Everybody into the pool!

by Ray E. Dotter

One of the problems with trying to understand challenges and issues affecting the power grid is trying to understand all the technical terms and jargon-–like the term, power grid, itself.

If you look on Wikipedia, you find the explanation that “When referring to the power industry, grid is a term used for an electricity network which may support all or some of the following four distinct operations: Electricity generation, Electric power transmission, Electricity distribution, Electricity control.” Got that?

Here’s a VERY simple definition: the grid is a system of high-voltage wires for taking electricity from power plants, wherever they are, to customers, wherever they are.

The grid is a complex system. It may be the biggest, most complex machine ever created. It consists of thousands of generators, tens of thousands of miles of high-voltage transmission lines, and millions of customers using electricity.

The grid was created to take electricity from more distant power plants to consumers. Sometimes the best location for a power plant was/is far from the cities and towns where the electricity is used.

About 90 years ago, electric utilities recognized the value in sharing or pooling their power plants. Through most of its history, PJM was a utility power pool. Electric utilities that belonged to PJM shared their high-voltage transmission lines and generators with each other to provide reliable electricity to their customers. Utilities pooling their power supplies was a good idea.

About 30 years ago, government policy determined that anybody, not just utilities, could build and own power plants. And that policy allowed independent generators to use the power lines like electrical toll roads to deliver electricity to customers.

Today public policy seeks to use the grid to promote renewable resources, reduce emissions, advance economic development, reduce electricity use and lower electricity prices. Demand response, energy efficiency and new storage technology have joined generators in the pool. Of course, the overarching goal of keeping the lights remains, too.

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