Power engineering

Power engineering

Power engineering, also called power systems engineering, is a subfield of electrical engineering that deals with the generation, transmission and distribution of electric power as well as the electrical devices connected to such systems including generators, motors and transformers. Although much of the field is concerned with the problems of three-phase AC power - the standard for large-scale power transmission and distribution across the modern world - a significant fraction of the field is concerned with the conversion between AC and DC power as well as the development of specialised power systems such as those used in aircraft or for electric railway networks.


Electricity became a subject of scientific interest in the late 17th century with the work of William Gilbert. [cite web | url=http://www.magnet.fsu.edu/education/tutorials/pioneers/gilbert.html | title=Pioneers in Electricity and Magnetism: William Gilbert | publisher=National High Magnetic Field Laboratory | accessdate=2008-05-25 ] Over the next two centuries a number of important discoveries were made including the incandescent lightbulb and the voltaic pile. [cite web | title = The History Of The Light Bulb | publisher = Net Guides Publishing, Inc. | date = 2004 | url = http://www.thehistoryof.net/the-history-of-the-light-bulb.html | accessdate = 2007-05-02 ] [cite web | first = Thomas | last = Greenslade | title = The Voltaic Pile | publisher = Kenyon College | url = http://physics.kenyon.edu/EarlyApparatus/Electricity/Voltaic_Pile/Voltaic_Pile.html | accessdate = 2008-03-31 ] Probably the greatest discovery with respect to power engineering came from Michael Faraday who in 1831 discovered that a change in magnetic flux induces an electromotive force in a loop of wire—a principle known as electromagnetic induction that helps explain why generators and transformers work. [cite web | title = Faraday Page | publisher = The Royal Institute | url = http://www.rigb.org/heritage/faradaypage.jsp | accessdate = 2008-03-31 ]

In 1882 Thomas Edison and his company, The Edison Electric Light Company, developed the world's first central electric power station on Pearl Street in New York City. The Pearl Street Station consisted of several steam-powered generators and initially powered around 3,000 lamps for 59 customers. [cite web | first=Jasmin | last=Williams | title = Edison Lights The City | publisher = New York Post | url = http://www.nypost.com/seven/11302007/news/cextra/edison_lights_the_city_514905.htm | accessdate = 2008-03-31 ] [cite web | first=Casey | last=Grant | title = The Birth of NFPA | publisher = National Fire Protection Association | url = http://www.nfpa.org/itemDetail.asp?categoryID=500&itemID=18020&URL=About%20Us/History&cookie%5Ftest=1 | accessdate = 2008-03-31 ] The power station used direct current and operated at a single voltage. Since the direct current power could not be easily transformed to the higher voltages necessary to minimise power loss, the possible distance between the generators and load was limited to around half-a-mile (800 m). [cite press release | title=Bulk Electricity Grid Beginnings | publisher=New York Independent System Operator |url=http://www.pearlstreetinc.com/NYISO_bulk_elect_beginnings.pdf | accessdate=2008-05-25 ]

That same year in London Lucien Gaulard and John Dixon Gibbs demonstrated the first transformer suitable for use in a real power system. The practical value of Gaulard and Gibbs' transformer was demonstrated in 1884 at Turin where the transformer was used to light up forty kilometres (25 miles) of railway from a single alternating current generator. [citeweb | url=http://people.clarkson.edu/~ekatz/scientists/gaulard.html | title=Lucien Gaulard | first=Evgeny | last=Katz | date=2007-04-08 | accessdate=2008-05-25 ] Despite the success of the system, the pair made some fundamental mistakes. Perhaps the most serious was connecting the primaries of the transformers in series so that switching one lamp on or off would affect other lamps further down the line. Following the demonstration George Westinghouse, an American entrepreneur, imported a number of the transformers along with a Siemens generator and set his engineers to experimenting with them in the hopes of improving them for use in a commercial power system.

One of Westinghouse's engineers, William Stanley, recognised the problem with connecting transformers in series as opposed to parallel and also realised that making the iron core of a transformer a fully-enclosed loop would improve the voltage regulation of the secondary winding. Using this knowledge he built a much improved alternating current power system at Great Barrington, Massachusetts in 1886. [cite web | url=http://www.ieee.org/web/aboutus/history_center/stanley.html | title=Alternating Current Electrification, 1886 | publishing=IEEE | first=Thomas | last=Blalock | date=2004-10-02 | accessdate=2008-05-25 ] Then in 1887 and 1888 another engineer called Nikola Tesla filed a range of patents related to power systems including one for a two-phase induction motor. Although Tesla cannot necessarily be attributed with building the first induction motor, his design, unlike others, was practical for industrial use. [Petar Miljanic, Tesla's Polyphase System and Induction Motor, Serbian Journal of Electrical Engineering, p121-130, Vol. 3, No. 2, November 2006.]

