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Top 9 Things You Didn't Know About America's Power Grid

November 20, 2014 - 10:07am


Electrical transmission lines cross a snow-covered field in Dalles Dam, Oregon. | Energy Department photo.

Electrical transmission lines cross a snow-covered field in Dalles Dam, Oregon. | Energy Department photo.

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Top 9 Things You Didn't Know About America's Power Grid

This article is part of the series highlighting the “Top Things You Didn’t Know About…” Be sure to check back for more entries soon.

Storified by Energy Department ·
Fri, Sep 20 2013 14:22:18

9. Ever wonder how electricity gets to your home? It’s delivered through the grid -- a complex network of power plants and transformers connected by more than 450,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines. The basic process: Electric power is generated at power plants and then moved by transmission lines to substations. A local distribution system of smaller, lower-voltage transmission lines moves power from substations to you, the customer. Watch an animated video on how the grid works.

8. Thomas Edison launched the first commercial power grid, The Pearl Street Station, in lower Manhattan in 1882. The offices of The New York Times, one of Edison’s earliest electricity customers, reported lighting provided by Pearl Street was “soft, mellow, grateful to the eye.”
7. America’s electric grid is actually comprised of three smaller grids, called interconnections, that move electricity around the country. The Eastern Interconnection operates in states east of the Rocky Mountains, The Western Interconnection covers the Pacific Ocean to the Rocky Mountain states, and the smallest -- the Texas Interconnected system -- covers most of Texas, as displayed in the map below:
6. The electric grid is an engineering marvel but its aging infrastructure requires extensive upgrades to effectively meet the nation’s energy demands. Through the Recovery Act, the Department invested about $4.5 billion in grid modernization to enhance the reliability of the nation’s grid. Since 2010, these investments have been used to deploy a wide range of advanced devices, including more than 10,000 automated capacitors, over 7,000 automated feeder switches and approximately 15.5 million smart meters. See a map of the Recovery Act-funded Smart Grid Investment Grant and Smart Grid Demonstration projects at

5. What is the distinction between grid reliability and resiliency? A more reliable grid is one with fewer and shorter power interruptions. A more resilient grid is one better prepared to recover from adverse events like severe weather.

4. Severe weather is the number one cause of power outages
in the United States, costing the economy between $18 and $33 billion every year in lost
output and wages, spoiled inventory, delayed production and damage to grid

Screen Shot 2013-09-20 at 6.43.50 AM ·
The number of outages caused by severe weather is expected to rise as climate change increases the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. Preparing for the challenges posed by climate change requires investment in 21st century technology that will increase the resiliency and reliability of the grid.

3. One of the key solutions for a more resilient and
reliable grid is synchrophaser technology. These mailbox-size
devices monitor the health of the grid at frequencies not previously possible,
reporting data 30 times per second. This enhanced visibility into grid
conditions helps grid operators identify and respond to deteriorating or
abnormal conditions more quickly, reduce power outages and help with the
integration of more renewable sources of energy into the grid. To date, nearly
900 of these devices have deployed as a result of Recovery Act investments.

2. Microgrids, which are localized grids that are normally
connected to the more traditional electric grid but can disconnect to operate
autonomously, are another way in which the reliability and resiliency of the
grid can be improved. Microgrids use advanced smart grid technologies and the
integration of distributed energy resources such as backup generators, solar
panels and storage. Because they can operate independently of the grid
during outages, microgrids are typically used to provide reliable power during
extreme weather events. As part of the Obama Administration’s
commitment to rebuild communities affected by Superstorm Sandy, the Department
is partnering with the State of New Jersey and
other organizations to examine the use of microgrids to help keep the power on
during future extreme weather events.

1. Since 2010, the Energy Department has invested more than $100
million to advance a resilient grid infrastructure that can survive a cyber
incident while sustaining critical functions. The Department’s cybersecurity work involves
ongoing collaboration with a number of public and private partners including
the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the National
Institute of Standards and Technology, the intelligence community, private
industry and energy-sector stakeholders. 

View the blog: Innovating to Meet the Evolving Cyber Challenge for more details on the department’s unique role in protecting and enhancing the cybersecurity of the U.S. electric grid:

To learn more about
our efforts to ensure a resilient and reliable electricity system, visit the
Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability’s website: