The mid to late 1880s saw the introduction of alternating current (AC) systems in Europe and the U.S. AC power had an advantage in that transformers, installed at power stations, could be used to raise the voltage from the generators, and transformers at local substations could reduce voltage to supply loads. Increasing the voltage reduced the current in the transmission and distribution lines and hence the size of conductors and distribution losses. This made it more economical to distribute power over long distances. Generators (such as hydroelectric sites) could be located far from the loads. AC and DC competed for a while, during a period called the War of Currents. The DC system was able to claim slightly greater safety, but this difference was not great enough to overwhelm the enormous technical and economic advantages of alternating current which eventually won out.[1]
The business model behind the electric utility has changed over the years playing a vital role in shaping the electricity industry into what it is today; from generation, transmission, distribution, to the final local retailing. This has occurred prominently since the reform of the electricity supply industry in England and Wales in 1990. In some countries, wholesale electricity markets operate, with generators and retailers trading electricity in a similar manner to shares and currency. As deregulation continues further, utilities are driven to sell their assets as the energy market follows in line with the gas market in use of the futures and spot markets and other financial arrangements. Even globalization with foreign purchases are taking place. One such purchase was when the UK’s National Grid, the largest private electric utility in the world, bought New England’s electric system for $3.2 billion.[2] Between 1995 and 1997, seven of the 12 Regional Electric Companies (RECs) in England and Wales were bought by U.S. energy companies.[3] Domestically, local electric and gas firms have merged operations as they saw the advantages of joint affiliation, especially with the reduced cost of joint-metering. Technological advances will take place in the competitive wholesale electric markets, such examples already being utilized include fuel cells used in space flight; aeroderivative gas turbines used in jet aircraft; solar engineering and photovoltaic systems; off-shore wind farms; and the communication advances spawned by the digital world, particularly with microprocessing which aids in monitoring and dispatching.[4]
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The organization of the electrical sector of a country or region varies depending on the economic system of the country. In some places, all electric power generation, transmission and distribution is provided by a government controlled organization. Other regions have private or investor-owned utility companies, city or municipally owned companies, cooperative companies owned by their own customers, or combinations. Generation, transmission and distribution may be offered by a single company, or different organizations may provide each of these portions of the system.
Electricity is deregulated in two Canadian provinces: Ontario and Alberta. Both markets showed price spikes in the first year of dereguation, but then settled down into a volatile but reasonably stable environment. Alberta's market is dominated by fossil fuel generation and as such reacts more closely to the price of natural gas. Ontario's generation mix is about 50% nuclear.[1]
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The electric power industry covers the generation, transmission, distribution and sale of electric power to the general public and industry. The commercial distribution of electric power started in 1882 when electricity was produced for electric lighting. In the 1880s and 1890s, growing economic and safety concerns lead to the regulation of the industry. Once an expensive novelty limited to the most densely populated areas, reliable and economical electric power has become an essential aspect for normal operation of all elements of developed economies.
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