As we celebrate the beginning of our independence, I challenge Smart Grid Legal News readers to take one action this week that moves our country closer to energy independence. It can be something as simple as changing your light bulbs to compact florescent bulbs or unplugging the cell phone charger when it is not in use. We all know the smart grid is about innovation and cool new technology that will update our electric grid. However, since the 4th of July is about our beginning, I thought I would go back to basics today. For many in the power industry this might be a yawner, but think of this post as simple training for your new hires. Here are the basics of how the grid works as explained by NERC:

Unlike water or gas, electricity cannot be stored. It must be generated as it is needed, and supply must be kept in balance with demand. Furthermore, electricity follows the “path of least resistance,” so it generally cannot be routed in a specific direction. This means generation and transmission operations in North America must be monitored and controlled in real time, 24 hours a day, to ensure a consistent and ample flow of electricity. This requires the cooperation and coordination of hundreds of electricity industry participants.   

The diagram below depicts the basic flow of electricity: how it is created at power plants and other generating facilities, and transported across high-voltage transmission and lower-voltage distribution lines, to reach homes and businesses. Transformers at substations step the electric voltage up and down to efficiently deliver power to the customers.

The Generation and Transmission components make up the “bulk power system.”

If you put dozens or even hundreds of these assets together, you get a “Balancing Area”, in which the balancing authority matches generation with customer demand, and the transmission operator monitors the flows over the transmission system and voltages at substations. 

Balancing areas are defined by the electricity meters at their boundaries, which measure the power flowing into and out of the area. These areas are connected to each other by “tie lines.”

That was easy. Thanks NERC! NERC is responsible for aspects of an international electricity system that serves 334 million people, and has some 211,000 miles (340,000 km) of high-voltage transmission line.