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ELECTRICITY GENERATION, TRANSMISSION AND DISTRIBUTION: A CASE STUDY OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

BY

UGONNA CHIDERA MBAEZUE. MSc. POWER PLANT TECHNOLOGIES.


REGISTRATION NUMBER: 201189490

In the world today, power generation has become a pressing issue, as economic growth rises. This is due in part to the inability of the various governments to fund the construction and maintenance of power generation plants, to complement the older plants already in existence. This has led to wide spread deregulation of the power sector in various countries. This in itself has not come without its own problems such as cost per kilowatt of electricity. Therefore to protect itself and also the masses, government creates policies aimed at regulating the power generation industry. These policies include incentives to encourage further private investments, price capping on electricity prices, etc. According to a report by the IEA for the year 2008, it was estimated that the world would consume 18,603TWh of electricity, of which the United States of America with its population of 304.5 million, will consume 4,155.92 TWh of it, making it the highest consumer for that year. In that same year, the United States estimated to produce 4,344 TWh of electricity according to the same data, placing it at the top with 21.5% of total world produced. At a later published journal, the USA was only able to produce 4119.248GWh of the estimated electricity.

Diagram showing coal deposits in the US

In that year, Coal was the major source of energy generation, taking up to 45% of the total energy sources used, for electricity generation. In the USA, coal has always been a major source of energy for centuries; this can be attributed both to the abundant deposits of coal found in the US, where deposits, rank among the highest in the world, and also to the relatively low cost of coal. In the year 2010 alone, coal mines in the USA produced about 1,085.3 million short tons of coal, from 26 States, and 93% of this total was used to produce 4 trillion kWh of electricity. To produce electricity, coal fired power plants burn coal to make steam, which turns a turbine, and in the process produces electricity. The processes involved, circulate around the method of feeding the coal into the furnace. These include:

a. Pulverised coal system: b. Cyclone furnaces: About 738 coal fired power plants are currently in operation in the USA. Another major source of energy in the USA is Natural gas, constituting close to 24% of energy sources. According to data released by the US Energy Information Agency (EIA), proven reserves of natural gas for the year 2009 stood at about 272.509 million short tons (a short ton approx. 2,000lbs or 907.18474kg.) and

approximately 21 billion cubic feet is harvested yearly from this source. Natural gas is a non- renewable fossil fuel formed when layers of buried plants and animals are exposed to intense heat and pressure over years. The energy that the plants and animals originally obtained from the sun is stored in the form of carbon in natural gas. Production process begins with the extraction of natural gas; it is then treated to remove impurities such as hydrogen sulfide, CO2, moisture, hydrocarbons etc. finally, it is transported to the power plants, and ends with its combustion in boilers and turbines to generate electricity. Natural gas plants in the US employ various methods to produce electricity from gas and one of them is to burn the gas in a boiler to produce steam, which is then used by a steam turbine to generate electricity. A cleaner newer technology called the Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT), which involves burning the gas in a combustion turbine and using the hot combustion turbine to make steam to drive a steam turbine is currently being used by most plants. This method has been found to increase efficiency and also lower carbon emission. Third ranked in electricity generation source is Nuclear energy accounting for about one-fifths of total electricity generation. The first nuclear plant in the USA was commissioned in 1957 and since then, the number has grown steadily, rising to 65 plants with 104 operating nuclear reactors in the year 2010. They generated a total of 807 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh), or about 20% of the Nation's electricity for the year 2010. This value has been quite steady for a couple of years, since the late 80s. In most power plants, a form of fuel is burnt to produce heat, used to boil water to produce steam. In the case of a nuclear power plant, a process called fission is employed, whereby atoms of a commonly used element Uranium-235 are bombarded by neutrons, splitting them and in the process, huge amounts of intense heat is produced. This heat is then used to produce steam from boiling water. Uranium-235 is commonly used, as its atoms are easily split and it is relatively rare in nature. The Renewables: In the USA, the government (state) recently introduced a program called Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) to encourage independent electricity generation companies to focus on renewables available in the US, by generating a portion of their electricity from them. These programs, vary from state to state, depending on the abundance of each renewable in that state. The government also offers incentives to companies that participate in this program. A total figure of electricity generation from this sector stands at about 10%. Petroleum: Only 1% of electricity is generated from this source. This is because, in the USA, petroleum is used more for transportation and house heating than it is used for electricity generation. In the transmission & distribution of generated electricity, the USA follows a very complex format, due to the immense deregulation that has occurred in the electricity sector. Due to this deregulation, a mix of private utilities, municipal & state utilities and rural electric co-operatives all play a role in generation, transmission and distribution of electricity. The Department of Energy handles all energy issues, but sets up commissions to oversee the electricity industry. One of such is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The FERC has since gone on to set up the ISOs (Independent Systems Operators) to oversee transmission grids in single US states and RTOs (Regional Transmission Organisation) to oversee transmission grids over US regions. These transmission grids are primarily divided into 3 groups:

1. Eastern Interconnection System: consisting of 2/3rds of the US. 2. Western Interconnection System: consisting of the southwest and areas west of the Americas Rocky Mountains. 3. Texas Interconnection System: connects with others through direct current lines. These interconnections are grouped into 152 regional areas and are overseen by the ISOs and RTOs. A larger commission called the North American Reliability Council (NERC) encompasses a further two interconnections:
4. 5.

