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The Evolution and Future of Electric Power Networks

Updated: Nov 20, 2022

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1. Electric Power Networks

Electric power networks (EPNs) are one of the largest systems built by man. Many thousands of nodes, transformers, transmission and distribution lines, generation plants and a large number of loads are components within these electric systems [Machowski et al., 2008]. A typical EPN can be divided into three main parts, namely: generation, transmission and distribution, Fig. 1. The main problems in such systems are the balance between generation and the power consumed by loads, voltage balance, reliability and energy quality [Machowski et al., 2008; Li et al., 2010; Palensky and Dietrich, 2011].

Figure 1: One–line diagram of a typical electric power network.

2. The Evolution of Electric Power Networks

Electric power networks have had many improvements since their emergence in 1880s, see Figure 2. The first complete electric network (developed in 1882) was based on the DC theory. However, since electrical energy losses are dependent on the value of the resistance (R) times the square of the current (R*I^2), the voltage level has to be high to minimize losses. DC technology had not developed enough to transmit electric power over long distances at that time. The emergence of AC theory (mainly the AC transformer) allowed the transmission of electric energy over long distances, and as a consequence, the use of DC systems was gradually reduced, and for a long time more attention was paid to the developments of AC equipment [Kundur, 1994]. However, advances in power electronics and state solid technology gave the basis for the rise of DC equipment from the 1950’s onward, initially, for high power applications [Kundur, 1994; Li et al., 2010].

Figure 2: The electric power networks evolution (with information from [Moore, 1935; Finn and M`olella, 1984; Burns, 1988; Kundur, 1994; Drury, 2009; Li et al, 2010; Lasseter, 2011; Siemens, 2011]).

At present, large parts of electric power networks are based on AC current and their infrastructure is largely based on the same principles as the first power systems constructed 120 years ago [Peretto, 2010; Palensky and Dietrich, 2011]. However, in Europe and North America, many power transmission systems are reaching their operational limits and older generation plant is nearing the end of its usable life and will need replacing, leaving room for the interconnection of renewable energy. In Asia, Africa, and Central and South America power networks are expanding rapidly [OECD/IEA, 2010]. Additionally, with the introduction of computer systems in the 80’s, loads requiring “Digital Quality” (critical computers systems, data systems, etc.) have increased as well [DTI, 2006].

3. The Future of Electric Power Networks

It is expected that by 2030, electric energy consumption in the world could increase by about 50% [Peretto, 2010]. Other sources forecast that global electricity demand will rise by 65 % from 2014 to 2040. About 85% of the electricity rise will be due to developing economies. In order to meet this energy demand, with a sustainable low–carbon electrical power system, a great deal of renewable energy will need to be interfaced and these interfaces are very likely to be power electric devices [Barnes, 2010]. Also, many electric infrastructures around the world will need to be refurbished and renewed, and many components will need to be redesigned [Peretto, 2010]. Hence, the coming years will necessitate a huge change in the electrical power supply system. Thus, the use of reliable low–carbon electricity generation sources, cost–effective renewable energy sources and demand–side management are becoming important pieces in the energy policy in many countries [Anaya–Lara et al., 2009].

Many countries around the world have already started the modernization, upgrade and renovation of electrical power networks with the use of renewable energy, advanced demand side management and distributed generation management, the installation of new meters (called smart–meters), microcontrollers and advanced control methods for the nonlinear loads. The resulting network, with a greater degree of flexibility, better control and more efficiency, is called a “Smart Grid” (others names used are Intelligrid, GridWise, FutureGrid, etc. [Li et al., 2010]).


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Recommended reading:

  • [Anaya–Lara et al., 2009] Olimpo Anaya–Lara, Nick Jenkins, Janaka Ekanayake, Phill Cartwright and Mike Hughes. “Wind Energy Generation – Modelling and Control”. First Edition, John Wiley and Sons Inc., 2009.

  • [Machowski et al., 2008] Jan Machowski, Janusz W. Bialek and James R. Bumby. “Power System Dynamics: Stability and Control”. Second Edition, John Wiley & Sons Ltd., 2008.

  • [Palensky and Dietrich, 2011] Peter Palensky and Dietmar Dietrich. “Demand Side Management: Demand Response, Intelligent Energy Systems, and Smart Loads”. IEEE CS Transactions on Industrial Informatics, Vol. 7, No. 3, pp. 381–388, August 2011.

  • [Peretto, 2010] Lorenzo Peretto. “The Role of Measurements in the Smart Grid Era”. IEEE IMS Instrumentation & Measurement Magazine, Vol. 13, No. 3, pp. 22–25, June 2010.

  • [OECD/IEA, 2010] © OECD/IEA (Organisation for Economic Co–operation and Development)/( International Energy Agency). “Energy Technology Perspectives 2010: Scenarios and Strategies to 2050”. IEA Publications, July 2010.

  • [DTI, 2006] Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). “Electrical Energy Storage Systems – A mission to the USA”. Report of a DTI GLOBAL WATCH MISSION, December 2006.

  • [ExxonMobil, 2016] Exxon Mobil. "The Outlook for Energy: A View to 2040". Exxon Mobil Corporation, 2016.

  • [Moore, 1935] A. E. Moore. “The History and Development of the Integrating Electricity Meter”. Journals of the IEE, Vol. 77, No. 468, pp. 851–859, December 1935.

  • [Burns, 1988] R. W. Burns. “Book Reviews: An Early History of Electricity Supply — The Story of the Electric Light in Victorian Leeds”. Proceedings A of the IEE – Physical Science, Measurement and Instrumentation, Management and Education – Reviews, Vol. 135, No. 6, pp. 362, July 1988.

  • [Kundur, 1994] P. Kundur. “Power System Stability and Control”. First Edition, McGraw–Hill: EPRl Power System Engineering Series, 1994.

  • [Drury, 2009] Bill Drury. “Control Techniques Drives and Controls Handbook”. 2nd Edition. Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET): Power and Energy Series 57, 2009.

  • [Li et al., 2010] Fangxing Li; Wei Qiao, Hongbin Sun, Hui Wan, Jianhui Wang, Yan Xia, Zhao Xu, and Pei Zhang. “Smart Transmission Grid: Vision and Framework”. IEEE Transactions on Smart Grid, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 168 – 177, September, 2010.

  • [Lasseter, 2011] R.H. Lasseter. “Smart Distribution: Coupled Microgrids,” Proceedings of the IEEE, Vol. 99, No. 6, pp. 1074–1082, June, 2011.

  • [Siemens, 2011] Siemens. "Siemens Debuts HVDC PLUS with San Francisco’s Trans Bay Cable". Living Energy, The Magazine for International Energy Leadership, Issue 5, July 2011.

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Jesus Carmona Sanchez
Jesus Carmona Sanchez

Keep up the good work!

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