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Richard G. Farmer
June 16, 2000

The National Academy of Engineering has cited electrification as the most important engineering
achievement in the 20th century. They state that "in the 20th century, widespread electrification
gave us power for our cities, factories, farms, and homes – and forever changed our lives.
Thousands of engineers made it happen, with innovative work in fuel sources, power generating
techniques, and transmission grids. From street lights to supercomputers, electric power makes
our lives safer, healthier, and more convenient."

Today the U.S. and Canadian electric power system is a vast network of energy sources and lines.
There is an Eastern Interconnected System and a Western Interconnected System. The Western
System includes most of Alberta, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and all states and
provinces west to the Pacific Ocean (see WSCC in Figure 1). The Eastern System includes all
states and provinces east to the Atlantic Ocean. Figure 1 shows the boundaries of the 10 councils
which coordinate planning and operation of the power system within the boundary. WSCC
stands for Western System Coordinating Council; SERC is for South East Reliability Council;

Figure 1: U.S. and Canadian electrical power system.

The electric power system is generally described as four physical parts: Generation,
Transmission, Distribution, and Service Entrance. Analysis and design of the power system and
its components involves many engineering disciplines including:

Mechanical Engineering: Thermodynamics for power plant design and analysis

Civil Engineering: Design of structures which support transmission line conductors
Electrical Engineering: Modeling and analysis of the electric power system
Chemical Engineering: Research and development of polymers for electrical insulation
Computer Engineering: Design of computer systems for power system control

Electric power and energy are commodities that are bought and sold in many forms. The most
basic form of buying and selling has historically taken place between electric utilities, and power
and energy customers. This is a unique sales and delivery arrangement. When the customer turns
on a switch, delivery of the product begins and the seller cannot say: “Sorry, we are out of
electricity. Come back tomorrow.” Historically, the electric utility has been a monopoly in a
designated geographical region or city. The utility was granted a franchise or certificate by a
political entity to provide electricity in a specific area. The utility was then regulated to insure
that the franchise or certificate conditions were met. Basically, the utility was required to provide
“quality” power and energy at a reasonable cost. Quality and cost are conflicting factors which
the Electrical Power Engineer is constantly trying to balance. Quality is not always defined but is
generally considered to include:

• Limited voltage magnitude deviation to within:

± 5%, 95% of the time
± 8%, 99% of the time
• Frequency deviation from 60 Hz limited to about 0.01 Hz,
• Continuity of service, and
• Freedom from voltage harmonics, spikes and dips.

The electric utilities throughout the world are in the midst of a drastic change from regulated
monopolies to an environment of open competition. In the old environment one utility owned
and operated the generation, transmission, distribution, and service facilities required to provide
quality power to a franchised area. The utilities have been regulated by a state agency. In the
new competitive environment, utilities are broken up into three separate types of business:

1. Service Companies arrange for power, meters and billing. Service companies
compete for customers.
2. Generation Companies own and operate electric generating facilities. They
generate and sell power and energy to Service Companies on a competitive basis.
3. Wire Owners own and operate transmission and distribution lines. These
facilities must be made available to all Service Companies and Generation
Companies on a first-come first-serve basis. The wire owners are regulated to
assure that they treat all users and potential users fairly.

In this new environment there are new players that buy and sell. Generation companies sell
power and energy to service companies and power brokers. Power brokers sell power and energy
to service companies. Wire owners sell transmission and distribution paths to service companies
and generation companies. The success of the new competitive environment is not clear at this
time. The hope is that competition will reduce energy costs to the residential, commercial, and
industrial customers without a reduction in system reliability.


The electric power system facilities are generally referred to as Generation, Transmission,
Distribution, and Service Entrance (Figure 2). Following is a general description of each, along
with a brief discussion of the current engineering issues.

Figure 2: Electric power system facilities.

Electric generation facilities can be categorized in terms of the physical principle that produces
electrical power and energy. The three types, of current interest, are solar, fuel cells, and rotating
magnetic field.

