil-and-paper insulated cables in use worldwide. Between 1960 and 1990, polymers became more widely used at distribution voltages, mostly EPDM (ethylene propylene diene M-class); however, their relative unreliability - particularly early XLPE - resulted in a slow uptake at transmission voltages. While cables of 330kV are commonly constructed using XLPE, this has occurred only in recent years.


In the early days of commercial use of electric power, transmission of electric power at the same voltage as used by lighting and mechanical loads restricted the distance between generating plant and consumers. In 1882 generation was with direct current, which could not easily be increased in voltage for long-distance transmission. Different classes of loads – for example, lighting, fixed motors, and traction (railway) systems – required different voltages, and so used different generators and circuits.

Due to this specialization of lines and because transmission was so inefficient that generators needed to be close by their loads, it seemed at the time that the industry would develop into what is now known as a distributed generation system with large numbers of small generators located nearby their loads.

In 1886 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, a 1kV AC distribution system was installed. That same year, AC power at 2kV, transmitted 30km, was installed at Cerchi, Italy. At an AIEE meeting on May 16, 1888, Nikola Tesla delivered a lecture entitled A New System of Alternating Current Motors and Transformers, describing the equipment which allowed efficient generation and use of polyphase alternating currents. The transformer, and Tesla's polyphase and single-phase induction motors, were essential for a combined AC distribution system for both lighting and machinery. Ownership of the rights to the Tesla patents was a key commercial advantage to the Westinghouse Company in offering a complete alternating current power system for both lighting and power.

Regarded as one of the most influential innovations for the use of electricity, the "universal system" used transformers to step-up voltage from generators to high-voltage transmission lines, and then to step-down voltage to local distribution circuits or industrial customers. By a suitable choice of utility frequency, both lighting and motor loads could be served. Rotary converters and later mercury-arc valves and other rectifier equipment allowed DC load to be served by local conversion where needed. Even generating stations and loads using different frequencies could be interconnected using rotary converters. By using common generating plants for every type of load, important economies of scale were achieved, lower overall capital investment was required, load factor on each plant was increased allowing for higher efficiency, allowing for a lower cost of energy to the consumer and increased overall use of electric power.

By allowing multiple generating plants to be interconnected over a wide area, electricity production cost was reduced. The most efficient available plants could be used to supply the varying loads during the day. Reliability was improved and capital investment cost was reduced, since stand-by generating capacity could be shared over many more customers and a wider geographic area. Remote and low-cost sources of energy, such as hydroelectric power or mine-mouth coal, could be exploited to lower energy production cost.

The first transmission of three-phase alternating current using high voltage took place in 1891 during the international electricity exhibition in Frankfurt. A 25 kV transmission line, approximately 175 kilometers long, connected Lauffen on the Neckar and Frankfurt.

Voltages used for electric power transmission increased throughout the 20th century. By 1914 fifty-five transmission systems each operating at more than 70 kV were in service. The highest voltage then used was 150 kV.

The rapid industrialization in the 20th century made electrical transmission lines and grids a critical part of the economic infrastructure in most industrialized nations. Interconnection of local generation plants and small distribution networks was greatly spurred by the requirements of World War I, where large electrical generating plants were built by governments to provide power to munitions factories; later these plants were connected to supply civil load through long-distance transmission.

High-voltage direct current

High voltage direct current (HVDC) is used to transmit large amounts of power over long distances or for interconnections between asynchronous grids. When electrical energy is required to be transmitted over very long distances, it is more economical to transmit using direct current instead of alternating current. For a long transmission line, the lower losses and reduced construction cost of a DC line can offset the additional cost of converter stations at each end. Also, at high AC voltages, significant (although economically acceptable) amounts of energy are lost due to corona discharge, the capacitance between phases or, in the case of buried cables, between phases and the soil or water in which the cable is buried.

HVDC links are sometimes used to stabilize against control problems with the AC electricity flow. In other words, to transmit AC power as AC when needed in either direction between Seattle and Boston would require the (highly challenging) continuous real-time adjustment of the relative phase of the two electrical grids. With HVDC instead the interconnection would: (1) Convert AC in Seattle into HVDC. (2) Use HVDC for the three thousand miles of cross country transmission. Then (3) convert the HVDC to locally synchronized AC in Boston, and optionally in other cooperating cities along the transmission route. One prominent example of such a transmission line is the Pacific DC Intertie located in the Western United States.

Eastern sea board of the United States prior to the Blackout.

The United States after the Blackout on the Eastern sea board. Notice the dark spot between the United States and Canada.

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