Powerlines through far-stretching landscapes
How, what and why …. Powerlines!
Electric-power transmission is the bulk transfer of electrical energy, from generating power plants to electrical substations located near demand centers. This is distinct from the local wiring between high-voltage substations and customers, which is typically referred to as electric power distribution.
Engineers design transmission networks to transport the energy as efficiently as feasible, while at the same time taking into account economic factors, network safety and redundancy. These networks use components such as power lines, cables, circuit breakers, switches and transformers. The transmission network is usually administered on a regional basis by an entity such as a regional transmission organization or transmission system operator.
Transmission efficiency is hugely improved by devices that increase the voltage, and proportionately reduce the current in the conductors, thus keeping the power transmitted nearly equal to the power input. The reduced current flowing through the line reduces the losses in the conductors. According to Joule’s Law, energy losses are directly proportional to the square of the current. Thus, reducing the current by a factor of 2 will lower the energy lost to conductor resistance by a factor of 4.
Long-distance transmission of electricity (thousands of kilometers) is cheap and efficient, with costs of US$0.005–0.02/kWh (compared to annual averaged large producer costs of US$0.01–0.025/kWh, retail rates upwards of US$0.10/kWh, 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).
Transmitting electricity at high voltage reduces the fraction of energy lost to resistance, which averages around 7%. For a given amount of power, a higher voltage reduces the current and thus the resistive losses in the conductor. For example, raising the voltage by a factor of 10 reduces the current by a corresponding factor of 10 and therefore the I2R losses by a factor of 100, provided the same sized conductors are used in both cases. Even if the conductor size (cross-sectional area) is reduced 10-fold to match the lower current the I2R losses are still reduced 10-fold. Long distance transmission is typically done with overhead lines at voltages of 115 to 1,200 kV.
At the substations, transformers reduce the voltage to a lower level for distribution to commercial and residential users. This distribution is accomplished with a combination of sub-transmission (33 kV to 132 kV) and distribution (3.3 to 25 kV). Finally, at the point of use, the energy is transformed to low voltage.