It’s a beautiful day and suddenly, the power goes out at your home or business. Often when this happens you may be annoyed and ask yourself, “Why is my power out when there aren’t any storms or anything?” The reality is, providing electricity is a complex business with many pieces that all need to coordinate and work perfectly together in order for the lights to stay on.
While you may not realize it, where you live and your proximity to where the power is being generated or created and how close you are to a substation can have a big impact on the reliability of your electric service. Typically, the closer you live to where the power is being generated (and if you are near a distribution substation), the more reliable your power will be.
Electricity is typically generated at a power plant, which can be hundreds of miles away from where the power is actually used. Once generated, the power then goes through a step-up transformer at the power plant that increases the strength of the power so that it can be efficiently pushed across long distances on the transmission lines, which are the really big cross-country transport lines.
The transmission lines get the power close to where it is going to be used. Next, the electricity must be reduced in strength so it can be distributed on the local electric distribution system. Marshall County REMC is a distribution electric utility, so this is where our role comes into play. We take the high-voltage electricity off the transmission system to one of our local substations that are spread throughout our service territory.
These substations are used to step down the strength of the electricity once it is taken off the transmission grid so that it can be safely sent out on the REMC distribution grid, which uses much smaller poles and wires than the transmission system. The distribution system is the last leg of the electricity’s journey to get it to where it will be used.
Along this entire path, from generation to the point of consumption, there are many devices that work to protect the system and keep the lights on. With this complex system, which is constantly exposed to the elements, comes many challenges. Blinks and outages occur when an interruption happens at any point along the path. Often, outages are caused by animals (such as birds and squirrels), storms or wind bringing down trees on lines, vehicle accidents or equipment failure within the system.
When an outage occurs, first it must be determined if it is a transmission grid-related outage or a distribution-related outage. If it is transmission-related, this means the main power feed into one of our Marshall County REMC substations is down and the transmission provider must troubleshoot and repair the issue. If the outage is determined to be on the Marshall County REMC distribution grid, we begin our troubleshooting and restoration process.
As you can imagine, this process takes time. Linemen are first dispatched to the area of the outage. They must then patrol the entire circuit that is affected to find the root cause of the issue, which in a storm, for example, could be multiple different issues on the same circuit.
Next, the issues must be resolved. Outages involving broken poles take longer to repair and can vary drastically in the amount of work required depending on what attachments and equipment are on the pole. Once the necessary repairs are complete, the linemen must once again patrol the entire circuit to make sure no new issues exist before reenergizing the line and restoring power.