Electric power distribution is the final stage in the delivery of electric power; it carries electricity from the transmission system to individual consumers. Distribution substations connect to the transmission system and lower the transmission voltage to medium voltage ranging between 2 kV and 35 kV with the use of transformers.Primary distribution lines carry this medium voltage power to distribution transformers located near the customer’s premises. Distribution transformers again lower the voltage to the utilization voltage used by lighting, industrial equipment or household appliances. Often several customers are supplied from one transformer through secondary distribution lines. Commercial and residential customers are connected to the secondary distribution lines through service drops. Customers demanding a much larger amount of power may be connected directly to the primary distribution level or the sub transmission level.
Generation and transmission
Electric power begins at a generating station, where the potential difference can be as high as 33,000 volts. AC is usually used. Users of large amounts of DC power such as some railway electrification systems, telephone exchanges and industrial processes such as aluminium smelting use rectifiers to derive DC from the public AC supply, or may have their own generation systems. High-voltage DC can be advantageous for isolating alternating-current systems or controlling the quantity of electricity transmitted. For example, Hydro-Québec has a direct-current line which goes from the James Bay region to Boston.
From the generating station it goes to the generating station’s switchyard where a step-up transformer increases the voltage to a level suitable for transmission, from 44kV to 765kV. Once in the transmission system, electricity from each generating station is combined with electricity produced elsewhere. Electricity is consumed as soon as it is produced. It is transmitted at a very high speed, close to the speed of light.
Primary distribution voltages range from 4 kV to 35 kV phase-to-phase (2.4 kV to 20 kV phase-to-neutral). Only large consumers are fed directly from distribution voltages; most utility customers are connected to a transformer, which reduces the distribution voltage to the low voltage “utilization voltage”, “supply voltage” or “mains voltage” used by lighting and interior wiring systems.
Distribution networks are divided into two types, radial or network. A radial system is arranged like a tree where each customer has one source of supply. A network system has multiple sources of supply operating in parallel. Spot networks are used for concentrated loads. Radial systems are commonly used in rural or suburban areas.
Radial systems usually include emergency connections where the system can be reconfigured in case of problems, such as a fault or planned maintenance. This can be done by opening and closing switches to isolate a certain section from the grid.
Reconfiguration, by exchanging the functional links between the elements of the system, represents one of the most important measures which can improve the operational performance of a distribution system. The problem of optimization through the reconfiguration of a power distribution system, in terms of its definition, is a historical single objective problem with constraints. Since 1975, when Merlin and Back introduced the idea of distribution system reconfiguration for active power loss reduction, until nowadays, a lot of researchers have proposed diverse methods and algorithms to solve the reconfiguration problem as a single objective problem. Some authors have proposed Pareto optimality based approaches (including active power losses and reliability indices as objectives). For this purpose, different artificial intelligence based methods have been used: microgenetic, branch exchange, particle swarm optimization and non-dominated sorting genetic algorithm.
Rural electrification systems tend to use higher distribution voltages because of the longer distances covered by 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, Australia and New Zealand; 11 kV and 22 kV are common in South Africa and China. Other voltages are occasionally used.
Rural services normally try to minimize the number of poles and wires. It uses higher voltages (than urban distribution), which in turn permits use of galvanized steel wire. The strong steel wire allows for less expensive wide pole spacing. In rural areas a pole-mount transformer may serve only one customer. In New Zealand, Australia, Saskatchewan, Canada, and South Africa, Single-wire earth return systems (SWER) are used to electrify remote rural areas.
Three phase service provides power for large agricultural facilities, petroleum pumping facilities, water plants, or other customers that have large loads (Three phase equipment).
Usually in the United States, a “4-wire wye system” is used, which includes 3 primary wires and 1 neutral wire. In other countries or in extreme rural areas the neutral wire is connected to the ground to use that as a return (Single-wire earth return). This is called an unground wye system.
Electricity is delivered at a frequency of either 50 or 60 Hz, depending on the region. It is delivered to domestic customers as single-phase electric power. In some countries as in Europe a three phase supply may be made available for larger properties. Seen in an oscilloscope, the domestic power supply in North America would look like a sine wave, oscillating between −170 volts and 170 volts, giving an effective voltage of 120 volts RMS. Three-phase power is more efficient in terms of power delivered per cable used, and is more suited to running large electric motors. Some large European appliances may be powered by three-phase power, such as electric stoves and clothes dryers.
A ground connection is normally provided for the customer’s system as well as for the equipment 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 down onto lower-voltage conductors which are usually mounted lower to the ground, or if a failure occurs within a distribution transformer. Earthing systems can be TT, TN-S, TN-C-S or TN-C.