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North America

Electricity in North America - Overview

The North American power network may realistically be considered to be the largest and most complex machine in the world – its transmission lines connect all the electric generation and distribution on the continent. The network incorporates over 15,000 generators in 10,000 power plants, and hundreds of thousands of miles of transmission lines and distribution networks.

However, this network has historically been allowed to evolve without any formal top-level planning or analysis. Only recently, with the advent of deregulation, unbundling, and competition in the electric power industry, has the possibility of power delivery beyond neighbouring areas become a key design and engineering consideration.

In today’s increasing connected digital world, which relies very heavily in homes, offices, and industrial facilities on the wonders of the microprocessor, secure and reliable power is essential. Unfortunately the inherent limitations of the generation and distribution network are not always fully appreciated by the consumer.

Over the last ten years or so, the network has become increasingly stressed with carrying capacity and safety margins struggling to cope with demand.

According to data from the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) and analyses from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), average outages from 1984 to the present have affected nearly 700,000 customers per event annually. Smaller outages occur much more frequently and affect tens to hundreds of thousands of customers every few weeks or months, while larger outages occur every two to nine years and affect millions. Much larger outages affect seven million or more customers per event each decade.

On August 14, 2003, a widespread power outage struck parts of the North-Eastern United States and Canada, affecting an estimated 55 million people. At the time the second worst blackout in history, the outage was caused by a computer malfunction in Ohio that led to an unprecedented and widespread power grid failure that contributed to at least 11 fatalities.

It would be nice to think that, following the wake up warning of 2003, the reliability of power in North America is improving, however research would indicate that in fact the overall quality and dependability of power is getting worse, especially if you factor in the increased occurrences and the effects of ‘weather events’ arising from supposed global warming.

As the electricity sector does not measure or track the costs incurred by customers from poor power quality the actual cost to the economy is not readily apparent. What estimates are available vary widely from $30 Billion to over $150 Billion per annum.

Please click on the relevant link below to view a country’s report