Solar generation involves either photovoltaic cells or solar concentrators. The photovoltaic
(solar) cell converts solar energy directly to electric energy in the form of direct current (dc) and a
unidirectional voltage. To utilize the energy in conventional electrical equipment, there must be
conversion to alternating current (ac) by a solid-state device called an inverter. During the past
20 years there has been extensive research and development of photovoltaic cells. This type of
electric power generation is very attractive in some respects in that the energy source is virtually
free and there is no atmospheric pollution. The ideal applications for photovoltaic solar cells are
relatively small electric loads at remote sites. The two factors that limit the application of solar
cells, for large-scale generation, are the cost of the photovoltaic cells and the space required. For
photovoltaics to be generally competitive the cost of the solar cells must be reduced by a factor of
2 or 3. The space requirements for a solar array of photovoltaic cells to serve a city of 10,000
persons in Arizona would require 100 acres. Research and development continues. Solar

concentrators have been applied as prototype projects. For this application a mirror focuses the
sun's rays to heat molten salt. The heat of the molten salt is then used to produce steam. The
thermal energy of the steam is used in a steam turbine to transform the thermal energy to
mechanical energy. The mechanical energy drives a generator that transforms the mechanical
energy to electrical energy.

Fuel cells transform chemical energy directly to electric energy in the form of dc. Dc is
transformed to ac by inverters. Typically, the inputs to a fuel cell are hydrogen and oxygen. The
fuel cell has two terminals like a battery. The positive terminal of the electric circuit is connected
to the fuel cell anode; the negative terminal is connected to the fuel cell cathode. As hydrogen
passes through the anode, electrons flow from the anode through the electric circuit and into the
fuel cell cathode. At the cathode the hydrogen ions, the electrons and oxygen combine to form
water, which is removed from the cell. The fuel cell shows great promise as a source of
standalone electrical energy for residential and small commercial loads. There is much research
and development at this time, including fuel cells utilizing natural gas and gasoline as fuel
sources. Some envision fuel cells in every home and business thereby replacing the electric
power system. Rather than electrical energy being distributed, natural gas is distributed for the
fuel cells.

Figure 3: Schematic diagram of a three-phase synchronous generator.

Nearly all generation of electrical energy at the present time involves the conventional electric
generator. The generator consists of a stationary outer iron ring (stator) and an inner rotating iron
rotor; see Figure 3. The rotor has one or more field windings with dc current flowing in the
windings. This results in a magnetic field that rotates as the field winding is caused to rotate by a
prime mover. The magnetic field follows the iron path of the rotor and stator, and passes through
a small air gap between the rotor and stator. Armature windings are embedded in the stator iron
adjacent to the air gap. These windings experience a change of flux linkages due to the rotating
magnetic field. A voltage is produced in the armature windings in accordance with Faraday's


e=N where e = induced voltage, N = number of turns, and φ = magnetic flux.

For each field (rotor) winding there are 3 armature (stator) windings. Figure 3 only shows one
pair of inductors for each of the 3 stator windings. Actually there are numerous slots and
conductors for each phase. The phases are designated as a, b, and c. The windings and the iron
are distributed such that sinusoidal voltages are produced in the armature windings. The armature
windings are connected to the power system and provide the electrical energy output of the
generator. As stated, there are three armature windings for each field winding. This results in
three sinusoidal armature voltages. These three voltages are displaced by 120 degrees and are
shown in Figure 4 in the time domain.



Voltage (kV)






0 0.005 0.010 0.015 0.020 0.025 0.030 0.035
Time (seconds)

Figure 4: Three phase voltages at 60 Hz.

Each phase requires one conducting path. Therefore, three phase conductors connect the output
of the generator to the power system. There may also be a neutral conductor. The generator
output voltage is usually in the range of 12kV to 26kV and is connected to a transmission system
through a transformer that increases the voltage to at least 69kV. It can be shown that a
multiphase power system has significantly fewer energy losses than a single-phase system. The
industry has settled on three-phase systems as a standard, although there is current research
concerning 6-phase and 12-phase transmission systems.

The conventional electric generator requires a prime mover to drive the generator rotor. The most
common types of prime movers are listed below along with the type of energy conversion.