Canadian System: having integrations with the Eastern and Western Systems. Mexico System: having limited interconnections with the Texas & Western Interconnections.

Diagram showing the interconnections. The transmission system consists of an extensive complex network of interconnected high voltage power lines which transmit at voltages, ranging from 138kV-765kV and have been designed to transport electricity at the same precise electrical frequency of 60Hz from remote generators to customers. This electricity is usually transmitted as Alternating Current, through a 3-phase system, which basically means that the transmission lines have 3 conductors, each carrying one-third of the power. This method is used because it requires less conductor material to transmit electricity as opposed to the single or double phase systems at the same voltages, and can also be directly delivered to industries where it is required to balance torque in electric motors and generators. At residential buildings using single phased loads, the voltages are fed through a distribution board, splitting them into individual phases; therefore single phased loads are fed by individual phases. Direct Current is rarely used in transmission in the US, because the electricity would have to be rectified from AC to DC as it flows into the DC power lines, and then converted back into the AC form as it flows into the AC lines. These converters are quite expensive, and cost more than transformers used to step down current from high to low voltages for end users. But occasionally, DC is used to transmit electricity, for example, DC systems are used to for power grids connecting the Western Interconnection and the Eastern Interconnection and also occasionally to transmit power from low-cost power plants, to higher cost regions of the US. An example of this is the power line running from northern Canada to the US generated from low-cost hydro-electric plants.

Diagram of electricity generation, transmission and distribution in the USA. The benefits of this system (a synchronized interconnected power grid) include: Higher reliability and larger reserve: When supplies are short in one section, reserves through the interconnected network can be relied upon to supply electricity. Better maintenance of the grid: Utility companies who own these grids, can schedule power outages in certain parts of the grid, for maintenance purposes and still be sure that their customers will be supplied electricity from other interconnections. This regular maintenance ensures higher reliability of the grid. Combination of generation mix and supply security: Different generation methods are combined, to generate electricity. Therefore in the event that a particular method becomes limited, e.g. water levels fall due to poor rainfall, other generation technologies can be relied upon. Cost of building new generation capacity is reduced, as systems can share generating resources in an interconnected network. Environmental impact: The use of an interconnected grid system eliminates the need to set up power generation plants in every state, as these states can get electricity supply through the grid. Support for weaker grids: not all grids are designed to support certain generator technologies, e.g. nuclear power. But an interconnection can help support the weak grid, and also provide access to an independent backup grid connection. The achievement of 100% electrification in the US has not come without damage to the environment. It is estimated that 37% of USs CO2 emissions come from coal fired plants, and plans are currently underway to pump millions of dollars into CO2 capture technology for these plants. Although nuclear fission does not produce CO 2, there are still worldwide fears about the safety of nuclear plants and how to dispose the waste it produces. As is widely known, the half-life of some of these materials run into many years, therefore proper research needs to be done, to discover ways in which they can be properly stored, taking into consideration that the physical structures of the repositories could change over time. One such repository is currently being developed in the Yucca Mountains of the United States. Although oil represents such a small percentage, its burning, produces significant air pollution in the form of carbon dioxide, methane (greenhouse gases), heavy metals such as mercury and volatile compounds which contribute to ground level ozone. And in the eventuality of an accident, its impact on marine life is usually disastrous, not to mention the process of its clean up.

REFERENCES: 1. Electricity Transmission: A Primer: Matthew H. Brown & Richard P. Sedano. The Regulatory Assistance Project; June 2004. 2. Five Year program plan for fiscal years 2008-2012 for Electric Transmission and Distribution Programs: A report to the United States Congress Pursuant to Section 925. US Department of Energy, August 2006. 3. Coal-Fired Power Plants in the United States: Examination of the Costs of Retrofitting with CO2 Capture Technology, Revision 3: National Energy Technology Laboratory; January 2011. 4. Alternative energy technologies: M. S. Dresselhaus & I. L. Thomas. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, November 2011. 5. Efficient electrical energy transmission and distribution: A report by the International Electrotechnical Commission. 2007. 6. Consortium for Electric Reliability Technology Solutions (CERTS): U.S. Department of Energy Transmission Bottleneck Project Report: Jim Dyer. March, 2003. 7. Ensuring generation adequacy in competitive electricity markets: Shmuel S. Oren. University of California at Berkeley. June, 2003. 8. www.un.org/esa/sustdev/publications/energy/chapter2.pdf: Technical Aspects of Grid Interconnection. 9. www.eia.gov: Annual Energy Review 2010. October 2011 10. www.iea.org