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When a power plant generates electricity and it is more than what is consumed, what happens to the extra power?

Everyone tells us to save energy. So if everybody does, what happens to the unused electricity when the power plant generates more than what is needed.

The power generated by most power plants is fed to their local grid which runs at a frequency of 50 or 60 Hz. Consumers draw their power requrements from the grid. The total of these requirements is changing all the time throughout the day.

If too much power is being generated on the grid (i.e. more than is being consumed at any instant) then the extra power will cause the whole grid including all generators to speed up. There is a lot of inertia on the grid so the acceleration is not fast. Conversely the grid frequency will drop if there is excessive demand.

An important task for grid control is to keep the frequency near to constant and the total frequency count exact over the day. This is achieved by loading and unloading generators and/or bringing generators on or taking them off line. Load patterns are well known and most of this work can be planned accurately with different plants being scheduled to run at different times according to their costs and availability. Some so called "spinning reserve" (generators running below their full load, which can be loaded quickly) is often kept ready to cope with unexpected load demands. In emergencies (which are usually due to faults on plant or power-lines) certain generators are loaded or unloaded automatically (frequency support). If needed the load voltages can be reduced to lower demand or even some consumers temporarily disconnected (brown-out) if discrepancies become severe.

Therefore at the "end of the day" the energy book-keeping is exact. Energy generated less transmission loss is equal to energy consumed. And the grid has run on average at exactly the correct frequency.

Trading energy between utilities is more a commercial matter than an instrument for technical control of the grid.

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