By 1890 the power industry had flourished and power companies had built literally thousands of power systems (both direct and alternating current) in the United States and Europe - these networks were effectively dedicated to providing electric lighting. During this time a fierce rivalry known as the "War of Currents" emerged between Edison, Westinghouse and Tesla over which form of transmission (direct or alternating current) was superior. In 1891, Westinghouse installed the first major power system that was designed to drive an electric motor and not just provide electric lighting. The installation powered a convert|100|hp synchronous motor at Telluride, Colorado with the motor being started by a Tesla induction motor. [cite web | url=http://ublib.buffalo.edu/libraries/projects/cases/niagara.htm | title=The Day They Turned The Falls On
first=Jack | last=Foran | accessdate=2008-05-25
] On the other side of the Atlantic, Oskar von Miller built a 20 kV 176 km three-phase transmission line from Lauffen am Neckar to Frankfurt am Main for the Electrical Engineering Exhibition in Frankfurt. [cite book | url=http://www.more-powerful-solutions.com/media/ScreenPDF_Hypower_15_72dpi.pdf | author=Voith Siemens (company) | title=HyPower | pages=p. 7 | date=2007-02-01 ] In 1895, after a protracted decision-making process, the Adams No. 1 generating station at Niagara Falls began transferring three-phase alternating current power to Buffalo at 11 kV. Following completion of the Niagara Falls project, new power systems increasingly chose alternating current as opposed to direct current for electrical transmission. [ cite web | url=http://www.ieee.org/web/aboutus/history_center/adams.html | title=Adams Hydroelectric Generating Plant, 1895 | publisher=IEEE | accessdate=2008-05-25 ]

Although the 1880s and 1890s were seminal decades in the field, developments in power engineering continued throughout the 20th and 21st century. In 1936 the first commercial HVDC (high voltage direct current) line using Mercury arc valves was built between Schenectady and Mechanicville, New York. HVDC had previously been achieved by installing direct current generators in series (a system known as the Thury system) although this suffered from serious reliability issues. [cite web | url=http://www.ieee.org/organizations/pes/public/2005/may/peshistory.html | title=A Novel but Short-Lived Power Distribution System | date=2005-05-01 | publisher=IEEE | accessdate=2008-05-25 ] In 1957 Siemens demonstrated the first solid-state rectifier (solid-state rectifiers are now the standard for HVDC systems) however it was not until the early 1970s that this technology was used in commercial power systems. [cite news | author=Gene Wolf | title=Electricity Through the Ages | url=http://tdworld.com/mag/power_electricity_ages/ | work=Transmission & Distribution World | date=2000-12-01 ] In 1959 Westinghouse demonstrated the first circuit breaker that used SF6 as the interrupting medium. [cite news | author=John Tyner, Rick Bush and Mike Eby | title=A Fifty-Year Retrospective | url=http://tdworld.com/mag/power_fiftyyear_retrospective/ | work=Transmission & Distribution World | date=1999-11-01 ] SF6 is a far superior dielectric to air and, in recent times, its use has been extended to produce far more compact switching equipment (known as switchgear) and transformers. [ cite web | url=http://www.abb.com/product/us/9AAC710047.aspx | publisher=ABB | title=Gas Insulated Switchgear | accessdate=2008-05-25 ] [ cite web | url=http://www.sayedsaad.com/Transformer/SF6_Transformer/sf6_transformer_main.htm | title=SF6 Transformer | first=Sayed | last=Amin | accessdate=2008-05-25 ] Many important developments also came from extending innovations in the information technology and telecommunications field to the power engineering field. For example, the development of computers meant load flow studies could be run more efficiently allowing for much better planning of power systems. Advances in information technology and telecommunication also allowed for much better remote control of the power system's switchgear and generators.


Power Engineering deals with the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity as well as the design of a range of related devices. These include transformers, electric generators, electric motors and power electronics.

In many regions of the world, governments maintain an electrical network that connects a variety electric generators together with users of their power. This network is called a power grid. Users purchase electricity from the grid avoiding the costly exercise of having to generate their own. Power engineers may work on the design and maintenance of the power grid as well as the power systems that connect to it. Such systems are called on-grid power systems and may supply the grid with additional power, draw power from the grid or do both.

Power engineers may also work on systems that do not connect to the grid. These systems are called off-grid power systems and may be used in preference to on-grid systems for a variety of reasons. For example, in remote locations it may be cheaper for a mine to generate its own power rather than pay for connection to the grid and in most mobile applications connection to the grid is simply not practical.

Today, most grids adopt three-phase electric power with alternating current. This choice can be partly attributed to the ease with which this type of power can be generated, transformed and used. Often (especially in the USA), the power is split before it reaches residential customers whose low-power appliances rely upon single-phase electric power. However, many larger industries and organizations still prefer to receive the three-phase power directly because it can be used to drive highly efficient electric motors such as three-phase induction motors.

Transformers play an important role in power transmission because they allow power to be converted to and from higher voltages. This is important because higher voltages suffer less power loss during transmission. This is because higher voltages allow for lower current to deliver the same amount of power as power since the product of the two. Thus, as the voltage steps up, the current steps down. It is the current flowing through the components that result in both the losses and the subsequent heating. These losses, appearing in the form of heat, are equal to the current squared times the electrical resistance through which the current flows, so as the voltage goes up the losses are dramatically reduced.

