A power plant or a power generating station, is basically an industrial location that is utilized for the generation and distribution of electric power in mass scale, usually in the order of several 1000 Watts. These are generally located at the sub-urban regions or several kilometers away from the cities or the load centers, because of its requisites like huge land and water demand, along with several operating constraints like the waste disposal etc. For this reason, a power generating station has to not only take care of efficient generation but also the fact that the power is transmitted efficiently over the entire distance. And that’s why, the transformer switch yard to regulate transmission voltage also becomes an integral part of the power plant.
At the center of it, however, nearly all power generating stations has an A.C. generator or an alternator, which is basically a rotating machine that is equipped to convert energy from the mechanical domain (rotating turbine) into electrical domain by creating relative motion between a magnetic field and the conductors. The energy source harnessed to turn the generator shaft varies widely, and is chiefly dependent on the type of fuel used.
Types of Power Station
A power plant can be of several types depending mainly on the type of fuel used. Since for the purpose of bulk power generation, only thermal, nuclear and hydro power comes handy, therefore a power generating station can be broadly classified in the 3 above mentioned types. Let us have a look in these types of power stations in details.
Thermal Power Station
A thermal power station or a coal fired thermal power plant is by far, the most conventional method of generating electric power with reasonably high efficiency. It uses coal as the primary fuel to boil the water available to superheated steam for driving the steam turbine. The steam turbine is then mechanically coupled to an alternator rotor, the rotation of which results in the generation of electric power. Generally in India, bituminous coal or brown coal are used as fuel of boiler which has volatile content ranging from 8 to 33 % and ash content 5 to 16 %. To enhance the thermal efficiency of the plant, the coal is used in the boiler in its pulverized form.
In coal fired thermal power plant, steam is obtained in very high pressure inside the steam boiler by burning the pulverized coal. This steam is then super heated in the super heater to extreme high temperature. This super heated steam is then allowed to enter into the turbine, as the turbine blades are rotated by the pressure of the steam. The turbine is mechanically coupled with alternator in a way that its rotor will rotate with the rotation of turbine blades. After entering into the turbine, the steam pressure suddenly falls leading to corresponding increase in the steam volume. After having imparted energy into the turbine rotors, the steam is made to pass out of the turbine blades into the steam condenser of turbine. In the condenser, cold water at ambient temperature is circulated with the help of pump which leads to the condensation of the low pressure wet steam. Then this condensed water is further supplied to low pressure water heater where the low pressure steam increases the temperature of this feed water, it is again heated in high pressure. This outlines the basic working methodology of a thermal power plant.
Nuclear Power Station
The nuclear power generating stations are similar to the thermal stations in more ways than one. How ever, the exception here is that, radioactive elements like Uranium and thorium are used as the primary fuel in place of coal. Also in a Nuclear station the furnace and the boiler are replaced by the nuclear reactor and the heat exchanger tubes.
For the process of nuclear power generation, the radioactive fuels are made to undergo fission reaction within the nuclear reactors. The fission reaction, propagates like a controlled chain reaction and is accompanied by unprecedented amount of energy produced, which is manifested in the form of heat. This heat is then transferred to the water present in the heat exchanger tubes. As a result, super heated steam at very high temperature is produced.
Once the process of steam formation is accomplished, the remaining process is exactly similar to a thermal power plant, as this steam will further drive the turbine blades to generate electricity.
Hydro-Electric Power Station
In Hydro-electric plants the energy of the falling water is utilized to drive the turbine which in turn runs the generator to produce electricity. Rain falling upon the earth’s surface has potential energy relative to the oceans towards which it flows. This energy is converted to shaft work where the water falls through an appreciable vertical distance. The hydraulic power is therefore a naturally available renewable energy given by the eqn:
Where g = acceleration due to gravity = 9.81 m/sec 2
ρ = density of water = 1000 kg/m 3
H = height of fall of water.
This power is utilized for rotating the alternator shaft, to convert it to equivalent electrical energy.
An important point to be noted is that, the hydro-electric plants are of much lower capacity compared to their thermal or nuclear counterpart. For this reason hydro plants are generally used in scheduling with thermal stations, to serve the load during peak hours. They in a way assist the thermal or the nuclear plant to deliver power efficiently during periods of peak hours.
Types of Power Generation
As mentioned above, depending on the type of fuel used, the power generating stations as well as the types of power generation are classified. Therefore the 3 major classifications for power production in reasonably large scale are :-
1) Thermal power generation.
2) Nuclear power generation.
3) Hydro-electric power generation.
Apart from these major types of power generations, we can resort to small scale generation techniques as well, to serve the discrete demands. These are often referred to as the alternative methods of power generation and can be classified as :-
1) Solar power generation. (making use of the available solar energy)
2) Geo-thermal power generation. (Energy available in the Earth’s crust)
3) Tidal power generation.
These alternative sources of generation has been given due importance in the last few decades owing to the depleting amount of the natural fuels available to us. In the centuries to come, a stage might be reached when several countries across the globe would run out of their entire reserve for fossil fuels. The only way forward would then lie in the mercy of these alternative sources of energy which might play an instrumental role in shaping the energy supplies of the future. For this reason these might rightfully be referred as the energy of the future.