The hydraulic turbine receives water from a relatively high elevation and discharges the water at
a lower elevation, for example, at a hydroelectric power plant (a dam). The potential energy of
the water is converted to mechanical energy as it passes through the turbine.

The steam turbine receives high-pressure, high-temperature steam and discharges the steam at
reduced temperature and pressure. Some of the thermal energy of the steam is converted to
mechanical energy as it passes through the steam turbine. The two major sources of steam for
steam turbines come from boilers or nuclear reactors. For the boiler system, fossil fuels (coal, oil,
and gas) are burned in a boiler to produce the steam. The boiler converts chemical energy of the

fuel to thermal energy of the steam. For the nuclear reactor system, nuclear energy of
concentrated U-235 is converted to thermal energy of the steam. Other steam producers include
geothermal, biomass, and solar-thermal fuel sources.

The wind turbine converts the kinetic energy of the air that contacts the blades to mechanical

The combustion turbine uses ignited fossil fuel to heat compressed air. The hot compressed air
expands through a turbine to drive a generator. The combustion turbine thereby converts
chemical energy to mechanical energy. The combustion turbine is similar to jet engines used to
power airplanes. Instead of producing thrust from a jet, a turbine is driven.

As stated previously, the role of the utility is to provide quality power and energy at a reasonable
cost. Therefore, when the customer closes a switch the product must be available. Historically,
the utility has scheduled power and energy to be available based upon the predicted load for the
customers that the utility has previously agreed to serve. Customer loads vary significantly
during the day. See Figure 5 for a typical daily load curve. Customer loads also vary by season.
In general, the load served by a utility will increase from year to year. The utility must anticipate
annual load growth and either build new generation facilities or enter into contracts to purchase
power and energy from others. On a daily basis the utility must schedule specific generators to be
connected to the power system to meet the predicted load for the day plus about 20% more as a
reserve to cover the inadvertent tripping of the largest generator.

P max

Peak load

Intermediate load
Base load

0 6 12 18 24

Figure 5: Typical daily load curve.

The daily generation schedule is developed to provide the most economical generation mix.
Figure 5 shows a daily generation plan for the predicted load. It shows three types of generation:
Base Load, Intermediate, and Peaking. Base load includes the generators with the lowest fuel and
operating costs. Peaking includes the generators with the highest fuel and operating cost. Base
load plants will be operated continuously and generally include nuclear, and the most efficient
coal-fired plants. Peaking includes combustion turbines and the less efficient gas and oil power
plants. Intermediate generation falls between these extremes and would not be operated at
maximum output for 24 hours. If the utility underestimates the load either on a daily or annual
basis, the only solution is to buy power and energy from other entities. This could be very

expensive. On the other hand if the long-term forecast is higher than the actual load, excess
generating facilities may be built with the unnecessary expenditure of long-term capital. If the
daily forecast is significantly higher than the actual load, power plants will be started up
unnecessarily, at significant cost. The need for accurate load forecasting is apparent.
Researchers are giving load forecasting much attention with neural networks, fuzzy logic,
artificial intelligence and other techniques.

Transmission Lines
The purpose of transmission lines is to transmit power and energy over long distances.
Historically transmission lines have served two major purposes. The first is to transmit large
amounts power from remote power plants to load centers. Power plants are often located near
fuel sources and/or water sources that may be long distances from population and load centers.
The second major purpose of transmission lines is to interconnect the different utilities and areas
to form an interconnected system; see Figure 1. An interconnected system provides system
reliability (continuity of service) and economy. The increased number of available power sources
and parallel transmission paths improve reliability. Economy is increased by the additional
transmission paths, which allow a utility to purchase the least costly power in the interconnected
system. Also seasonal diversity is provided. For instance, the highest loads (peak loads) in the
southwest U.S. are in the summer, whereas the peak loads in the northwest U.S. occur in the
winter. Therefore, since the two areas are interconnected, the southwest U.S. utilities can sell and
transmit excess generated power in the winter to the northwest U.S. In the summer the northwest
utilities can sell and transmit excess generated power to the southwest U.S. This exchange
reduces the power generation facilities required in both areas.