For these reasons, electrical substations exist throughout power grids to convert power to higher voltages before transmission and to lower voltages suitable for appliances after transmission.


Power engineering is a network of interconnected components which convert different forms of energy to electrical energy. Modern power engineering consists of three main subsystems: the generation subsystem, the transmission subsystem, and the distribution subsystem. In the generation subsystem, the power plant produces the electricity. The transmission subsystem transmits the electricity to the load centers. The distribution subsystem continues to transmit the power to the customers.


Generation of electrical power is a process whereby energy is transformed into an electrical form. There are several different transformation processes, among which are chemical, photo-voltaic, and electromechanical. Electromechanical energy conversion is used in converting energy from coal, petroleum, natural gas, uranium, water flow, and wind into electrical energy. Of these, all except the wind energy conversion process take advantage of the synchronous AC generator coupled to a steam, gas or hydro turbine such that the turbine converts steam, gas, or water flow into rotational energy, and the synchronous generator then converts the rotational energy of the turbine into electrical energy. It is the turbine-generator conversion process that is by far most economical and consequently most common in the industry today.

The AC synchronous machine is the most common technology for generating electrical energy. It is called synchronous because the composite magnetic field produced by the three stator windings rotate at the same speed as the magnetic field produced by the field winding on the rotor. A simplified circuit model is used to analyze steady-state operating conditions for a synchronous machine. The phaser diagram is an effective tool for visualizing the relationships between internal voltage, armature current, and terminal voltage. The excitation control system is used on synchronous machines to regulate terminal voltage, and the turbine-governor system is used to regulate the speed of the machine.

The operating costs of generating electrical energy is determined by the fuel cost and the efficiency of the power station. The efficiency depends on generation level and can be obtained from the heat rate curve. We may also obtain the incremental cost curve from the heat rate curve. Economic dispatch is the process of allocating the required load demand between the available generation units such that the cost of operation is minimized.


The electricity is transported to load locations from a power station to a transmission subsystem. Therefore we may think of the transmission system as providing the medium of transportation for electric energy. The transmission system may be subdivided into the bulk transmission system and the sub-transmission system. The functions of the bulk transmission are to interconnect generators, to interconnect various areas of the network, and to transfer electrical energy from the generators to the major load centers. This portion of the system is called "bulk" because it delivers energy only to so-called bulk loads such as the distribution system of a town, city, or large industrial plant. The function of the sub-transmission system is to interconnect the bulk power system with the distribution system.

Transmission circuits may be built either underground or overhead. Underground cables are used predominantly in urban areas where acquisition of overhead rights of way are costly or not possible. They are also used for transmission under rivers, lakes and bays. Overhead transmission is used otherwise because, for a given voltage level, overhead conductors are much less expensive than underground cables.

The transmission system is a highly integrated system. It is referred to the substation equipment and transmission lines. The substation equipment contain the transformers, relays, and circuit breakers. Transformers are important static devices which transfer electrical energy from one circuit with another in the transmission subsystem. Transformers are used to step up the voltage on the transmission line to reduce the power loss which is dissipated on the way. [ [http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/physics/electricity_and_magnetism/electromagnetic_inductionrev5.shtml Transformers] ] A relay is functionally a level-detector; they perform a switching action when the input voltage (or current) meets or exceeds a specific and adjustable value. A circuit breaker is an automatically-operated electrical switch designed to protect an electrical circuit from damage caused by overload or short circuit. A change in the status of any one component can significantly affect the operation of the entire system. There are three possible causes for power flow limitations to a transmission line. These causes are thermal overload, voltage instability, and rotor angle instability. Thermal overload is caused by excessive current flow in a circuit causing overheating. Voltage instabiliy is said to occur when the power required to maintain voltages at or above acceptable levels exceeds the available power. Rotor angle instability is a dynamic problem that may occur following faults, such as short circuit, in the transmission system. It may also occur tens of seconds after a fault due to poorly damped or undamped oscillatory response of the rotor motion.


The distribution system transports the power from the transmission system to the customer. The distribution systems are typically radial because networked systems are more expensive. The equipment associated with the distribution system includes the substation transformers connected to the transmission systems, the distribution lines from the transformers to the customers and the protection and control equipment between the transformer and the customer. The protection equipment includes lightning protectors, circuit breakers, disconnectors and fuses. The control equipment includes voltage regulators, capacitors, and demand side management equipment.

See also

* Electric power transmission
* Energy economics
* Fault tolerance
* Power distribution
* Power electronics
* Power generation
* Power system protection
* Stationary engineer


External links

* [http://www.ieee.org/portal/site/pes IEEE Power Engineering Society]
* [http://pepei.pennnet.com/articles/print_toc.cfm?Section=ARTCL&p=17 Power Engineering International Magazine Articles]
* [http://pepei.pennnet.com/articles/print_toc.cfm?Section=ARTCL&p=6 Power Engineering Magazine Articles]
* [http://www.asope.org/ American Society of Power Engineers, Inc.]
* [http://www.niulpe.org/ National Institute for the Uniform Licensing of Power Engineer Inc.]

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