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What is an Electric Power Grid?

Keith Koons
Keith Koons

An electric power gird is made up of a series of devices that enable consumers to receive electricity from long distances. While the original source of the power may vary, it normally begins within a type of generator that converts mechanical energy to electrical energy. From there the voltage (amperes) travels through a transmission substation that regulates the voltage and splits it off in many different directions, where it can then be sent across power lines to all sections of the city. In some cases, an additional transformer is used to reduce the voltage even further before the power reaches its destination.

The main component of any electric power grid is the generator, because this is the device that actually creates power in one manner or another. One of the most predominant types of generators for an electric power grid operates off of burning coal to produce steam, but there are also hydroelectric, solar, and even nuclear power plants throughout the world. Each of them operates in a similar fashion; a turbine is rotated around a central pivot point in order to create energy. That energy is then sent along the electrical power grid to be converted down to a compatible scale within homes and businesses.

Residential electric meter.
Residential electric meter.

Once the power reaches the transmission substation, it is dramatically increased to levels far more than any individual outlet could handle. While this may appear like an illogical step since the power was already greater than the average household's needs, it is a necessary process to ensure that there is ample electricity available to consumers at the furthest point on the electric power grid. By amplifying the outgoing power at continuous levels, the transmission substation ensures that every consumer that is connected to that electric power grid will have access to electricity at all times. Such a device is also extremely dangerous, which is why emergency shutout switches are installed on each of them.

A hydropower dam.
A hydropower dam.

In order for hundreds of thousands of volts (amps) to be transformed into a usable level within an electric power grid, they pass through one or more distribution substations that are made up of multiple transformers. These devices ultimately convert the high load of electricity into voltages that are acceptable by traditional power outlets. Distribution substations can be located near the actual generator, in front of housing developments, or anywhere in between. Electrical companies that service large areas may have to dilute the voltage multiple times before the electricity reaches its ultimate destination, because any other method would jeopardize the availability of continuous power.

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