One of the major costs of transmitting power over long distances is the cost of power losses. The
losses in a transmission line are I2R, where I is the magnitude of the line current and R is the line
resistance. If the line voltage is increased by a ratio K, I will be reduced by a corresponding ratio
K without changing the amount of power transmitted. Therefore, the losses vary inversely as the
square of the line voltage and it may be beneficial to use high voltages. This must be balanced
with the cost of high voltage insulation for the line, as well as all equipment connected to the line
(transformers, circuit breakers, surge arresters). Transmission voltages range from 69kV to
765kV. A very rough rule-of-thumb for transmission voltage utilization is 1kV per mile. Lines
with voltages below 230kV are generally referred to as subtransmission lines.

The first transmission of electric power in the U.S. was from the Pearl Street Station in New York
in the form of direct current (dc) at 110 volts. This took place in 1882. Within a few years the
alternating current (ac) transformer was developed which allowed the voltage to be increased at
the power source for efficient transmission and reduced by a transformer at the point of
utilization. Since that time power systems have been ac with a frequency of 50Hz or 60Hz in
most cases. In 1954 dc transmission was developed and shown to be economically and
technically feasible for long distances. Such a dc system rectifies ac at the sending terminal and
uses an inverter from dc to ac at the receiving terminal. The first dc line in the U.S. is a ±500 kV
dc line between Oregon and southern California, a distance of 1360 km. The dc line cannot be
tapped at intermediate points. Dc may be economically feasible for distances of 600 km or more.
The major disadvantage of dc is the inability to increase or decrease the voltage at a reasonable

Ac transmission lines connect two substations together. The transmission line is opened and
closed by switching equipment located in the substation. The substation may also have
transformers to step the voltage up or down. The substation is generally a node in the power
system with multiple transmission lines emanating from that point. Surge arresters are applied at

substations to protect the substation equipment insulation from lightning surges and switching
surges. The substation includes equipment to sense faults (short circuits) on the transmission
lines and the intelligence to initiate the appropriate transmission line switching to clear faults.
Such equipment has been of the electromechanical type but is rapidly being replaced by digital
equipment. Future substations will be fully protected and controlled by digital computers.

The majority of all transmission lines are constructed above ground such that the conductors are
cooled by natural air convection. Underground transmission is much more costly but may be
justified where right- of-way costs are very high or there is no available space for an overhead
line. Underground cable for voltages as high 525 kV have been installed in the U.S. The high
cost of underground transmission is due to the cost of insulation and cooling. Solid insulation is
required to isolate the conductors from the earth. Higher voltages require thicker insulation. An
underground cable has no natural cooling and the thermal conductivity of the soil is low.
Therefore, the cable must be cooled by some artificial means such as refrigerated oil or gas.

The major components of an overhead transmission line are conductors, insulators and supporting
structures. There are three conductors that carry electrical current thereby transmitting three-
phase power from one end of the line to the other. There may also be one or two conductors
above the three-phase conductors. These conductors are referred to as overhead ground wires
(OHGW) which are used to shield the phase conductors from lightning strokes. The OHGW are
connected to the earth through the supporting structure. A lightning stroke would be expected to
terminate on the OHGW rather the phase conductor since the OHGW is higher. A lightning
stroke to the OHGW would cause the stroke energy to travel to earth without interrupting the
flow of phase current. If the lightning stroke terminates on one of the phase conductors the stroke
energy may raise the phase conductor voltage to a level that exceeds the insulating capability of
the phase conductor insulators. In such a case there would be a flashover from phase to ground.
High levels of current will flow to ground until the circuit is interrupted. For an overhead
transmission line such an event will probably not cause any permanent damage to the line
although electrical service may be interrupted until the line is returned to service.

