About this course

"Utility Distribution Systems" is for entry-level hires and those that require a basic knowledge of how utility distribution systems are engineered.

This course is a great opportunity for solar companies to learn the language utilities speak so your sales team can be more trustworthy and creative. A deep understanding of utility operations can be a competitive advantage for in projects where utility distribution operations intersect.

The six modules in this course are:

  • Serving Loads and Connecting Distributed Energy Resources
  • Transmitting and Transforming Electric Power
  • Distribution System Architectures
  • Voltage Monitoring and Control
  • Overcurrent Protection
  • Distribution System Reliability

The course instructor is Tim Taylor, who brings his 35+ years experience in utility distribution systems and teaching across the US, in addition to a laid-back and clear presentation style, to make an effective course in utility distribution system. All of his lecture materials are available to download for your use as well.

The course utilizes extensive use of graphics, lecture videos, YouTube videos, reading assignments, and quizzes to bring variety to the learning and to reinforce the concepts.

This is a more in-depth and comprehensive course that builds on the basics learned in Tim's free course "Overview of Electric Distribution Systems".

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Course outline

6 modules • 50 assignments • 7:45 hours of video lectures

Welcome • 3 assignments
Orientation Materials

This course is self-paced, so you don’t need to be logged in at any specific time. You can get started immediately after you enroll and the course materials will remain in your account with minimum guaranteed access for 12 months (1 year) after enrollment.

  • Set up email notifications and your student profile
  • Introduce yourself on the discussion board
  • Welcome to Course from Tim (14:45 minutes) Preview
Module 1 • 7 assignments
Serving Loads and Connecting Distributed Energy Resources

In the first week we look at understanding basic drivers of utility distribution system design and operation. 1) In Distribution System Objectives, we discuss how distribution systems should serve loads with adequate voltage and frequency; meet reliability, resiliency and power quality goals; provide a platform for DER; be designed and operated with a primary emphasis on safety; meet environmental and aesthetics goals; and be designed with the lowest total owning cost. 2) In Distribution System Loads, we look at impacts of customer loads on system design and operations; resistive, inductive, and capacitive components of load; demand, energy, and power factor; demand factor and coincidence factor; different types of utility customers; customer load profiles; and customer classes and class load profiles. 3) In 3) Distributed Energy Resources (DER) on distribution, we look at the common types of DER on utility systems and utility challenges with DER on distribution.

  • Read: Circuit Basics
  • Optional Reading: Basic Electrical and Electronic Concepts
  • Distribution System Objectives (.pdf)
  • Watch: Distribution System Loads (48:26 minutes)
  • Watch: Distributed Energy Resources on Distribution Systems (30:15 minutes)
  • Quiz: Connecting Loads and DER on Distribution Systems
  • Week 1 Presentations (.pdf)
Module 2 • 8 assignments
Transmitting and Transforming Electric Power

In this week, we discuss the basic equipment for Transmitting and Transforming electric power. 1) In Overhead Lines and Underground Cables, we cover overhead line construction types, common distribution conductor materials, considerations in overhead conductor selection, principal overhead conductor characteristics, underground cable applications, cable insulation types, application considerations of distribution cables, and overhead versus underground distribution. 2) In Transformers, we look at the function of transformers, the application of transformers in power systems, substation transformers, three-phase and single-phase distribution transformers, and wye and delta configurations of three-phase transformers.

  • Overhead Conductors and Underground Cables (39:22 minutes)
  • Watch: Overhead Line Conductors
  • Watch: Underground Cable Splicing
  • Watch: Manhattan Manhole
  • Transformers (20:16 minutes)
  • Watch: Padmounted Transformer
  • Overhead Conductors, Underground Cables, and Transformers
  • Week 2 Presentations (.pdf)
Module 3 • 6 assignments
Distribution System Architectures

In Week 3, we look at basic types and components of system architectures. We look at distribution substations, distribution feeders, nominal voltage levels, three-phase and single-phase circuits, and typical circuit loadings. We discuss feeder primary architectures, including radial, radial with ties, and looped. In Secondary Systems, we look at secondary voltage levels for residential and commercial, and distributed secondary networks. We discuss the impacts of overhead and underground on architectures, and dual feeds with transfer switches for customers with high reliability requirements.

  • Distribution System Architectures - Part 1 (29:48 minutes)
  • Quickly Read: Design Guide for Rural Substations pp. 41 - 52
  • Read: Design Guide for Rural Substations - Section 4.3 Only
  • Distribution System Architectures - Part 2 (38:31 minutes)
  • Distribution System Architectures
  • Week 3 Presentations (.pdf)
Module 4 • 7 assignments
Voltage Monitoring and Control

The focus in Week 4 is Voltage Monitoring and Control on utility distribution systems, and how reactive power, voltage control, and real power losses are inter-related. We cover reactive power requirements and sources, distribution voltage standards, voltage drop and causes, and the causes of real power losses. We look at the equipment that is applied - load tap changers, voltage regulators, and fixed and switched shunt capacitors - to improve voltage, supply reactive power, and reduce real power losses. We also cover the impacts of DER and particularly solar power, on voltage and reactive power.

