Utilities

Electricity/Communication

Electricity

The system that distributes electricity in the US is called “the grid”. Power generation facilities all over the country feed electricity into the grid via overhead cables. These big power lines are supported by towers that march across the landscape to distribution centers near your home. From the distribution center, power is delivered to your home by wires owned by your local electrical utility. Your electric meter is the actual point of connection between your home and the grid.

Image from the air of an electricity generation plant by the sea
Electricity generation plant

How electricity is made

Utility companies generate electricity from several types of energy. Here is a list of energy sources in rough percentage of the total used (in 2017): natural gas 32%, coal 30%, nuclear 20%, hydroelectric 8%, wind 6%, biomass 2%, and solar 2%.  As you can see, over eighty percent of the power comes from nuclear and fossil fuel energy sources. These fuel sources create heat (BTU’s) that are used to make steam. The steam spins turbines that generate electricity. The various fuel sources combined are only about 33% efficient. Shockingly, that means 67% of the BTU’s burned to make electricity are lost and wasted during generation. It turns out that making electricity (at least from BTU’s) is an inefficient business.

Conservation pays big returns

It is another shock to learn that once generated, another 10-13% of the electricity is lost during transmission to the home. Ten percent doesn’t sound like much until you realize it is the equivalent of all the “clean” power sources of wind, solar and hydropower combined. This is why conservation is so important. By not using electricity you save 3-4 times. You not only save the amount not used, you also save the waste BTU’s that would have been lost during its generation and transport to you. 

Consider this too, of the electricity that finally makes it to the average American’s meter, another 18-23% is lost due to wasteful practices, poor wiring or  mismanagement. Here is a list of the best ways you can stop wasting electricity. Using loss calculations from 2017, conserving 1 watt of electricity in the home saves the generation of approximately 4 watts at the power plant.

So conservation is good and it is well worth the effort. Remember you provide a 4 watt bonus to the energy grid for every 1 watt of conservation at home. This is why electric vehicles in lieu of conventional vehicles does not make sense if you are using grid power to charge the batteries.

If you use off grid solar power to charge the batteries that is a different story…zap away!

Communication

Telephone/TV/Cable/Network/Satellite

The basic forms of person to person communication and home entertainment in 1970 were fairly simple. They included the US Postal Service (mail), land-wired telephones, TV’s (via antenna) and radio (also via antenna). Methods have changed over the last 40 plus years. We still have mail, phones, TV and radio, but the way they are delivered (transmitted) now is totally different. Phones are now almost all wireless cell technology while TV and radio are transmitted through cable or satellite.  In addition we now have the Internet. The internet is a connected system used for communicating masses of data to anyone with a computer and a connection, anywhere in the world. Internet connections can be made using any of the three main transmission types cell (wireless), cable and satellite. Today cell phones, cable and satellite transmission rule for communications and entertainment.

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