Energy distribution technology


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Energy distribution technology is the collection of human-made systems that transport energy, including the primary energy material like coal or crude oil or energy currencies for end use like gasoline or electricity. They are essential for the energy sector, as they allow these commodities to be transported globally to drive the economy. When energy is produced in the form of electricity, gasoline, liquefied natural gas, or any other, it requires transportation to where it can be made useful.

Figure 1. A diagram showing how energy makes its way from the sun into energy services. Energy distribution technologies like power lines and tanker trucks are a critical step.[1]

There are immense security systems in place in order to monitor and aid the safe functioning of these technologies, which can be read about here.

Systems

Energy transportation systems are vastly different depending on what is being transported. These systems require extensive infrastructure: namely the electricity grid, the pipeline grid and a network of rail, road and water shipping.

  • Electrical grid - Usually, power plants produce large amounts of electricity. This electric power must be distributed, usually over large areas. The electrical grid is what we call the network of wires that transmits and distributes this electricity. These wires include both large high-voltage and smaller low-voltage power lines, along with numerous substations, the grid efficiently transmits this power to consumers. Usually power loss is minimized. Learn more here.

The technology used by the electrical grid is complex and interconnected, for a sense of this see Figure 2 below.

Figure 2. Transmission line map of USA and Canada.[2]
  • Pipelines - crude oil and raw natural gas are extracted from nature and often need to be transported long distances to where they are refined. Once refined, they are transported again to the end users. Pipelines play an important role in this process: both taking the fluids to be refined, and to move the refined products around. In Canada alone there is an estimated 825 000 kilometers of lines that serve to transport natural gas, liquefied natural gas products, crude oil, and other refined petroleum products.[3] The enormous cost of constructing pipelines limits their use to locations where very large volumes of product are to be moved for an extended period of time, and the payback period for them is typically 15-20 years.[4] Figure 3 below has a map of pipelines in North America.
Figure 3. Map of Canadian and US liquids and gas pipelines.[5]

For Further Reading

References

  1. This drawing was made by Xining Chen for this website in August 2015 and is used with her permission.
  2. EIA, Canada Week: Integrated electric grid improves reliability for United States, Canada [Online], Available: http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=8930
  3. Natural Resources Canada. (June 8, 2015). Pipeline Safety [Online]. Available: http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/sites/www.nrcan.gc.ca/files/energy/files/pdf/14-0277-%20PS_pipelines_across_canada_e.pdf
  4. 4.0 4.1 Natural Resources Canada. (August 10, 2015). Petroleum Products Distribution Networks' [Online], Available: https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy/infrastructure/5897
  5. CEPA, private communication. Please be aware that CEPA is an organization that advocates for pipelines. While our team normally tries not to use advocacy organization information, this map is the best representation we can find, and we believe it represents the pipeline distribution.

Authors and Editors

Ethan Boechler, Jordan Hanania, Kailyn Stenhouse, Maddy Strange, Jason Donev
Last updated: September 27, 2021
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