  • Voltage Monitoring and Control - Lecture 1 (48:15 minutes)
  • Watch: Voltage Regulator Controller
  • Voltage Monitoring and Control - Lecture 2 (22:35 minutes) Preview
  • Voltage Monitoring and Control - Lecture 3 (29:02 minutes)
  • Voltage Control and DER - Download and Read pp. 1 - 4
  • Voltage Control and Monitoring
  • Week 4 Presentations (.pdf)
Module 5 • 9 assignments
Overcurrent Protection

The focus on week 5 is a basic understanding of overcurrent protection on distribution system design and operation. In the first part we take a look at short-circuits, including system faults, their causes, and their impacts. Building on this, we look at the goals of distribution system overcurrent protection, and the application of equipment to accomplish the goals, including circuit breakers, reclosers, sectionalizers, and fuses. A brief overview of the importance and principals of protection coordination is provided.

  • Overcurrent Protection Part 1 (33:47 minutes)
  • Watch: Spectacular Impacts of Some Faults
  • Overcurrent Protection Part 2 (15:57 minutes) Preview
  • Watch: Operation Explusion Fuse
  • Overcurrent Protection Part 3 (29:44 minutes)
  • Watch: Reclosers Overview from Eaton
  • View Distribution Protection Overview
  • Week 5 Presentations (.pdf)
  • Quiz - Overcurrent Protection
Module 6 • 6 assignments
Distribution System Reliability

In week 6, we look at the important topic of distribution system reliability. The different outage causes on distribution systems is discussed, and the impacts on customers is reviewed. Distribution reliability indices for measuring the impact on customers is discussed, including SAIFI, SAIDI, and CAIDI. An overview of common reliability improvements methods is also covered.

  • Video - Reliability Part 1 (31:14 minutes)
  • Reading Assignment - Reliability Performance in Sacramento
  • Watch: CLECo SCADA
  • Reliability Part 2 (33:15 minutes)
  • Reliability Quiz
  • Week 6 Presentations (.pdf)
Conclusion • 4 assignments
Feedback and Additional Resources

This is our last module but you still have access to the all of course materials for 12 months (1 year), so keep working and you'll be able to complete the course at your own pace. After your year of access expires you can optionally extend access with a HeatSpring Membership. Enjoy the course and keep in touch!

  • 1 Year of Access to Course Materials
  • Feedback: 2-minute Exit Survey
  • Consider Joining as a HeatSpring Member
  • Certificate of Completion: Request a Certificate


  • Tim Taylor

    Owner and Managing Director, Electric Distribution Academy
    View profile

    Tim is Owner and Managing Director of Electric Distribution Academy and has over 30 years of experience in distribution system engineering. He’s led and participated in many projects with many North American utilities and has also worked in Europe and Latin American. In addition to papers, articles, and conference presentations, he has served as an instructor for... Learn more

Frequently asked questions

How does this course work?
You can begin this online course instantly upon enrollment. This 6 module course is delivered entirely online. This course is self-paced and you can set your own schedule to complete the materials. You can begin the lecture videos and other course materials as soon as you enroll. During your year of access the instructor will be in the course answering questions on the discussion board. After successfully completing the course, you will be able to generate a certificate of completion.
Continuing Education Credits
This course may qualify for AEE continuing education and may be accepted for other certifications as well. Supporting documentation can be provided upon request for your particular submission.
How long do I have access to the materials?
Students get unlimited access to the course materials as soon as they enroll and for one year (365 days) after enrollment. Rewatch videos and review assignments as many times as you want. View updates the instructor makes to the course as the industry advances. Return to your course anytime with online access from anywhere in the world. After the one year of access expires, access can be extended by joining as a HeatSpring member. A single membership extends access to course materials for all past enrollments.
Is there a certificate of completion?
Yes, when you complete this course you are eligible for a certificate of completion from HeatSpring. You can download your certificate as soon as you have completed all of the course requirements. Students can easily share their verified certificates on their LinkedIn profiles using our LinkedIn integration.
Can I register multiple people?
Yes please visit our HeatSpring for Groups page to get a group discount.


Based on 16 reviews
students have taken this course

Tim is a great instructor. If I am not fully invested in the topic by interest, it is easy to lose me in a lecture. Tim did not do this at all. I would recommend HeatSpring to anyone who needs the training but is prone to getting lost in lectures. Tim keeps you on your toes and interested in the topics being discussed.

Judy Netherland
Pre-Construction Project Manager, ReVision Enerergy

Tim's style is laid back but information filled. He is an expert who is experienced and comfortable with the subject.

William Noyes
Noyes Engineering

The Utility Distribution Systems & Equipment course provides an excellent overview of the topic for those who do not have a EE or PE background. The instructor delves into topics at a sufficient level which should encourage the student to learn more about on their own. I highly recommend the course to those who have to deal with distribution systems in the industry.

John Sasso
Utility Interconnections Manager, US Light Energy

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