A Brief History of Electric Power Systems

Over the past century, the electric power industry continues to shape and contribute to the welfare, progress and technological advances of the human race. Like for example, in the United States, electric energy sales have grown to well over 400 times in the period between the turn of the century and the early 1970s. This growth rate was 50 times as much as the growth rate in all other energy forms used during the same period. It is estimated that the installed kW capacity per capital in the U.S. is close to 3 kW.


Edison Electric Illuminating Company of New York inaugurated the Pearl Street Station in 1881. The station had a capacity of four 250-hp boilers supplying steam to six engine-dynamo sets. Edison’s system used a 110-V dc underground distribution network with copper conductors insulated with a jute wrapping. In 1882, the first water wheel-driven generator was installed in Appleton, Wisconsin. The low voltage of the circuits limited the service area of a central station, and consequently, central stations proliferated throughout metropolitan areas.

Related: Why Electricity Need a Ground System?

The invention of the transformer, then known as the “inductorium,” made ac systems possible. The first practical ac distribution system in the U.S. was installed by W. Stanley at Great Barrington, Massachusetts, in 1866 for Westinghouse, which acquired the American rights to the transformer from its British inventors Gaulard and Gibbs. Early ac distribution utilized 1000-V overhead lines.

The Nikola Tesla invention of the induction motor in 1888 helped replace dc motors and hastened the advance in use of ac systems. The first American single-phase ac system was installed in Oregon in 1889. Southern California Edison Company established the first three phase 2.3 kV systems in 1893. By 1895, Philadelphia had about twenty electric companies with distribution systems operating at 100-V and 500-V two-wire dc and 220-V three-wire dc, single-phase, two-phase, and three-phase ac, with frequencies of 60, 66, 125, and 133 cycles per second, and feeders at 1000-1200 V and 2000- 2400 V.

The subsequent consolidation of electric companies enabled the realization of economies of scale in generating facilities, the introduction of equipment standardization, and the utilization of the load diversity between areas. Generating unit sizes of up to 1300 MW are in service, an era that was started by the 1973 Cumberland Station of the Tennessee Valley Authority. Underground distribution at voltages up to 5 kV was made possible by the development of rubber-base insulated cables and paper-insulated, lead covered cables in the early 1900s. Since then, higher distribution voltages have been necessitated by load growth that would otherwise overload low-voltage circuits and by the requirement to transmit large blocks of power over great distances. Common distribution voltages presently are in 5-, 15-, 25-, 35-, and 69-kV voltage classes.

The growth in size of power plants and in the higher voltage equipment was accompanied by interconnections of the generating facilities. These interconnections decreased the probability of service interruptions, made the utilization of the most economical units possible, and decreased the total reserve capacity required to meet equipment-forced outages. This was accompanied by use of sophisticated analysis tools such as the network analyzer. Central control of the interconnected systems was introduced for reasons of economy and safety. The advent of the load dispatcher heralded the dawn of power systems engineering, an exciting area that strives to provide the best system to meet the load requirements reliably, safely, and economically, and utilizing state-of-the-art computer facilities.

Extra higher voltage (EHV) has become dominant in electric power transmission over great distances. By 1896, an 11-kv three-phase line was transmitting 10 MW from Niagara Falls to Buffalo over a distance of 20 miles. Today, transmission voltages of 230 kV, 287 kV, 345 kV, 500 kV, 735 kV, and 765 kV are commonplace, with the first 1100-kV line already energized in the early 1990s. The trend is motivated by economy of scale due to the higher transmission capacities possible, more efficient use of right-of-way, lower transmission losses, and reduced environmental impact.

In 1954, the Swedish State Power Board energized the 60-mile, 100-kV dc submarine cable utilizing U. Lamm’s Mercury Arc valves at the sending and receiving ends of the world’s first high-voltage direct current (HVDC) link connecting the Baltic island of Gotland and the Swedish mainland. Currently, numerous installations with voltages up to 800-kV dc are in operation around the world.

In North America, the majority of electricity generation is produced by investor-owned utilities with a certain portion done by federally and provincially (in Canada) owned entities. In the United States, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regulates the wholesale pricing of electricity and terms and conditions of service.

Related: Electrical Isolator

The North American transmission system is interconnected into a large power grid known as the North American Power Systems Interconnection. The grid is divided into several pools. The pools consist of several neighboring utilities which operate jointly to schedule generation in a cost-effective manner. A privately regulated organization called the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) is responsible for maintaining system standards and reliability. NERC works cooperatively with every provider and distributor of power to ensure reliability. NERC coordinates its efforts with FERC as well as other organizations such as the Edison Electric Institute (EEI). NERC currently has four distinct electrically separated areas. These areas are the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the Western States Coordination Council (WSCC), the Eastern Interconnect, which includes all the states and provinces of Canada east of the Rocky Mountains (excluding Texas), and Hydro-Quebec. These electrically separate areas exchange with each other but are not synchronized electrically.

The electric power industry in the United States is undergoing fundamental changes since the deregulation of the telecommunication, gas, and other industries. The generation business is rapidly becoming market-driven. The power industry was, until the last decade, characterized by larger, vertically integrated entities. The advent of open transmission access has resulted in wholesale and retail markets. Utilities may be divided into power generation, transmission, and retail segments. Generating companies (GENCO) sell directly to an independent system operator (ISO). The ISO is responsible for the operation of the grid and matching demand and generation dealing with transmission companies as well (TRANSCO). This scenario is not the only possibility, as the power industry continues to evolve to create a more competitive environment for electricity markets to promote greater efficiency. The industry now faces new challenges and problems associated with the interaction of power system entities in their efforts to make crucial technical decisions while striving to achieve the highest level of human welfare.

Source: Electrical Energy Systems (Hand Book)

Leave a Reply

Electrical Power Distribution with AUTOCAD, DIALux & Etap

* 8 Hours on-demand Video *


%d bloggers like this: