Power distribution systems work to bring electric energy from the plant to the end consumer. This is done through large and complex networks that include cables, overhead lines, transformers, and other equipment. As electricity travels across this vast network, losses occur where energy is lost in the distribution network. If you compare the units of electric energy generated at the source of the power station, to the units of energy that is eventually distributed to the consumers, you may find a glaring difference.
This difference is sometimes referred to as Transmission and Distribution Loss. Approximately 17% of electrical energy is calculated to be lost in transmission, while a staggering 50% is lost in the Distribution networks. In an entire power sector, the distribution sector is often considered as the weakest link.
There are several reasons for this. For one thing, energy can be dissipated as heat in the conductors, transformers, and the distribution and transmission lines. And if the distribution line extends for great distances to reach the consumer, the electric energy is subjected to high resistance, and energy can also be lost. Poorly maintained or damaged equipment may also result in energy loss, such as deteriorated wires, an excessive number of joints used, improperly installed transformers – these can cause leaks in the system whereby significant amounts of electric energy is lost.
Electric Energy Loss is, therefore, of paramount concern. While some energy loss may be expected as inevitable, it is still possible for electricians to reduce or minimize these losses. The methods for reducing energy loss depends on the cause of the energy loss in the first place, and some solutions may be more practical than others.
- High voltage direct current transmission lines
High voltage direct current transmission lines are more efficient when compared to the more common alternating current (AC) lines. This is, however, a costly approach, and are often reserved only for long distance transmissions.
- Using Flexible AC Transmission Systems, or FACTS
FACTS are helpful because they help maintain acceptable voltage limits, thus increasing the efficiency of the power distribution system. By working to adjust the amount of power coursing through the power system, FACTS can help reduce power losses due to the increased reliability of the transmission system, while also enabling AC lines to be loaded more heavily. FACTS also help to mitigate power fluctuations.
- Superconducting materials
Superconducting materials are a great way to reduce electric energy losses because these offer little to no resistance, thus enabling electricity to travel more efficiently. Unfortunately, superconducting materials are not only quite expensive, but they also require extensive cooling, to nearly zero temperatures.
Superconducting cables severely cuts down on the energy lost through distribution and transmission, and they are also capable of transporting five times more power. But because of the high cost of this approach, it is one that has not often been implemented widely.
- High ambient temperatures
If the ambient temperatures are extremely high, electrical equipment may not be able to function efficiently. If you are dealing with electric energy losses created by ambient temperatures you can address this issue by installing a more extensive ducting and ventilation system. Using a thermal map, you can pinpoint areas of the highest concentration of heat. By installing cooling systems in those areas, you can help reduce the amount of energy lost through heat.
- High resistance terminations
Electrical energy can also be lost through the friction generated in high resistance points of the system. While electricians are often taught to make sure that their installations are firmly fastened and clamped or held in place, it is also true that excessive tightening creates greater resistance against which friction is a result, and electrical energy is lost.
Proper training, therefore, is the key to addressing this issue. To identify high-resistance terminations, you can use thermography to locate and identify key areas that need to be remedied.