Electricity power distribution is the end process in the delivery of electric power; it involves the transmission of electricity to individual users. Distributing transformers are connected to the transmitting substations and minimize the transmitting voltage to medium voltage to reach between 2.5kV to 34.5kV. Distributing transmitters then carry this medium voltage closer to the consumer’s locations. Transformers are then used again to reduce the voltage to a capacity that can be utilized by household appliances, industrial and lighting equipment.
Electricity power distribution started in the early 1880s when power stations were first built to generate electricity. Prior to this, electricity was produced where it was being used. The first electricity distributing systems installed in the US and Europe were used in supplying lighting operating on very high voltage of close to 3000volts. The high voltages allowed for one generating station to distribute a long string of lights reaching up to 7 mile long circuits. In the mid-1880s is when a breakthrough in the development of functioning transformers was achieved. The technology allowed AC voltage to be adjusted to higher transmission voltages after which it is stepped down to a reduced consumer friendly voltage. The costs of distributing power became cheaper, and its economies of scale grew attributed to the vast generating plants that were built to deliver to large regions and cities. The use of AC quickly grew.
Currently, close to 4,178 billion kilowatt hours of electricity is being generated by the power plants in the U.S.A. Close to sixty percent of this power is from fossil fuels, 17 percent from renewable sources of energy and 20 percent from nuclear energy (Energy Information Administration). Residential consumers account for 38 percent of the nation’s power use, and commercial consumers account for 37 percent, and 25 percent is used for industrial purposes (Energy Information Administration). The transportation field consumes the least electricity accounting for 0.20 percent of the power supplied. With the wide-scale distribution of power not only in the USA but also globally, its impacts on the environment are also becoming increasingly adverse. Almost all areas of the electricity system affect the environment, and the effects depend on where and means by which the electricity is being produced and supplied. The impacts of providing and distributing power to the environment are; increase in the emissions of greenhouse gases as well as other air pollutants, exploiting water resources to provide cooling functionalities and discharging of pollutants into water bodies. Also, there is an increase in the amount of solid waste that is being generated and is inclusive of hazardous waste. In addition to this, more land is being used for power generation, transmission and installing distributing lines.
Several solutions can broadly be applied to assist in minimizing the negative impacts to the environment associated with distributing and generating electricity. They include; promoting energy efficient technologies and practices among the end users. Consumers can meet some of their demands by using energy efficient means resulting in a reduced need to produce electricity. In addition to this, adopting clean, centralized production can minimize the environmental effects by leveraging cleaner energy supply, promoting generation efficiency and installing pollution controls (Energy Information Administration). Another solution would be to encourage clean distribution and generation of electricity. Several distributed generation like renewable energy can assist in supporting the supply of reliable power to users and minimize power cuts along distribution and transmission lines.
Energy Information Administration. What is U.S. electricity generation by energy source? 2019. https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=427&t=3. 18 March 2019.