How Electric Companies Meet Consumer Demand
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
Anyone who doesn’t work in the electric industry may not know that electricity is unique. While electrical current does flow like oil or gas in a pipeline, it cannot easily be stored for later or routed to a particular destination. Electricity has to be generated and delivered at essentially the same time, which is one reason it’s always available when you need it (because it’s always being delivered to your home, whether you’re using it or not).
Another unique characteristic of electricity is that it can’t be routed to a particular place. To reach consumers, electricity travels from a power plant through miles of transmission and distribution lines until it reaches its final destination where it will be used. Because electricity always travels the path of least resistance, once the transmission lines are established, electric current will use them all. In other words, unlike a phone call, electricity can’t be directed to go to a particular destination. In an effort to send electricity to specific locations at specific times, utilities have interconnected their transmission systems so that they may buy and sell power from each other and from other power suppliers, and to ensure reliability of service.
Because electricity can’t be stored easily or economically, electric companies and other electricity suppliers need to have adequate generation facilities available to meet the maximum demand on their systems, whenever that might be.
Electric companies are tasked with supplying the sum of all consumer demands for electricity all the time, although there are times of the year and times of the day when more electricity is being used and times when less is needed. Because customer needs vary constantly, demand varies constantly, too. As you might guess, the highest demand is usually during the day, and the lowest demand is at night.
Ensuring that there is enough electricity available for everyone at anytime means that some plants work around the clock. Electric companies and other power providers can then generate a steady supply of electricity equal to the demand of their customers, whenever the peak occurs.
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