The country is more divided than you thought: Here’s the surprising way how

Think of it this way: If our interstate highway system worked the same way, roads from the Midwest would only let you drive in the middle of our country, then you’d have to go hundreds of miles out of your way to find a connection point to get to another region’s highway system.

Key Points

  • The U.S. electric grid is made of three interconnections.
  • Each region is independent, with a few connection points between them.
  • A new study is looking at ways to connect them better and make the grid more flexible.

Did you know that the grid isn’t one big web covering the country?

I know, right?

It seems like it should be one, seamless web of wires that delivers electricity, but it’s actually three individual webs that only connect in a few spots.

Think of it this way: If our interstate highway system worked the same way, roads from the Midwest would only let you drive in the middle of our country, then you’d have to go hundreds of miles out of your way to find a connection point to get to another region’s highway system.

And you thought your kids asked “are we there yet?” too many times before.

Here are the three primary electricity interconnections (interconnection is a fancy way of saying web of wires that connect electricity within a region):

  • The Eastern Interconnection – spans east of the Rocky Mountains and a portion of Texas
  • The Western Interconnection – covers areas west of the Rockies
  • The Electric Reliability Council of Texas – powers nearly all of the state.

Having three, completely independent interconnections has some pros and cons.

On the bright side, utilities and power providers can act locally to meet power needs nearby.

But the drawback is that it’s difficult to transfer energy from one area to another area across the country.

So for instance, if Iowa is having a really windy day and there’s surplus wind energy being produced, it’s hard to ship it to a population center on the West Coast that could use it.

The Department of Energy is spending $220 million during the next three years in research and development to explore grid modernization.

Some of the research will focus on an Interconnections Seam Study, which will look at ways to increase the points connecting Eastern and Western Interconnections.

The hope is that more connections could help the grid be more flexible, more reliable, and better able to accommodate renewable energy like wind and solar that increase and decrease depending on the weather and time of day.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full-time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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