- Electric power distribution
Electricity distribution is the final stage in the delivery of electricity to end users. A distribution system's network carries electricity from the transmission system and delivers it to consumers. Typically, the network would include medium-voltage (less than 50 kV) power lines, substations and pole-mounted transformers, low-voltage (less than 1 kV) distribution wiring and sometimes meters.
Modern distribution systems
The modern distribution system begins as the primary circuit leaves the sub-station and ends as the secondary service enters the customer's meter socket. Distribution circuits serve many customers. The voltage used is appropriate for the shorter distance and varies from 2,300 to about 35,000 volts depending on utility standard practice, distance, and load to be served. Distribution circuits are fed from a transformer located in an electrical substation, where the voltage is reduced from the high values used for power transmission.
Conductors for distribution may be carried on overhead pole lines, or in densely-populated areas where they are buried underground. Urban and suburban distribution is done with three-phase systems to serve both residential, commercial, and industrial loads. Distribution in rural areas may be only single-phase if it is not economic to install three-phase power for relatively few and small customers.
Only large consumers are fed directly from distribution voltages; most utility customers are connected to a transformer, which reduces the distribution voltage to the relatively low voltage used by lighting and interior wiring systems. The transformer may be pole-mounted or set on the ground in a protective enclosure. In rural areas a pole-mount transformer may serve only one customer, but in more built-up areas multiple customers may be connected. In very dense city areas, a secondary network may be formed with many transformers feeding into a common bus at the utilization voltage. Each customer has an "electrical service" or "service drop" connection and a meter for billing. (Some very small loads, such as yard lights, may be too small to meter and so are charged only a monthly rate.)
A ground connection to local earth is normally provided for the customer's system as well as for the equiment owned by the utility. The purpose of connecting the customer's system to ground is to limit the voltage that may develop if high voltage conductors fall on the lower-voltage conductors, or if a failure occurs within a distribution transformer. If all conductive objects are bonded to the same earth grounding system, the risk of electric shock is minimized. However, multiple connections between the utility ground and customer ground can lead to stray voltage problems; customer piping, swimming pools or other equimpent may develop objectionable voltages. These problems may be difficult to resolve since they often originate from places other than the customer's premises.
In many areas, "delta" three phase service is common. Delta service has no distributed neutral wire and is therefore less expensive. In North America and Latin America, three phase service is often a Y (wye) in which the neutral is directly connected to the center of the generator rotor. The neutral provides a low-resistance metallic return to the distribution transformer. Wye service is recognizable when a line has four conductors, one of which is lightly insulated. Three-phase wye service is excellent for motors and heavy power use.
Many areas in the world use single-phase 220 V or 230 V residential and light industrial service. In this system, the high voltage distribution network supplies a few substations per area, and the 230 V power from each substation is directly distributed. A hot wire and neutral are connected to the building from one phase of three phase service. Single-phase distribution is used where motor loads are small.
In the U.S. and parts of Canada and Latin America, split phase service is the most common. Split phase provides both 120 V and 240 V service with only three wires. The house voltages are provided by local transformers. The neutral is directly connected to the three-phase neutral. Socket voltages are only 120 V, but 240 V is available for heavy appliances because the two halves of a phase oppose each other.
In Europe, electricity is normally distributed for industry and domestic use by the three-phase, four wire system. This gives a three-phase voltage of 400 volts and a single-phase voltage of 230 volts. For industrial customers, 3-phase 690 / 400 volt is also available.
Japan has a large number of small industrial manufacturers, and therefore supplies standard low-voltage three phase-service in many suburbs. Also, Japan normally supplies residential service as two phases of a three phase service, with a neutral. These work well for both lighting and motors.
Rural services normally try to minimize the number of poles and wires. Single-wire earth return (SWER) is the least expensive, with one wire. It uses high voltages, which in turn permit use of galvanized steel wire. The strong steel wire permits inexpensive wide pole spacings. Other areas use high voltage split-phase or three phase service at higher cost.
Electricity meters use different metering equations depending on the form of electrical service. Since the math differs from service to service, the number of conductors and sensors in the meters also vary.
Besides referring to the physical wiring, the term electrical service also refers in an abstract sense to the provision of electricity to a building.
