How the Power Grid Works

Imagine a major highway with vehicles all going one way. It’s rush hour—rows of impatient cars try to merge, pushing to reach a final destination. Exits for cities appear, and a steady stream of cars spreads into the countryside.

Electricity today travels across the nation in much the same way—moving from power plants along major transmission arteries until off-ramps deliver it to a local utility and, finally, your home.
The power grid, which can be described as the largest, most complex machine ever built, involves an intricate network of power lines crisscrossing neighborhoods and open country, over mountains and through cities, which has evolved over the last century to supply consumers with safe, reliable, and affordable electricity.

Literally millions of miles of power lines span the United States in a complex series of “highways”. There are three, large segments of the U.S. power: the Western Interconnection, Eastern Interconnection and Texas Interconnection. These three segments are staffed with people behind the scenes who carefully monitor the demand of electricity and make sure it’s delivered to where it needs to go at that moment in time. 

These millions of power lines can be broken into two main categories: transmission, the high-voltage “interstates” supported by steel towers and other similar structures that move electricity over vast distances; and distribution, the “local roads” that run through small towns and neighborhoods and into homes and businesses.

The tricky thing about electricity is that it must be used, or moved to where it can be used, the second it’s produced. What’s more, the demand for electricity fluctuates throughout the day based on consumers needs; and renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, fluctuate and are intermittent energy sources. For PVREA members, the highest demand for electricity hits in the evening; everyone is getting home from work, cooking dinner, running the dishwasher, doing laundry and many other household chores that use electricity.

Electric cooperatives own and maintain 2.6 million miles, or 42 percent of the nation’s distribution lines, according to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. This co-op-maintained system could cover the distance to the moon and back five times over.

PVREA alone has its own sizeable distribution system to maintain: our lineworkers stay busy keeping over 4,000 miles of line up and running, 24/7.

The electric grid is complex, and electricity is such a powerful tool. It’s our job to provide that reliable, affordable and safe electricity whenever you need it.

Date Posted: 1/29/2018