By: Casey Hollins, CCC, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative

In the world of electric cooperatives, communicators are surrounded by experts of everything. They come in all shapes and sizes. They stand proud, and they stand tall. They spew out acronyms and terminology like the Kung fu masters of the electric co-op industry that they are. If you’re a cooperative communicator and you want to stand out, then you have to learn to talk the talk.

Get started with a few power system basics:

Terminology Matters

Current and voltage are two fundamental quantities in electricity. Voltage is the cause and current is the effect. Voltage is the electrical force that would drive an electric current between two points. Current is the rate at which electric charge flows past a point in a circuit. Think of voltage and current similar to a water system. Voltage is the water pressure and current is the water flow rate.

Understanding power and energy in the electric industry is essential. Power is the product of voltage and current. When voltage and current are functioning together, work is accomplished. Energy is the product of power and time.

Watts are a measurement of power, describing the rate at which electricity is being used at a specific moment. For example, a 15-watt LED light bulb draws 15 watts of electricity at any moment when turned on.

Kilowatt-hours are a unit of energy. Kilowatts and kilowatt-hours are useful for measuring amounts of electricity used by large appliances and by households. Kilowatt-hours are what show up on your members’ electric bills, describing how much electricity they have used.

Understand the Grid

America’s power grid is actually comprised of three smaller grids. The Eastern Interconnection operates in states east of the Rocky Mountains, The Western Interconnection covers the Pacific Ocean to the Rocky Mountain states, and the smallest—the Texas Interconnected system—covers most of Texas.

Within the grid are a variety of components that make it possible to provide power to the homes of millions of people. Power plants produce or generate the electricity that is transmitted across high voltage transmission lines. Transmission lines feed to substations that then step down or reduce the voltage so it can be distributed across lower voltage power lines. Distribution power lines deliver lower voltage electricity to residences and businesses in electric cooperative service territories. Equipment found on distribution poles further reduces the voltage of the electricity so that it can safely power member-owners lives.

Some Equipment Your Members, or Co-Workers, Expect You to Know

  • Gray, Round Things – better known as transformers – are the pieces of equipment crucial in converting electricity to a voltage that is safe for use in homes and businesses.
  • The Big Green Box – aka Pad Mount Transformers – is a ground-mounted transformer locked in a steel cabinet on a concrete pad.
  • Insulators prevent energized wires from coming in contact with each other or the utility pole.
  • A crossarm holds the wires up on the pole.
  • Lightning arrestors protect the pole and equipment from lightning strikes.
  • Primary wires usually carry 12,000 volts of electricity from a substation.
  • Cutouts act like a fuse and open when there is a problem with the line or a section of it.
  • The neutral wire acts as a line back to the substation and balances out the amount of electricity or load on the system.
  • The secondary wire carries the lower voltage electricity after it passes through the transformer.
  • Guy wires help stabilize utility poles.

Learn even more about the basics of electricity with a free course from NRECA. Visit, login and click “Conferences and Education.” Choose “Web Based Learning” and from the courses available choose “Electricity Basics.”