Episodes - Lessons
Maintaining the Flow of Electrons
Maintaining the Flow of Electrons

Mayday! Mayday! This is Director V at Mission Control. We have a situation here, Detective.

If you are decrypting this message, you are an active consumer of electricity. But can you imagine a world without it? NO? It’s pretty hard to believe that humans didn’t use electricity for centuries. There was no air conditioning, no instant hot water for showering, no electric washing machines … And don’t tell me how quickly food spoiled without refrigerators. BLECKGH.  If you wanted a decent meal, you needed firewood to cook your food … So let’s face it: life used to be pretty rough without electricity.

Today though, electricity powers almost every area of our modern lives: our homes, schools, workplaces, and don’t forget about our hospitals. Electricity plays such a large role in our lives. And it miraculously always seems to be there, just ready to do work for us. Yet, we may too often take it for granted. Only until the power goes out! UH OH.

But how can this be? Well, Detective, to understand that, we should first analyze how transmission works. Electric power is delivered to where we need it through an electric transmission system. The electricity starts from where it is generated at power plants (or other sources) and runs through transmission lines across tower-like structures. Transmission lines deliver the electricity to substations, which are like an off-ramp from the higher speed freeway to a local road. Substations have large transformers that lower the electric voltage to safer, more consumable levels. The electricity then zips back out to distribution lines on smaller poles that distribute electricity to consumers. A small transformer located outside your building will lower the voltage one last time before allowing the electricity to enter.

Quite an impressive system, right? Envision this system multiplied and connected to deliver tons of electrons to the nearly 300 million consumers in the U.S.! This is what we call the electric grid, and to cover the whole country with reliable power, it needs a LOT of equipment. In the U.S., there are 200,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines; 55,000 substations; and 5.5 million miles of distribution lines. That’s a caboodle of equipment, Detective!

But gee … if there is so much equipment, why would the power ever go out? Although power failures do not happen very often, you have to consider that these pieces of equipment are exposed to lots of variables:

  • Wear and tear from use
  • Weather damage from the elements
  • Physical damage from attackers
  • Cyber threats from malware and attackers

Alright, so let’s get this straight. If there are so many things that could go wrong, how do we protect the millions of miles of power lines? Or better question: WHO maintains and looks after all of this equipment?!

Watch the classroom video above to solve this puzzle and explore the careers that keep the electric transmission system operating! And if you’d like to boost your puzzling skills, check out the “Learn More” tab or download the lesson activities below and enlighten yourself on the consumption of electrical power.

Our educational partner, American Transmission Company (ATC), supported the video content above. To learn more about their role in reliable electric power, check out the link below.