The phase conductors are isolated from the supporting structure and earth by insulators.
Transmission line insulators are generally of the suspension type. The suspension insulators are
made of multiple insulators connected in a string. If the insulator is made of porcelain, each
insulator is about 10 inches in diameter and 6 inches in length, and has the general shape of a bell.
These bells are connected together in a string and referred to as an insulator string. The system
voltage determines how many bells are required in a string. In general, there are 4 bells for 69
kV, 7 bells for 115 kV, 12 bells for 230 kV, etc. Up until about 15 years ago, transmission line
insulators were made from either porcelain or glass. A new type of insulator has been introduced
which is often referred to as a non-ceramic insulator. Such insulators consist of a fiberglass rod
for physical support and insulation. In addition, weather sheds are attached to the fiberglass to
increase the length of the leakage path between the ends of the insulator. The non-ceramic
insulators have the advantage of lower cost and reduced weight. Overhead insulators lose some
of their insulating characteristics due to aging and pollution. The major pollutants are dust and
salt spray. There is extensive research at this time to determine the aging and pollution
characteristics of the various types of insulators.

Transmission line supporting structures are generally made of wood poles, steel, or aluminum.
Some relatively low voltage lines (69 kV) may have a single wood pole that supports wooden
cross-arms. The suspension insulators are supported by the cross-arms. Some 115 kV through
345 kV lines use two wood poles and a long cross-arm to form a supporting structure in the shape
of an H. The reason supporting structure sizes increase with voltage is that increased space

between phase conductors and the supporting structure is required for insulation. For the higher
voltages of 345 kV through 765 kV steel lattice structures are usually used. In some cases, where
the transmission line is being built in a remote area, the supporting structure is made of aluminum
which allows the assembled structure to be flown in by helicopter and set in place on a pre-
constructed base.

A transmission line has a limited transmission capacity stated in MW. The capacity of a specific
line is usually dependent on the state of the total transmission system rather than the physical
characteristics of the specific line. This is true because of the requirement that the transmission
system must be capable of withstanding any single contingency without interrupting service to
any customer. A contingency consists of a fault (short circuit) or loss of a system element
(transmission line, transformer, and generator). To meet this requirement, loading of any specific
transmission line must be limited to a level that will not cause excess power flow on any other
circuit, when the specific line is lost, or will not cause excess power flow on the specific line
when any other line in the system is lost. Also, the system must be stable for any single
contingency. In the new competitive environment a wire owner must provide to the general
public the MWs of transmission capacity which will be available at a future time. This is referred
to as Available Transmission Capacity (ATC). Also the wire owner must make the cost of the
ATC available. If desirous, a power system entity may reserve transmission capacity up to the

Distribution Lines
Distribution lines emanate from substations at voltages in the range of 4 kV to 25kV. Most
distribution lines operate at a voltage near to 12.5 kV. The purpose of distribution lines is to
transmit power from a distribution substation where the voltage has been stepped down from the
transmission level to the distribution level. The power is transmitted to a distribution transformer
where the voltage is stepped down to the utilization voltage, which usually ranges from 110 volts
to 480 volts. In the past the distribution system was owned by a utility for the exclusive use of
delivering power to the utility’s customers. In the new competitive environment the wire owner’s
distribution system can be used to deliver power to the customers of various service companies.

Distribution lines can be either overhead or underground. Most new residential areas are served
by an underground system where the distribution lines consist of insulated conductors buried
underground and referred to as underground cable. These cables generally terminate at
transformers above the ground, which are referred to as pad-mounted transformers. These
transformers step the voltage down to the utilization voltage. They are enclosed in a metal
cabinet at ground level. The cabinet also contains switches and fuses. For residential
underground systems one pad-mounted transformer generally serves 6 to 10 customers. For
overhead distribution systems, conductors that are insulated from the supporting structure by post
insulators carry the power to the customers. The conductors and post insulators are supported by
a structure that usually is a wooden pole and cross-arm. The transformers, which step the voltage
down to the utilization voltage, are mounted on the same wooden poles.

The final step of getting power to the customer involves the so-called service entrance. The
customer can be served by either a three-phase or a single-phase service entrance. Residential
customers are usually served with 220 volt, single-phase power. For either underground or
overhead service, an insulated cable runs from the distribution transformer and the customer’s
structure. At the customer’s structure the cable enters a meter box or metering cabinet. This
point divides the Service Company's ownership from the customer’s ownership. Adjacent to the
meter the customer will have a cabinet that forms the customer’s circuits and includes circuit
breakers for overload protection of each circuit.