We spent the past month discussing energy efficiency and how to improve it in your Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas-area homes. But where does that energy come from? How does it get to you?
This post takes a brief, informal look at The Grid, America’s aging but improving energy structure.
Part One: Generation
The basic functions of Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas-area homes and businesses are powered by energy sources that are hundreds of miles away from the Metroplex.
It all starts with Generation, or the creation of energy at a generator powered by one of four sources:
- Hydroelectric dams
- Power plants
- Wind turbines (wind farms)
- Solar panels
Part Two: Transmission
Once energy is created, it must be converted to a very high voltage and transmitted to your Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas neighborhood.
It does this through a complex, fascinating series of substations, step-up transformers, wires, poles, and step-down transformers.
- The newly generated power travels to transmission substations that uses transformers to convert it to extremely high voltages.
- Step-up transformers help convert power to high voltages for transmission over long distances — often hundreds of miles.
- The power travels through wires and across electric poles on its way to our Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas area homes. You may see electric company service technicians working on the wires and poles in and around your neighborhood, especially after an electrical storm or in the dead of summer when temperatures reach well beyond 100 degrees.
- Sensors are located at key points along the power line journey to monitor where and when power might go out.
- A step-down transformer lowers voltages for distribution into homes and businesses. You may also see electric company service technicians working on this equipment as well.
Part Three: Distribution
North America is comprised of two major and three minor alternating current (AC) power grids or interconnections.
The Grid network of power plants and transformers are connected by more than 450,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines. Thomas Edison launched the first commercial power grid, The Pearl Street Station, in lower Manhattan in 1882. The New York Times, one of Edison’s earliest electricity customers, reported lighting provided by Pearl Street was “soft, mellow, grateful to the eye.”
The three smaller grids, called Interconnections, move electricity around the country. The Eastern Interconnection operates in states east of the Rock Mountains. The Western Interconnection covers the Pacific Ocean to the Rocky Mountain states. The smallest, the Texas Interconnected System, covers most of Texas.
The Aging Grid
The Grid is an engineering marvel but it is aging. Seventy percent of the transmission lines and power transformers are more than 25 years old, and the average power plant is more than 30 years old. The lines, transformers, and power plants require extensive maintenance, service, and repair to effectively meet the nation’s steadily-increasing energy demands.
Severe weather is the No. 1 cause of power outages in the United States and something homeowners see frequently here in the Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas area, necessitating around-the-clock service and repair by TXU and Reliant, two of the leading energy service companies in Texas.
Power outages in the U.S. cost the economy between $18 and $33 billion every year in lost output, wages, spoiled inventory, delayed production, damage to grid infrastructure, and maintenance, service, and repair.
The number of outages caused by severe weather is expected to rise as climate changes increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events like the monsoon, flood-causing rains we’ve been having recently in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, and throughout Texas.
The Grid is Getting Younger
The concern over aging infrastructure, as well as concerns over terrorism on U.S. soil and cyberterrorism, spurred the Recovery Act. The Department of Energy is investing about $4.5 billion in modernization to enhance the reliability of The Grid.
Since 2010, Recovery Act investments have been used to deploy a wide range of advanced devices, including more than 10,000 automated capacitors, more than 7,000 automated feeder switches, and approximately 15.5 million smart meters, which are in use in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas-area homes.
The goal is to improve Grid reliability — one with fewer and shorter power interruptions — and resiliency. A more resilient Grid is one better prepared to recover from adverse events like severe weather.
Cool New Technology
One of the key solutions for a more reliable and resilient Grid is synchrophaser technology. These mailbox-sized devices monitor the health of the Grid at frequencies not previously possible, reporting data 30 times per second.
The enhanced visibility into Grid conditions helps operators identify, respond, and service deteriorating or abnormal conditions much quicker, reducing power outages and helping with the integration of more renewable sources of energy into The Grid. Nearly 900 of these devices have been deployed.
Microgrids are localized grids that are normally connected to the more traditional electric grid can be disconnected and operated autonomously, another way to improve reliability and resiliency.
Microgrids use advanced smart grid technologies and the integration of distributed energy resources such as backup generators, solar panels, and storage. Because they can operate independently of the grid during outages, microgrids are typically used to provide reliable power during extreme weather events.
All of this distributes electricity to end users, the homeowners and businesses in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas, keeping homes cool in the summer, warm in the winter, rooms lit, food cold, and computers charged.
To illustrate how important electricity is to Americans, particularly in the summer, the average American home used more electricity for space cooling than lighting, refrigeration, or heating.