Electrical energy occurs naturally, but seldom in forms that can be used. For example, although the energy dissipated as lightning exceeds the world's demand for electricity by a large factor, lightning has not been put to practical use because of its unpredictability and other problems. Generally, practical electric-power-generating systems convert the mechanical energy of moving parts into electrical energy (see generator). While systems that operate without a mechanical step do exist, they are at present either excessively inefficient or expensive because of a dependence on elaborate technology. While some electric plants derive mechanical energy from moving water (hydroelectric power), the vast majority derive it from heat engines in which the working substance is steam. Roughly 89% of power in the United States is generated this way. The steam is generated with heat from combustion of fossil fuels or from nuclear fission (see nuclear energy; nuclear reactor).Steam as an Energy Source
The conversion of mechanical energy to electrical energy can be accomplished with an efficiency of about 80%. In a hydroelectric plant, the losses occur in the turbines, bearings, penstocks, and generators. The basic limitations of thermodynamics fix the maximum efficiency obtainable in converting heat to electrical energy. The necessity of limiting the temperature to safe levels also helps to keep the efficiency down to about 41% for a fossil-fuel plant. Most nuclear plants use low-pressure, low-temperature steam operation, and have an even lower efficiency of about 30%. Nuclear plants have been able to achieve efficiency up to 40% with liquid-metal cooling. It is thought that by using magnetohydrodynamic "topping" generators in conjunction with normal steam turbines, the efficiency of conventional plants can be raised to close to 50%. These devices remove the restrictions imposed by the blade structure of turbines by using the steam or gasses produced by combustion as the working fluid.Environmental Concerns
The heat generated by an electric-power plant that is not ultimately converted into electrical energy is called waste heat. The environmental impact of this waste is potentially catastrophic, especially when, as is often the case, the heat is absorbed by streams or other bodies of water. Cooling towers help to dispose waste heat into the atmosphere. Associated with nuclear plants, in addition to the problem of waste heat, are difficulties attending the disposal and confinement of reaction products that remain dangerously radioactive for many thousands of years and the adjustment of such plants to variable demands for power. Public concern about such issues—fueled in part by the accidents at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in Harrisburg Pennsylvania in 1979, and the nuclear plant explosion in the Soviet Union at Chernobyl in 1986—forced the U.S. government to introduce extensive safety regulations for nuclear plants. Partly because of those regulations, nuclear plants are proving to be uneconomical. Several are being shut down and replaced by conventionally fueled plants.Alternative Energy Sources
Fuel cells develop electricity by direct conversion of hydrogen, hydrocarbons, alcohol, or other fuels, with an efficiency of 50% to 60%. Although they have been used to produce electric power in space vehicles and some terrestrial locations, several problems have kept them from being widely used. Most important, the catalyst, which is an important component of a fuel cell, especially one that is operating at around room temperature, is very expensive. Controlled nuclear fusion could provide a virtually unlimited source of heat energy to produce steam in generating plants; however, many problems surround its development, and no appreciable contribution is expected from this source in the near future.
Solar energy has been recognized as a feasible alternative. It has been suggested that efficient collection of the solar energy incident on 14% of the western desert areas of the United States would provide enough electricity to satisfy current demands. Two main solar processes could be used. Photovoltaic cells (see solar cell) convert sunlight directly into electrical energy. Another method would use special coatings that absorb sunlight readily and emit infrared radiation slowly, making it possible to heat fluids to 1,000°F; (540°C;) by solar radiation. The heat in turn can be converted to electricity. Some of this heat would be stored to allow operation at night and during periods of heavy cloud cover. The projected efficiency of such a plant would be about 30%, but this fairly low efficiency must be balanced against the facts that energy from the sun costs nothing and that the waste heat from such a plant places virtually no additional burden on the environment. The principal problem with this and other exotic systems for generating electricity is that the time needed for their implementation may be considerable.
Windmills, once widely used for pumping water, have become viable for electric-power generation because of advances in their design and the development of increasingly efficient generators. Windmill "farms," at which rows of windmills are joined together as the source of electrical energy, serve as a significant, though minor, source of electrical energy in coastal and plains areas. However, the vagaries of the wind make this a difficult solution to implement on a large scale.
