Smart Grid 101: The Traditional Grid


By: SGN Staff



The power grid is the infrastructure that transports electricity from where it is made - coal plants or hydroelectric dams, for instance - to the homes, businesses and industries where it’s consumed. For many of us, the most visible components of the grid are the towering high-voltage transmission lines that crisscross the countryside or the neighborhood substations that distribute power locally.

How it works

The traditional grid is based on design requirements written in the 1950s, when the primary objective was to keep the lights on. This approach to electric power involves large, centralized power plants that feed power over an electro-mechanical grid. In this producer-controlled model, power flows in one direction only. There is no two-way communication that allows interactivity between end users and the grid.


In the last 30 years, we have seen a complete overhaul of the telecommunications network. We have also seen the creation of many other digital networks, including cellular, GPS, cable, satellite TV and, of course, the Internet. As a result, those networks can often be managed, diagnosed and even repaired remotely.


By contrast, it is only in the last few years that the electric power infrastructure has started its own digital makeover. It is still largely analog and electromechanical.




Figure 1. The grid performs the central delivery function. The high-voltage wires and substations that transport power long distances are known collectively as the transmission system. The medium-voltage wires and substations that move power locally are known as the distribution system.  .



The challenges


As the supply and demand for electricity has skyrocketed through the computer revolution, growth of the Internet, and proliferation of electronic devices, there has been no significant investment in the transmission and distribution infrastructure that connects the two. At a time when 60% of the U.S. gross domestic product depends directly on electricity (compared to 20% in 1950), we rely on an electric power infrastructure that is aging and outmoded.



Read related Smart Grid 101 articles


·         The Electricity Ecosystem

·         The Smart Grid

·         The Forces in Favor

·         The Barriers Against

·         Smart Grid Terminology

Deepen your understanding

The following documents provide more detailed information on the traditional power grid:


·         Next Ten Years Are Crucial to U.S. Energy Future, Says Report

·         The Coming Paradigm Shift and How to Achieve It

·         21st Century Modernization: Enabling an "Intelligent” Energy Future (pdf)

·         A Systems View of the Modern Grid - Accommodates All Generation and Storage Options (pdf)

·         Assessment of Achievable Potential from Energy Efficiency and Demand Response Programs in the US Executive Summary 2010-2030 (pdf)  

Stay up to date

Visit relevant Smart Grid News channels with constantly updated news, trends, announcements, reviews and resources such as research reports, white papers and case studies.

·         Smart Grid Transmission

·         Smart Grid Technologies