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February 15, 2023

The History of the Electrical Grid and Why it Matters

The History of the Electrical Grid and Why it Matters

All around us, electricity is an integral part of our modern lives. From our overhead lights to your cell phone and laptop, so much of the world is powered by electricity. When you stop to consider it, it’s quite a process to distribute the massive amounts of electricity around our country both safely and efficiently. The modern power grid began in the 1880’s, and progressed into what we now know: an alternating current (AC) power grid that illuminated the world literally and figuratively. So, where did the power grid concept begin and how does it effect your company today?

History of the Power Grid: The modern electric grid dates back to 1882, the very year that Edison unveiled the first power plant in Manhattan. He had just fifty-nine eager customers, which quickly expanded. In 1889, just a short seven years later, the first transmission line was built between Oregon City, OR, and bustling downtown Portland, Oregon. Although it spanned just 13 miles, it was a huge technological breakthrough at the time.  

For many decades, the basic structure has remained unchanged and today, fossil-fuel-based power plants make up about sixty percent of the nation’s power, with another twenty percent powered by nuclear power. Electricity is sent across long distances by high-voltage transmission lines and local facilities known as “substations” turn that power into lower voltage power that is suitable for homes and businesses. The modern electric power grid has been called “the largest machine in the world”, made up of three separate U.S. Grids, in the Eastern, Western, and Texas interconnections. Because of the incredibly high costs of constructing all the infrastructure, the transmission of electricity has been called a natural monopoly, meaning that one primary company would be able to control the general market. That’s why utilities are publicly owned or heavily regulated in order to protect customers from unfair price hikes.

How Efficient Motors can help the Electric Grid: Studies estimate that 65% of all industrial power is used by motors of various sizes, many of which run at lower loads when they are turned on, even if they aren’t being used. By switching to a motor that is highly efficient and that can improve the performance of other standard motor on the same line due to its regeneration capability can help to lower the burden on the grid. The co-generation design of Maxeff motors will improve the power factor of your facility (power factor is the way the machine utilizes its power). The Maxeff circuit compensates the grid that supplies it, making it virtually eliminate any wasted energy. Our motors also utilize electromagnetic contractors and a specialized sequence of automated connections to power the mechanical soft-start. The soft start allows the motor to receive grid power at an impressive 1/3 of its nominal amount, and then roll automatically to 66% before ramping up to full horsepower capacity. This feature reduces the current and allows a smooth and progressive startup. It prevents overheating and incurring massive peak demand charges on your utility bill.

Being more energy efficient not only saves you money but it also reduces pressure on the electrical grid as a whole. Using less energy means paying for less energy, but it also means lowered CO2 emissions and the ability to deliver the same product with less energy usage. In addition, fuel conservation and diversity is another important benefit, and it extends well beyond your own company. It reduces the dependence on foreign fossil fuels as well. Within the infrastructure of the power grid itself, it is also important to understand how energy efficiency impacts grid reliability. In many areas of the United States such as Texas, transmission constraints have begun to cost consumers congestion charges, which treated the integrity of the overall grid. Reducing your manufacturing energy usage continues to grow in importance as the grid struggles to keep up with the energy usage of the country. The potential impact of efficient cannot be measured, but plays a huge role in the energy equation.

Power Plants and Substations: A substation is the part of the power grid that converts the high voltage electricity to lower voltage. During the transmission, power lines need high voltage to travel the necessary distance, so a substation can be used to increase or step-up the voltage and reduce any losses along the way. In addition, they are used to step-down the voltage if needed to be the proper levels for industrial, commercial, or residential usage. Ultimately, a substation is a type of circuit breaker for the larger scale grid, and can help prevent a power surge from damaging valuable infrastructure.

Power plants are the primary source of electric supply, and are locations where energy is used to produce electric power. There are various types of power plants:

  • Solar panel farms: These are comprised of solar panels that convert sunlight to electricity. These panels can be grouped into arrangements that are called “farms”, and supply electricity to the power grid. Sometimes, wind turbines are also used to take mechanical energy and convert it to electricity as well.
  • Hydropower: Hydropower is created by hydroelectric dams, which utilize water power to generate electricity. This is a type of renewable energy, along with wind and solar power.
  • Geothermal power plants: These power plants use the heat of the earth (thermal energy) to create energy. They are situated near the tectonic plate boundaries and most are near the Mountain West.
  • Fossil fuel power plants: Use coal or natural gas to boil water, generate steam, and put that steam through a turbine to produce electricity for the power grid.

To begin the process of switching your industrial motors to the deeply-efficient Maxeff motor, you can request a custom quote today!


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