In the early days of electricity distribution, direct current (DC) generators were connected to loads at the same voltage. The generation, transmission and loads had to be of the same voltage because there was no way of changing DC voltage levels, other than inefficient motor-generator sets. Low DC voltages were used (on the order of 100 volts) since that was a practical voltage for incandescent lamps, which were the primary electrical load. Low voltage also required less insulation for safe distribution within buildings.
The losses in a cable are proportional to the square of the current, the length of the cable, and the resistivity of the material, and are inversely proportional to cross-sectional area. Early transmission networks used copper cable, which is one of the best economically feasible conductors for this application. To reduce the current and copper required for a given quantity of power transmitted would require a higher transmission voltage, but no efficient method existed to change the voltage of DC power circuits. To keep losses to an economically practical level the Edison DC system needed thick cables and local generators. Early DC generating plants needed to be within about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) of the farthest customer to avoid excessively large and expensive conductors.
Introduction of alternating current
The competition between the direct current (DC) of Thomas Edison and the alternating current (AC) of Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse was known as the War of Currents. At the conclusion of their campaigning, AC became the dominant form of transmission of power. Power transformers, installed at power stations, could be used to raise the voltage from the generators, and transformers at local substations could reduce voltage to supply loads. Increasing the voltage reduced the current in the transmission and distribution lines and hence the size of conductors and distribution losses. This made it more economical to distribute power over long distances. Generators (such as hydroelectric sites) could be located far from the loads.
In North America, early distribution systems used a voltage of 2.2 kV corner-grounded delta. Over time, this was gradually increased to 2.4 kV. As cities grew, most 2.4 kV systems were upgraded to 2.4/4.16 kV, three-phase systems. In three phase networks that permit connections between phase and neutral, both the phase-to-phase voltage (4160, in this example) and the phase-to-neutral voltage are given; if only one value is shown, the network does not serve single-phase loads connected phase-to-neutral. Some city and suburban distribution systems continue to use this range of voltages, but most have been converted to 7200/12470Y, 7620/13200Y, 14400/24940Y, and 19920/34500Y.
European systems used 3.3 kV to ground, in support of the 220/380Y volt power systems used in those countries. In the UK, urban systems progressed to 6.6 kV and then 11 kV (phase to phase), the most common distribution voltage.
North American and European power distribution systems also differ in that North American systems tend to have a greater number of low-voltage step-down transformers located close to customers' premises. For example, in the US a pole-mounted transformer in a suburban setting may supply 7-8 houses, whereas in the UK a typical urban or suburban low-voltage substation would normally be rated between 315 kVA and 1 MVA and supply a whole neighbourhood. This is because the higher voltage used in Europe (415 V vs 230 V) may be carried over a greater distance with acceptable power loss. An advantage of the North American setup is that failure or maintenance on a single transformer will only affect a few customers. Advantages of the UK setup are that the transformers may be fewer, larger and more efficient, and due to diversity there need be less spare capacity in the transformers, reducing power wastage. In North American city areas with many customers per unit area, network distribution will be used, with multiple transformers and low-voltage buses interconnected over several city blocks.
Rural Electrification systems, in contrast to urban systems, tend to use higher voltages because of the longer distances covered by those distribution lines (see Rural Electrification Administration). 7.2, 12.47, 25, and 34.5 kV distribution is common in the United States; 11 kV and 33 kV are common in the UK, New Zealand and Australia; 11 kV and 22 kV are common in South Africa. Other voltages are occasionally used.
While power electronics now allow for conversion between DC voltage levels, AC is still used in distribution due to the economy, efficiency and reliability of transformers. High-voltage DC is used for transmission of large blocks of power over long distances, or for interconnecting adjacent AC networks, but not for distribution to customers. Electric power is normally generated at 11-25kV in a power station. To transmit over long distances, it is then stepped-up to 400kV, 220kV or 132kV as necessary. Power is carried through a transmission network of high voltage lines. Usually, these lines run into hundreds of kilometres and deliver the power into a common power pool called the grid. The grid is connected to load centres (cities) through a sub-transmission network of normally 33kV (or sometimes 66kV) lines. These lines terminate into a 33kV (or 66kV) substation, where the voltage is stepped-down to 11kV for power distribution to load points through a distribution network of lines at 11kV and lowe
Distribution network configurations
Distribution networks are typically of two types, radial or interconnected (see spot network). A radial network leaves the station and passes through the network area with no normal connection to any other supply. This is typical of long rural lines with isolated load areas. An interconnected network is generally found in more urban areas and will have multiple connections to other points of supply. These points of connection are normally open but allow various configurations by the operating utility by closing and opening switches. Operation of these switches may be by remote control from a control center or by a lineman. The benefit of the interconnected model is that in the event of a fault or required maintenance a small area of network can be isolated and the remainder kept on supply.