See also energy, sources of.
Electrical energy is of little use unless it can be made available at the place where it is to be used. To minimize energy losses from heating of conductors and to economize on the material needed for conductors, electricity is usually transmitted at the highest voltages possible. As modern transformers are virtually loss free, the necessary steps upward or downward in voltage are easily accomplished. Transmission lines for alternating current using voltages as high as 765,000 volts are not uncommon. For voltages higher than this it is advantageous to transmit direct current rather than alternating current. Recent advances in rectifiers, which turn alternating current into direct current, and inverters, which convert direct into alternating, have made possible transmission lines that operate at 800,000 volts and above. Such lines are still very expensive, however.
Electric utilities are tied together by transmission lines into large systems called power grids. They are thus able to exchange power so that a utility with a low demand can assist another with a high demand to help prevent a blackout, which involves the partial or total shutdown of a utility. Under such a system a utility experiencing too great a load, as when peak demand coincides with equipment failure, must remove itself from the grid or endanger other utilities. During periods in which demand exceeds supply a utility can reduce the power drawn from it by lowering its voltage. These voltage reductions, which are normally of 3%, 5%, or 8%, result in power reductions, or brownouts, of about 6%, 10%, or 15%, causing inefficient operation of some electrical devices. The power distribution system, because of its generation of low-frequency electromagnetic fields, has been suggested as a possible source of health problems.
Reactive power is a concept used by engineers to describe the loss of power in a system arising from the production of electric and magnetic fields. Although reactive loads such as inductors and capacitors dissipate no power, they drop voltage and draw current, which creates the impression that they actually do. This "imaginary power" or "phantom power" is called reactive power. It is measured in a unit called Volt-Amps-Reactive (VAR). The actual amount of power being used, or dissipated, is called true power, and is measured in the unit of watts. The combination of reactive power and true power is called apparent power, and it is the product of a circuit's voltage and current. Apparent power is measured in the unit of Volt-Amps (VA). Devices which store energy by virtue of a magnetic field produced by a flow of current are said to absorb reactive power; those which store energy by virtue of electric fields are said to generate reactive power. Reactive power is significant because it must be provided and maintained to insure continuous, steady voltage on transmission networks. Reactive power thus is produced for maintenance of the system and not for end-use consumption. Power losses incurred in transmission from heat and electromagnetic emissions are included in the total reactive power requirement as are the needs of power hungry devices, such as electric motors, electromagnetic generators, and alternators. This power is supplied for many purposes by condensers, capacitors, and similar devices, which can react to changes in current flow by releasing energy to normalize the flow. If elements of the power grid cannot get the reactive power they need from nearby sources, they will pull it across transmission lines and destabilize the grid. In this way, poor management of reactive power can cause major blackouts.
See K. W. Li and A. P. Priddy, Power Plant System Design (1985); L. F. Drbal et al., Power Plant Engineering (1996).
Electric power transmission, a process in the delivery of electricity to consumers, is the bulk transfer of electrical power. Typically, power transmission is between the power plant and a substation near a populated area. Electricity distribution is the delivery from the substation to the consumers. 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 that would otherwise be too costly to transport to generating facilities. Due to the large amount of power involved, transmission normally takes place at high voltage (110 kV or above). Electricity is usually transmitted over long distance through overhead power transmission lines. Underground power transmission is used only in densely populated areas because of its high cost of installation and maintenance, and because the high reactive power produces large charging currents and difficulties in voltage management.
A power transmission system is sometimes referred to colloquially as a "grid"; however, for reasons of economy, the network is not a mathematical grid. Redundant paths and lines 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.
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.
Overhead transmission lines are uninsulated wire, so 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.
Compared to overhead lines, underground cables emit much less powerful magnetic fields. (All conductors carrying current which varies with respect to time generate magnetic fields.) Underground cables need a narrower strip of about 1- 10 metres to install, whereas the lack of cable insulation requires an overhead line to be installed on a strip of about 20- 200 metres wide to be kept permanently clear for safety, maintenance and repair. Those advantages can in some cases justify the higher investment cost.
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 used to be insulated with oil and paper and ran in a rigid steel pipe, or a semi-rigid aluminium 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 those oil-and-paper insulated cables in use worldwide. Between 1960 and 1990, polymers were the insulation of choice, mostly EPDM.
