What is Power Distribution?

Mary McMahon

Power distribution is a process which is used to move electricity from locations where it is generated to people who need it. Distribution takes place through a system known as the electrical grid or simply “grid,” which is designed to keep power constantly on call so that it can meet demand. Managing the electrical grid is an extremely challenging and demanding task, and in several nations, concerns were raised in the early 21st century that existing power distribution infrastructure might not be up to changing demand.

Energy is distributed on the power grid.
Energy is distributed on the power grid.

The process of power distribution starts at the facility where electricity is generated. A number of techniques can be used for electrical generation, most of which revolve around spinning a turbine, whether with wind, water, or steam. Once the power is generated, it moves to a transformer substation where the voltage is “stepped up” to travel across high voltage transmission lines. These lines connect with other substations which step down the voltage to make it safe for household and industrial use, with power lines running from these substations to various consumers.

Low voltage systems in residential areas can be identified by their wooden poles.
Low voltage systems in residential areas can be identified by their wooden poles.

Electrical grids are closely interconnected. This is designed to distribute the wax and fall of demand across a broad system, so that when someone in one location runs the air conditioning full blast, the power not being used by someone somewhere else can be routed to that location to supply the need. Managing power distribution is a balancing act, with the goal being to create a steady supply for consumers without overloading the system with too much power. Electricity must be used as it is generated, as most storage techniques are highly inefficient.

Individual grid operators monitor supply and demand across the grid, and constantly make adjustments at various levels to address changing situations. Computerized systems also monitor the grid and are empowered to make adjustments as needed. As many people are aware, a small problem in one part of the electricity grid can cause a ripple effect of issues across the grid.

When customers connect to the power distribution grid, they are offered a so-called “standard service drop.” The standard service drop determines the amount of power which will be available for the customer. Businesses tend to have a higher standard service drop, while private homes have a lower one, because they demand less energy. Manufacturers and other industrial customers have massive service drops, and some also use distributed generation systems such as internal power plants to keep their power supply stable and to relieve stress on the grid.

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Discussion Comments


@Aplenty- What is distributed generation and how does it affect the electric grid? I am trying to understand the dynamics of our energy infrastructure so any insight would be helpful. Thanks!


@ParmnParsley- I totally agree with you on the point about the importance of the grid, but I do not think that the situation is that dire. A few years ago I read in a science publication that the electric utility sector spends less on research and development than almost any other sector of the economy. I thought this was baffling because electricity is the cornerstone of our society.

I do think that people are beginning to realize this and have been ramping up research and development of new technologies. A number of advances in battery, distributed generation, and energy conservation are occurring that will reduce the load on, and improve the grid in the future.

I am going into the energy industry, and I have a positive outlook on the direction the nation is headed. I think that people are realizing that the grid will need to be upgraded to keep up with demand. Initiatives to improve the grid are being sought at the local, state, and national level.


I believe that sometimes people underestimate the importance of our electrical power distribution grid. So often I hear talk about replacements for fossil fuels in the form of electricity, whether that be from nuclear or renewable sources. The problem with this is that the grid does not have the capacity to expand to power our transportation infrastructure.

The grid is stretched to the max, with few places even being able to handle increasing capacity enough to meet future demand. There is also the issue of inconsistent loads on the grid from some sources of renewable sources like solar and wind. Many of these utility scale technologies either do not have energy storage capabilities, or have inefficient capabilities. We still need to find energy sources that will replace fossil fuels while supplying constant power rather than intermittent power.

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