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What does the world's largest machine do? - Henry Richardson


2,063 Questions Answered

TEDEd Animation

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In 1967, Homer Loutzenheuser flipped a switch and connected the power grids of the United States, forming one interconnected machine. Today, the US power grid is the world’s largest machine, containing more than 7,300 electricity-generating plants. So how exactly do these power plants work? Henry Richardson digs into the delicate balancing act of how power grids supply us energy.

Additional Resources for you to Explore

The electric grid, as one of the largest machines ever built, has been slowly built out over time. Because it took so long to develop and so many people interact with it, there are many quirks about why the electric grid is the way it is today. For example, Japan is split into two grids that operate at different frequencies, so appliances must be built to accommodate both frequencies and power cannot flow freely across the country. The frequencies are different because two distant cities started out with generators that operated at different frequencies and the grids eventually grew to touch each other. Texas has its own grid to avoid regulatory oversight from the US federal government, despite some attempts to connect the Texas grid to other parts of the country in the middle of the night

Our everyday actions affect the grid even though it spans such large parts of the world. The grid is so finely tuned and must be kept in such perfect balance that in England the electric grid operators have to be prepared for halftime of major football matches when everyone gets up to make tea with electric kettles. A political dispute between Serbia and Kosovo where generators did not supply sufficient power causing a drop in grid frequency that eventually added up to such a degree that clocks across Europe that rely on the grid frequency for timekeeping fell behind by more than 6 minutes

To learn about this massive machine that powers so much of the modern world yet remains mostly invisible, consider studying this resource. It covers the electric grid in much greater detail, including the physics behind electricity generation, how power markets work, and how grid operators ensure the lights stay on.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Henry Richardson, Katie Ryan
  • Director Anna Benner
  • Narrator Jack Cutmore-Scott
  • Music Raphael Tschernuth
  • Sound Designer Raphael Tschernuth
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Producer Anna Bechtol
  • Associate Producer Sazia Afrin
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Script Producer Cella Wright
  • Script Editor Emma Bryce

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