Our Electric Grid – The Basics

Power GridI thought I would start out my blogging by sharing some basic information about one of the essential elements to our lives – Our Electric System.

So, really, what is our electric system? At the highest level, our electric system starts with power generation. In the U.S. we have over 7000 power generation facilities, which includes coal, natural gas, nuclear, petroleum, and renewable energy sources (I will cover the basics of how each type of plant generates electricity in the near future). These facilities generate electricity, which they send out through transmission lines to various points. As electricity began developing, facilities began adapting our standard 60 Hz system (which I will explain later), and they started connecting multiple facilities together for improved reliability. Today, our electric system is split up into three different sections, as seen in the image above (image from NPR), with interconnections to the other sections – creating a more reliable source of power for our country.

Since our country has suffered a couple of severe blackouts, and because our power grid is essential for national security and our wellbeing, the U.S. government has created a regulation agency. This agency is called NERC (North American Electric Reliability Corporation). NERC’s responsibility is to ensure the reliability of our electric systems by developing operational, maintenance, and basic engineering standards for “the bulk power system” (basically all generation facilities, and large industrial loads). NERC is split up into a few different regions (please open link to view map). Each region monitors companies that are tied into the bulk power system, and are responsible for auditing companies, finding best practices, and fining companies for compliance issues.

Another organization to assist in the reliability of power systems are RTOs (Regional Transmission Organizations). These RTOs have massive computer system that have a model of the all the aspects of the grid in their area (power generation plants, system transformers, and various large loads). The computer systems monitors all these aspects of their part of the grid in real time, along with forecasting generation and load figures from companies, and determines if there is an excess or shortage of power in the area. In order to balance the load across the grid, and minimize system limitations, the RTO will set power prices for each facility to economically encourage them to balance the load. These power prices can change every 5 minutes, and facilities get paid or charged by the hourly average of those prices. The RTO for my plant is called MISO (Midcontinent Independent System Operator). If you follow this link, you can see the power prices in my region, which will update every 5 minutes. See if you can find my plant – It’s at the bottom of Indiana with the LMP Point: SIGE.WARR4SIGE.

That’s all for this post! I’ll be posting some additional information about the grid, power plants, and moving to other technologies in the near future. Please leave comments!

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