In the early 1900s, about 4,000 electric companies operated independently from one another. After World War II, the utilities began connecting to other providers to help improve reliability and reduce the cost of electrical generation and storage. The continental U.S. is now connected by one power grid comprised of three main interconnections: one covers the area west of the Rocky Mountains; the second covers everything east of the Rockies and part of the Texas panhandle; the third covers the rest of Texas.
How the grid works
The power grid is a complex network of generation plants, substations, transformers, and power lines that moves electricity from power plants to homes and businesses.
Generation—There are two type of electrical generation. The first is centralized which refers to large-scale production from coal, nuclear, natural gas, hydropower, wind farms, and large solar farms. The second type of generation is decentralized which includes small scale, localized production from sources such as rooftop solar.
Transmission and Distribution—This includes transformers, substations, and power lines. Transformers inside of substations receive the electricity from the generation plant and crank up the voltage for efficient delivery via high voltage power lines known as transmission lines. When the electricity arrives at a point of consumption another substation and transformer lowers the voltage in order to safely distribute the electricity to consumers via lower voltage power lines known as distribution lines.
Consumption—Connection to the electrical grid provides consumers such as industrial, commercial, municipalities, and residential users access to electricity regardless of their proximity to the source of its production.
The future of the power grid?
Although the power grid is a highly complex system parts of this infrastructure are extremely outdated and not capable of handling small scale decentralized production. However, experts are working on solutions to update the power grid to what is referred to as a “smart grid.” The smart grid leverages technology to turn the electrical grid into a more efficient and intelligent network that offers consumers a wide range of ways to produce, store, move, and sell their own source of energy.
Solar energy and the power grid
With the advent of small scale solar energy systems, some people are choosing to limit or eliminate their dependence on the current power grid. Why?
- Many people are choosing to connect their solar system to the grid to help supplement or completely replace their dependence on traditional sources of energy production.
- Others are using solar as a way to completely break their dependence on a system and infrastructure they find outdated and unreliable as the frequency of power outages increase.
- Solar users can tap into valuable tax credits and other incentives.
- A residential solar panel system can pay for itself in eight to 10 years.
- Solar is a clean environmentally friendly and reliable energy source made by the sun.
As consumer demands increases and small scale solar production increases in the U.S. the power grid must adapt to meet the wants and needs of the consumer of future.
To learn more about the role you play in the power grid or to make the switch to solar talk to your local solar provider.
Download our eBook, Solar for People in a Hurry, to learn more about how you can save with your very own solar panel system!