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.
In 1886 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, a 1kV AC distribution system was installed. That same year AC power at 2kV of 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. Tesla's disclosures, in the form of patents, lectures and technical articles, are useful for understanding the history of the modern system of power transmission. 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.
The so-called "universal system" used transformers both to couple generators to high-voltage transmission lines, and to connect transmission to local distribution circuits. 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 also 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 operating at more than 70,000 V were in service, the highest voltage then used was 150,000 volts.
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.
Transmission efficiency is improved by increasing the voltage using a step-up transformer, which reduces the current in the conductors, while keeping the power transmitted nearly equal to the power input. The reduced current flowing through the conductor reduces the losses in the conductor and since, according to Joule's Law, the losses are proportional to the square of the current, halving the current makes the transmission loss one quarter the original value.
A transmission grid is a network of power stations, transmission circuits, and substations. Energy is usually transmitted within the grid with three-phase AC. DC systems require relatively costly conversion equipment which may be economically justified for particular projects. Single phase AC is used only for distribution to end users since it is not usable for large polyphase induction motors. In the 19th century two-phase transmission was used, but required either three wires with unequal currents or four wires. Higher order phase systems require more than three wires, but deliver marginal benefits.
The capital cost of electric power stations is so high, and electric demand is so variable, that it is often cheaper to import some portion of the variable load than to generate it locally. Because nearby loads are often correlated (hot weather in the Southwest portion of the United States might cause many people there to turn on their air conditioners), imported electricity must often come from far away. Because of the economics of load balancing, transmission grids now span across countries and even large portions of continents. The web of interconnections between power producers and consumers ensures that power can flow even if a few links are inoperative.
The unvarying (or slowly varying over many hours) portion of the electric demand is known as the "base load", and is generally served best by large facilities (and therefore efficient due to economies of scale) with low variable costs for fuel and operations, i.e. nuclear, coal, hydro. Renewables such as solar, wind, ocean/tidal, etc. are not considered "base load" but can still add power to the grid. Smaller- and higher-cost sources such as combined cycle or combustion turbine plants that run on natural gas are then added as needed.
Long-distance transmission of electricity (thousands of miles) is cheap and efficient, with costs of US$ 0.005 to 0.02 per kilowatt-hour (compared to annual averaged large producer costs of US$ 0.01 to US$ 0.025 per kilowatt-hour, retail rates upwards of US$ 0.10 per kilowatt-hour, and multiples of retail for instantaneous suppliers at unpredicted highest demand moments). Thus distant suppliers can be cheaper than local sources (e.g. New York City buys a lot of electricity from Canada). Multiple local sources (even if more expensive and infrequently used) can make the transmission grid more fault tolerant to weather and other disasters that can disconnect distant suppliers.
Long distance transmission allows remote renewable energy resources to be used to displace fossil fuel consumption. Hydro and wind sources can't be moved closer to high population cities, and solar costs are lowest in remote areas where local power needs are the least. Connection costs alone can determine whether any particular renewable alternative is economically sensible. Costs can be prohibitive for transmission lines.
As of 1980, the longest cost-effective distance for electricity was 4,000 miles (7,000 km), although all present transmission lines are considerably shorter. (see Present Limits of High-Voltage Transmission)
In an alternating current circuit, the inductance and capacitance of the phase conductors can be significant. The currents that flow in these components of the circuit impedance constitute reactive power, which transmits no energy to the load. Reactive current flow causes extra losses in the transmission circuit. The ratio of real power (transmitted to the load) to apparent power is the power factor. As reactive current increases, the reactive power increases and the power factor decreases. For systems with low power factors, losses are higher than for systems with high power factors. Utilities add capacitor banks and other components throughout the system — such as phase-shifting transformers, static VAR compensators, physical transposition of the phase conductors, and flexible AC transmission systems (FACTS) — to control reactive power flow for reduction of losses and stabilization of system voltage.
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.