Within these networks there may be a mix of overhead line construction utilizing traditional utility poles and wires and, increasingly, underground construction with cables and indoor or cabinet substations. However, underground distribution is significantly more expensive than overhead construction. In part to reduce this cost, underground power lines are sometimes co-located with other utility lines in what are called common utility ducts. Distribution feeders emanating from a substation are generally controlled by a circuit breaker which will open when a fault is detected. Automatic circuit reclosers may be installed to further segregate the feeder thus minimizing the impact of faults.
Long feeders experience voltage drop requiring capacitors or voltage regulators to be installed.
Characteristics of the supply given to customers are generally mandated by contract between the supplier and customer. Variables of the supply include:
- AC or DC - Virtually all public electricity supplies are AC today. Users of large amounts of DC power such as some electric railways, telephone exchanges and industrial processes such as aluminium smelting usually either operate their own or have adjacent dedicated generating equipment, or use rectifiers to derive DC from the public AC supply
- Voltage, including tolerance (usually +10 or -15 percent)
- Frequency, commonly 50 or 60 Hz, 16.6 Hz for some railways and, in a few older industrial and mining locations, 25 Hz.
- Phase configuration (single phase, polyphase including two-phase and three phase)
- Maximum demand (usually measured as the largest amount of power delivered within a 15 or 30 minute period during a billing period)
- Load factor, expressed as a ratio of average load to peak load over a period of time. Load factor indicates the degree of effective utilization of equipment (and capital investment) of distribution line or system.
- Power factor of connected load
- Earthing arrangements - TT, TN-S, TN-C-S or TN-C
- Prospective short circuit current
- Maximum level and frequency of occurrence of transients
Traditionally the electricity industry has been a publicly owned institution but starting in the 1970s nations began the process of deregulation and privatisation, leading to electricity markets. A major focus of these was the elimination of the former so called natural monopoly of generation, transmission, and distribution. As a consequence, electricity has become more of a commodity. The separation has also led to the development of new terminology to describe the business units (e.g., line company, wires business and network company).
- Distribution companies by country
- Electric power
- Electrical utility
- Fault indicator
- Distributed generation
- Electricity generation
- Electric generators
- Electricity transmission
- Electricity retailing
- Load Profile
- Mains Distribution Unit
- Power quality
- Relative cost of electricity generated by different sources
- ^ Standard Handbook for Electrical Engineers, 13th edition, para. 18-107: "Three-phase service is not usually supplied in residential areas."
- ^ 400 Hz used for select aircraft, computer, and military equipment is never used for extended distribution systems (more than a few hundred meters).
- IEEE Power Engineering Society
- IEEE Power Engineering Society Distribution Subcommittee
- U.S. Department of Energy Electric Distribution website
- Brown, R. E., Electric Power Distribution Reliability, Marcel Dekker, Inc., 2002.
- Burke, J., Power Distribution Engineering, Marcel Dekker, Inc., 1994.
- Hoffman, P., Scheer, R., Marchionini, B., Distributed Energy Resources: A Key Element of Grid Modernization DE - March/April 2004 
- SE Group Planning & Design for Vermont Dept of Public Service, Utility Line Location Issues Paper, Summary Report, January 2003 
- Short, T. A. Electric Power Distribution Handbook, CRC Press, 2004.
- von Meier, A. Electric Power Systems: A Conceptual Introduction, John Wiley/IEEE Press, 2006.
- Westinghouse Electric Corporation, Distribution Systems, vol. 3, 1965.
- Westinghouse Electric Corporation, Electric power transmission patents; Tesla polyphase system. (Transmission of power; polyphase system; Tesla patents)
- Willis, H. L., Power Distribution Planning Reference Book, Marcel Dekker, Inc., 2nd ed., 2004.
Electricity generation Concepts Sources Technology Distribution Policies
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