What Are Power Grids? And How Do They Work

power grids

We have all seen those tall towers with wires connected to them. Most people know that electricity moves through these lines, but what they don’t know is that those lines are part of the power grid. The power grid originates from the point where electricity is made. In the case of solar, the power grid starts from where there are solar panels.


Electricity Generation

As mentioned above, the power grid originates at the point where energy from the sun is converted to electricity. Solar panels are basically the same as other sources of electricity. The major difference is that unlike fossil fuels or natural gas, the energy generated from solar panels is cleaner. After the electricity is generated, the next step is to ensure that it reaches people’s homes. This is where there is a need for grid infrastructure for centralized distribution.


Transmission and Distribution

Once electrical is generated, there must be a way for it to reach the end-user. This network of transmission and distribution lines is what makes up the power grid. Usually, electricity is transmitted at an extremely high voltage through these power lines that span the countryside. When the voltage is higher, there is no need for a higher current. That is also what prevents the loss of electricity. Once the electricity reaches the customers, it first goes to transformers. These units convert high-voltage electricity to low voltage power that is suitable for appliances in homes and businesses.


Consumers and “Load”

The electricity used in homes for lighting, powering computers, appliances, heating and cooling is drawn from the power grid. The total amount of electricity that is needed by people to power their appliances is known as the demand load. This is what the supplier must provide. With grids, there are times known as peak demand-load periods. This is usually at night when the lights are on or during the day when it is hot.


It is important for the supplier to balance those voltage loads. This is where power grid management becomes tricky. This is because energy flow should be properly balanced at all times. When done right, there will be a consistent supply of electricity to consumers in the right amounts. Grid operators are also adapting to the integration and balancing of new power streams like solar.


Inverter-Based Grid

In the past, electricity would be generated predominantly from burning fuel and creating steam. This steam would spin turbine generators, and these would then create electricity. As these devices rotate, a lot of AC power is generated. This AC power creates a frequency, and this is an important indicator when assessing the health of the electrical grid. For instance, if there is a high demand, electricity is removed from the grid faster than it is generated. As a result, the generators would slow down. With the addition of solar to the grid, more inverters are also being connected. Smarter inverters are being built, and these respond to changes in frequency, helping to stabilize the grid against disruptions.


Grid Forming Inverters

Grid operators regulate the demand and supply of electricity on the grid by providing a range of grid services. These are activities carried out by grid operators to maintain system-wide balance. This is also essential for the management of electricity transmission.


Grid service providers are coming up with advanced inverters that are grid forming. These inverters can jump-start the grid if it goes down. Technically, this process is known as black starting. In the past, inverters required an outside signal from the grid to determine when it was time to switch and produce sine waves that could be injected into the grid. The newer grid forming inverters can generate the signal themselves.


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