Electric power systems

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Electric power systems

A complex assemblage of equipment and circuits for generating, transmitting, transforming, and distributing electrical energy.

Electricity in the large quantities required to supply electric power systems is produced in generating stations, commonly called power plants. Such generating stations, however, should be considered as conversion facilities in which the heat energy of fuel (coal, oil, gas, or uranium) or the hydraulic energy of falling water is converted to electricity. See Electric power generation, Hydraulic Turbine, Nuclear Reactor, Power plant, Steam Turbine

The transmission system carries electric power efficiently and in large amounts from generating stations to consumption areas. Such transmission is also used to interconnect adjacent power systems for mutual assistance in case of emergency and to gain for the interconnected power systems the economies possible in regional operation.

Another approach to high-voltage long-distance transmission is high-voltage direct current (HVDC), which offers the advantages of less costly lines, lower transmission losses, and insensitivity to many system problems that restrict alternating-current systems. Its greatest disadvantage is the need for costly equipment for converting the sending-end power to direct current, and for converting the receiving-end direct-current power to alternating current for distribution to consumers.

As systems grow and the number and size of generating units increase, and as transmission networks expand, higher levels of bulk-power-system reliability are attained through properly coordinated interconnections among separate systems. Most of the electric utilities in the contiguous United States and a large part of Canada now operate as members of power pools, and these pools in turn are interconnected into one gigantic power grid known as the North American Power Systems Interconnection. The operation of this interconnection, in turn, is coordinated by the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC). Each individual utility in such pools operates independently, but has contractual arrangements with other members in respect to generation additions and scheduling of operation. Their participation in a power pool affords a higher level of service reliability and important economic advantages.

Power delivered by transmission circuits must be stepped down in facilities called substations to voltages more suitable for use in industrial and residential areas. See Electric power substation

That part of the electric power system that takes power from a bulk-power substation to customers' switches, commonly about 35% of the total plant investment, is called distribution.

The operation and control of the generation-transmission-distribution grid is quite complex because this large system has to operate in synchronism and because many different organizations are responsible for different portions of the grid. In North America and Europe, many public and private electric power companies are interconnected, often across national boundaries. Thus, many organizations have to coordinate to operate the grid, and this coordination can take many forms, from a loose agreement of operational principles to a strong pooling arrangement of operating together.

Power-system operations can be divided into three stages: operations planning, real-time control, and after-the-fact accounting. The main goal is to minimize operations cost while maintaining the reliability (security) of power delivery to customers. Operations planning is the optimal scheduling of generation resources to meet anticipated demand in the next few hours, weeks, or months. This includes the scheduling of water, fossil fuels, and equipment maintenance over many weeks, and the commitment (start-up and shutdown) of generating units over many hours. Real-time control of the system is required to respond to the actual demand of electricity and any unforeseen contingencies (equipment outages). Maintaining security of the system so that a possible contingency cannot disrupt power supply is an integral part of real-time control. After-the-fact accounting is the tracking of purchases and sales of energy between organizations so that billing can be generated.

For loosely coordinated operation of the grid, each utility takes responsibility for the operation of its own portion while exchanging all relevant information. For pool-type operations, a hierarchy is set up where the operational decisions may be made centrally and then implemented by each utility. For a large utility, there may be another level in the hierarchy where the decisions are further distributed to different geographical areas of the same utility. All of this requires significant data communication as well as engineering computation within a utility as well as between utilities. The use of modern computers and communications makes this possible, and the heart of system operations in a utility is the energy control center.

The monitoring and control of a power system from a centralized control center became desirable quite early in the development of electric power systems, when generating stations were connected together to supply the same loads. As electrical utilities interconnected and evolved into complex networks of generators, transmission lines, distribution feeders, and loads, the control center became the operations headquarters for each utility. Since the generation and delivery of electrical energy are controlled from this center, it is referred to as the energy control center or energy management system.

McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Engineering. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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