Up to now, it has been almost impossible to foresee the temperature distribution along the cable route, so that the maximum applicable current load was usually set as a compromise between understanding of operation conditions and risk minimization. The availability of industrial Distributed Temperature Sensing (DTS) systems that measure in real time temperatures all along the cable is a first step in monitoring the transmission system capacity. This monitoring solution is based on using passive optical fibers as temperature sensors, either integrated directly inside a high voltage cable or mounted externally on the cable insulation. A solution for overhead lines is also available. In this case the optical fiber is integrated into the core of a phase wire of overhead transmission lines (OPPC). The integrated Dynamic Cable Rating (DCR) or also called Real Time Thermal Rating (RTTR) solution enables not only to continuously monitor the temperature of a high voltage cable circuit in real time, but to safely utilize the existing network capacity to its maximum. Furthermore it provides the ability to the operator to predict the behavior of the transmission system upon major changes made to its initial operating conditions.
Rarely, and for short distances, a utility will use pilot-wires strung along the transmission line path. Leased circuits from common carriers are not preferred since availability is not under control of the electric power transmission organization.
Transmission lines can also be used to carry data: this is called power-line carrier, or PLC. PLC signals can be easily received with a radio for the long wave range.
Optical fibers can be included in the stranded conductors of a transmission line, in the overhead shield wires. These cables are known as OPGW or Optical Ground Wire. Sometimes a standalone cable is used, ADSS or All Dielectric Self Supporting cable, attached to the transmission line cross arms.
Some jurisdictions, such as Minnesota, prohibit energy transmission companies from selling surplus communication bandwidth or acting as a telecommunications common carrier. Where the regulatory structure permits, the utility can sell capacity in extra "dark fibers" to a common carrier, providing another revenue stream for the line.
Spain was the first country to establish a Regional Transmission Organization. In that country transmission operations and market operations are controlled by separate companies. The transmission system operator is Red Eléctrica de España (REE) and the wholesale electricity market operator is Operador del Mercado Ibérico de Energía - Polo Español, S.A. (OMEL) Spain's transmission system is interconnected with those of France, Portugal, and Morocco.
In the United States and parts of Canada, electrical transmission companies operate independently of generation and distribution companies.
There is only one unregulated or market interconnector in Australia: Basslink between Tasmania and Victoria. Two DC links originally implemented as market interconnectors Directlink and Murraylink have been converted to regulated interconnectors. NEMMCO
A major barrier to wider adoption of merchant transmission is the difficulty in identifying who benefits from the facility so that the beneficiaries will pay the toll. Also, it is difficult for a merchant transmission line to compete when the alternative transmission lines are subsidized by other utility businesses.
Some research has found that exposure to elevated levels of ELF magnetic fields such as those originating from electric power transmission lines may be implicated in a number of adverse health effects. These include, but are not limited to, childhood leukemia , Alzheimer's, adult leukemia, breast cancer, neurodegenerative diseases (such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), Miscarriage, and clinical depression. Although there seems to be a small statistical correlation between various diseases and living near power lines, any physical mechanism is not clear. One proposed mechanism is that the electric fields around power lines attract aerosol pollutants.
One possible response to the potential dangers of overhead power lines is to place them underground. According to the British Stakeholder Advisory Group on ELF EMFs, the cost of burying cables at transmission voltages 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 during installation keeping the runs to hundreds of feet between splices, which are most commonly placed in manholes or splice-boxes for repairs.
Underground cables eliminate the electric field and reduce the width over which the magnetic field is elevated. However, in reality, protection from the dangers of electromagnetic (EM) fields is seldom the driving concern when burying power lines. Maintaining underground cables is more expensive; it is usually easier to visually find a problem with an overhead line.
Another form of wireless power transmission has been studied for transmission of power from solar power satellites to the earth. A high power array of microwave transmitters would beam power to a rectenna. Major engineering and economic challenges face any solar power satellite project.
Another form is the operation of a crystal radio powered by the radio station it is tuned to, however the energetic efficiency is extremely low. Small scale wireless power was demonstrated as early as 1831 by Michael Faraday and by 1888 Heinrich Rudolf Hertz had proven that natural radio waves exist and can be captured.
Agency Reviews Patent Application Approval Request for "Electric Power Supply System and Method for Controlling Electric Power Discharge"
Oct 04, 2012; By a News Reporter-Staff News Editor at Politics & Government Week -- Denso Corporation has been issued patent application serial...