Everything around you, from your lights to your computers, is powered by electricity. When you think about it, it’s such an impressive achievement to distribute a massive amount of electricity all around the country safely and efficiently.
So, Where Did The Power Grid Start?
The power grid, as we know it, began in the 1880s with isolated power generation systems. The unification and growth of these systems into an alternating current (AC) power grid improved the quality of life for many people.
Here Is A Brief History Of The Power Grid:
• The Beginning
In 1881, two electricians in England pioneered one of the earliest power systems in the entire globe. Their setup, which used a set of two waterwheels, could power a dozen light bulbs at the same time. While it was a huge feat at the time, the setup did not produce enough voltage to consistently power lamps. However, this early invention set the drive for other professional individuals to develop the power grid we use today.
In 1882, two knowledgeable Englishmen came up with their waterwheel design. This then led to the building of the first distribution system in Manhattan and New Jersey known as Edison Electric Light by one Thomas Edison. Edison’s company was the first fully functional power system at the time using direct current (DC).
Since coal was expensive, DC powered systems were very costly as they relied on coal-fired steam engines to run. This made electricity a luxury that only businesses and hotels could afford. Within a short period, the system was supplying power to fifty-nine different clients in the area.
Unfortunately, it could only transmit electricity to consumers within half a mile.
• The War Of Currents
As with all good business ideas, Thomas Edison’s company began facing competition from AC technology by George Westinghouse. One of the greatest advantages of AC was that it could transport electricity over long distances and it was cheaper and easier to set up and step down voltage.
At around the same time, people become more knowledgeable about electricity and long-distance transmission, and the idea of economies of scale was born. It became more apparent that to provide electricity, a large centralized power plant was more efficient than a small one.
In 1896, George Westinghouse built the first AC to connect Niagara Falls to Buffalo, NY, 20 miles away.
• The Age Of Private Electric Companies
In the 1900s, competitive pressure led to the growth of many un-regulated electric companies that weren’t held accountable. One could choose any electric company to provide them with electricity as they would compete for your business.
Luckily, the Great Depression led to the end of this era, resulting in the regulation of electrical companies in 1935 to ensure they had the experience to provide electricity and did not abuse the monopoly.
By the end of 1914, 43 states had regulatory commissions to oversee electric utilities. And, by 1960, electricity became much cheaper.