How Do Substations Work?

Untangling the various equipment you might see in an electrical substation.
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In many ways, the grid is a one-size-fits-all system – a gigantic machine to which we all connect spinning in perfect synchrony across, in some cases, an entire continent. On the other hand, our electricity needs, including when we need it, how much we need, and how reliably it should be delivered vary widely. Substations play a critical role in controlling and protecting the power grid.


Writing/Editing/Production: Grady Hillhouse
Animation: Stephanie White, Connor Claver, Dayan D’Aniello

This video is sponsored by NordVPN.


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  • When I first came to Japan it was to work with a company importing GE amorphous core transformers into Japan. Here the medium to large commercial/industrial users buy the transformers and thus have to be concerned about the core/load losses. A GE engineer that came over was always interested in examining the grid, whether it was a rat’s nest on a small street or the cubicles that housed the transformers.

    Chuck May 9, 2020 11:49 am Reply
  • 3:52 why does the electricity direct upwards and loop around like that? I would have thought the electricity would take the shortest path, being a straight line, from one conductor to another, not going up in the air, doing loops and pretty patterns. Is it because of the air impurities? Is the electricity taking the path of least electrical resistance?

    Citizen May 9, 2020 11:49 am Reply
  • That substation at 2:04 looks both terrifying and awesome! Anyone know where it is?
    We don't see many like those in the UK anymore, though there used to be some stacked up on multiple levels like that many years ago. I love to walk past substations, especially on damp days, the buzz and crackle that comes off the live lines and transformers is scary and cool 😀 I had a tour around one of National Grid's 400kv substations many years ago, it was very cool to get so close to the equipment, which is actually really huge up close!

    soundseeker63 May 9, 2020 11:49 am Reply
  • So everyone is just gonna ignore the fact an American YouTuber used stock footage of a European outlet?

    Alec Ver Bunker May 9, 2020 11:49 am Reply
  • It's kind of sad that Nikola Tesla doesn't get the credit he deserved. Our electrical system is based on AC that Tesla found is better than Edison's DC. AC produced at a power plant can be passed through a transformer and boost the voltage up to hundreds of thousands of volts. It can be carried over hundreds of miles with very little power loss at high voltage. At different places a substation can take the high voltage down to between 4 and 12 thousand voltage and distribute out into various neighborhoods where can transformers on telephone poles can reduce the voltage down to 240 volts split into three wires to a few homes and you have two 120 volt power lines come in to the circuit breaker panel. When you have two circuit breakers connected to the two hot wires, you can get 240 volts.

    awizardalso May 9, 2020 11:49 am Reply
  • what u think about… nuclear energy? I feel that it is the greenest.. source of energy

    Genma Saotome May 9, 2020 11:49 am Reply
  • So I guess if you live above a substation, throwing a bicycle into it would be a really bad idea. Unless you want to steal some gold of course.

    dopiaza2006 May 9, 2020 11:49 am Reply
  • I once saw a substation arc early in the morning while it was still dark. Not even gonna lie, it was one of the prettiest things i've ever seen. The glow off of the low clouds and fog lit up everything for at least a mile in every direction. The world was a pulsing, but continuous glow of purple. It went on for what seemed like forever but was probably only several minutes. I couldn't see the substation directly but that was absolutely the source.

    Hyraethian Rabbit May 9, 2020 11:49 am Reply
  • Great video, I don't understand one thing: inside the transformer the voltage is manipulated, does the current also get manipulated? the reasoning behind this question is that the power (P) = voltage (U) x current (I). If the voltage is manipulated then the current must also get an inversely proportional manipulation if you want the power to stay the same. If the current is not manipulated, what happens to the, either, excess or lack of power? I'm looking forward to your answer!

    Bart Hiddema May 9, 2020 11:49 am Reply
  • A group of gay men called "substation" because they share load.

    A The IXth May 9, 2020 11:49 am Reply
  • China knows where every sub-station in the USA is located.
    Just in case you need their help one day.

    pippaknuckle May 9, 2020 11:49 am Reply
  • 2:10 its Russia, узнаю из тысячи

    Дмитрий Михайлов May 9, 2020 11:49 am Reply
  • As a lineman, this info is spot on!

    Colt Shitaker May 9, 2020 11:49 am Reply
  • The discovery and use of alternating current was only possible thanks to the Nikola tesla, which by transforming an electric current into a magnetic current allows the use of transformers and takes energy over long distances. I helped translate this video into Brazilian Portuguese, because I like this subject.

    Adriano Rocha May 9, 2020 11:49 am Reply
  • Wow- even the comments on this video have a certain geekiness to them, lol

    dwiedemann May 9, 2020 11:49 am Reply
  • I liked this video until the global warming part

    BAJARACER43X May 9, 2020 11:49 am Reply
  • 8:27 That dial is just so happy to see them!

    Nargleberry May 9, 2020 11:49 am Reply
  • Thank you for the video, simple and informative

    Pedro Cainta May 9, 2020 11:49 am Reply
  • We are galvanizing kettle manufacturer.

    James Tai May 9, 2020 11:49 am Reply
  • Lol at the women not wearing any PPE (just hard hats) and wearing heels and flats……pretty sure safety ppl would through a fit if they saw this

    Esteban Alvarez May 9, 2020 11:49 am Reply
  • Could you explain how Distributed Generation and Net metering works? Just started a new job in utility industry working on DG programs. I have found your videos being very helpful

    Kira Kenyon May 9, 2020 11:49 am Reply

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