Need help? Call 651-300-4701

Call Now   Contact Information

Electric Grid, Transmission & Your Home

Electric Grid, Transmission & Your Home

As Minnesotans convert more of their household energy use to electricity and rely less on natural gas, propane or fuel oil, it’s important to understand how electricity is generated and how electricity reaches our homes. To fully take advantage of home electrification, we need to expand our energy grid so that clean energy is accessible and affordable to all Minnesotans. Keep reading to learn more about the grid and how it impacts your home electrification journey.

The electric grid is comprised of a complex network of generation, transmission, and distribution infrastructure, including power lines and transformers. As Minnesotans electrify their homes, more electricity will need to be generated and transmitted to power electric appliances, vehicles, and heating and cooling equipment. Knowing how the grid works is the first step towards understanding why adaptation is necessary in an electrified future. Below, we provide a general overview of the three stages of electric grid: generation, transmission, and distribution.


Generation

In this stage, energy is converted into electricity. Electricity is generated from a variety of sources including fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas); nuclear power; and renewable resources (solar, wind, and water (hydroelectric). The generation of these energy sources can be both centralized or non-centralized.

Fossil fuels, large wind farms, solar fields, and batteries can all be forms of centralized power generation, where energy is produced in one location before being transmitted to your home or where it is needed. Centralized renewable energy generation is typically located in strategic places because of the abundance of wind or ample land for solar arrays.  This is why large renewable energy generation is often located in rural areas. This does not always match where the demand exists and therefore transmission lines are necessary to move power where it’s needed.

Meanwhile, non-centralized power generation encompasses smaller-scale solar arrays and community solar gardens, and are often referred to as “distributed energy resources”. These distributed energy resources are able to address some of the demand of that local area and therefore don’t typically require extensive transmission investments.

Fossil fuel generation from traditional power plants has historically been the cheapest way to generate electricity. However, with advancements in clean energy, solar and wind resources are now capable of generating electricity at comparatively lower costs. 

According to data provided by financial advisory firm Lazard in 2023, federal tax subsidies could offset the entire cost of producing renewable energy. As fossil fuel plants close in Minnesota, more renewable energy generation resources will need to be added to the grid to meet the energy demands of homeowners and businesses state-wide. Renewable energy is a cost-effective generation option, and its incorporation into the grid will be necessary if Minnesota wants to meet its 100 percent carbon free energy standard.


Transmission

Transmission infrastructure transports energy from its generation source (power plants, solar farms, wind farms, etc.), to neighborhoods, cities, and homes. Transmission lines can be thought of as a highway system. They are larger and hold more electricity at higher voltage than the power lines that exist in your neighborhood. When electricity is generated at the grid, it travels down the highway until it reaches its exit: a city or town where it will be used.

Because much of our energy generation is located in rural parts of the state, this electricity has to travel long distances to reach your household if you live in metro regions of Minnesota. As the electricity travels, some power is lost. Thus, electricity is transmitted at high voltages to minimize the amount of power lost, and to make this process more efficient. 


Distribution

At this final stage, electricity travels a shorter distance from transmission cables into your home. Transformers decrease voltage levels down to what your household requires. If transmission lines are the highways, transformers are like the roads in cities, towns, and neighborhoods. They don’t hold as many cars and you can’t travel as fast, but they are connecting points between the highway and individual homes and businesses.

Without each stage of the electric grid, you would not be able to bring the necessary energy into your home to turn on your lights, refrigerate your food, or watch your favorite TV shows. Ensuring the reliability and capacity of these grids is a key area of interest for utility stakeholders and regulators. Now that you understand a little bit more about the electric grid, we can talk about why it is important to your electrification journey.


Why does this matter?

As home electrification gains popularity, there will be more demand put on the grid to keep up with the demand for electricity. Further, to take advantage of the clean energy resources which make home electrification a carbon footprint-reducing project, transmission and distribution will need to be upgraded and expanded. Think of it as a larger-scale version of upgrading your home’s electric panel to keep up with your household’s energy demands.

Reaching our state’s climate goals must be an endeavor tackled from multiple different angles – at the legislative and regulatory level to ensure rapid, effective, and equitable expansion; at the utility level to develop clean energy resources and safely deliver energy to customers; and at the household level to make sure we are taking advantage of opportunities to conserve energy and make our homes more energy efficient.

While electrification will increase demand, the need for grid expansion is necessary regardless of our state’s climate goals and the community-level efforts to reach them. Like any infrastructure project, regular maintenance and expansion is necessary to keep up with demand growth and needs. At the same time, expanding the grid does contribute to system reliability. In addition to serving as electricity highways, transmission lines offer methods of rerouting energy if another part of the grid is affected. For example, if a storm brings down a major power line, a robust transmission system will provide multiple other avenues to bring electricity to where it is needed.


Efforts to expand the grid are currently underway, but public participation is needed to make sure Minnesotans are heard in the regulatory process. If you want to learn more about the electric grid or the proposed changes being evaluated, check out CUB’s blog series on how the grid works and why expansion is necessary:



In the meantime….

“Smart” appliances and other technology allow households to better control when and how they use energy. For example, a smart dishwasher can allow you to program when it runs, potentially running it overnight when energy is less expensive to produce. Smart thermostats are quite common already. They allow households to manage their home’s temperature remotely to adjust to changing home arrival times.  As smart appliances become more common, households will be better able to manage their energy use in relationship to the overall demand for electricity and the strain that demand places on the grid.

Because energy storage is still in developmental stages, we still need to match electricity supply with demand in real time.  New technologies and utility initiatives allow customers to manage their energy use in relation to the overall demand for electricity and the strain that demand places on the grid.

Stay in the loop!

Get the latest updates with CUB's monthly newsletter.

You have successfully subscribed to the newsletter

There was an error while trying to send your request. Please try again.