Electricity doesn’t travel well

As electricity moves through electric lines, it generates heat and some of the electricity is dissipated (lost).  The further electricity travels from where it is generated to where it is used, the more of the electricity is lost in transit.

How quickly electricity loss occurs as it travels through lines can be demonstrated  by putting together 1,000 feet of household extension cords and plugging it into a wall socket; the power from the wall socket will weaken so much before it reaches a lamp on the other end that it can no longer light a 100-watt bulb.

Household extension cords are really not meant to transmit electricity for 1,000 feet, and large electric transmission lines are much more efficient at transmitting electricity.

But most power plants are dozens or hundreds of miles from the urban population centers where the electricity they produce is used.  That’s understandable since power plants can be big, unsightly and heavy polluters, which people don’t want as a neighbor.

The larger the transmission line, the more efficient.  But also, the more expensive. The power companies have to decide whether to build a transmission system of larger and more expensive towers and lines, or build redundancy (reliability) into the system.

Since the power companies know their customers want the lights to come on when they flip the switch, the power companies go with redundancy (reliability). 

Besides, who do you think is paying for the electric line losses?  Come on, you didn’t guess the power companies – did you?  The customers pay for all electricity losses along the lines.  How much incentive do you think the power companies have to spend their money to improve the efficiency of the electric distribution system when the customers are paying for all line losses?

The overall efficiency of the electric grid system is about 15%.  That means that 15% of the energy contained in coal or natural gas when it is in the ground actually makes it to the customer in the form of electricity.

Now if you use that electricity to, say, light an incandescent light bulb, which is itself about 15% efficient, then only about 2.25% of the original energy is ultimately used for any sort of productive purpose.

Considering all the above, is it really so unreasonable contemplate installing solar panels or a wind turbine at your house and/or making your house as energy efficient as possible?

See this article for more information: Dallas Morning News.

About the Author

Mark H. Witte is a strong proponent for energy efficiency and renewable energy, and believes individuals should have more control over how the energy for their homes is produced.