What Are the Different Types of Power Plants That Exist Today?

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types of power plants

Did you know that the first power generation plant in the United States was operating in 1882? This became the first hydroelectric power plant in the world. You might not be aware that not all power plants are created equal, and there are many types of power plants producing electricity to help fulfill our needs.

Read on to learn the ins and outs of power plants in the energy industry because in our modern world electricity is found all around us, even in the cars some of us drive.

Hydroelectric Power Plants

Electricity in these power plants comes from water, and it is one of the most effective and eco-friendly of all the power plants. One of the first uses of hydroelectricity was for grinding grains.

The water falls from a certain height onto a turbine, and this causes the turbine to spin the armature that is connected to the generator. Every time the turbine spins, the generator produces electricity. Then the electricity is routed to all the substations and it distributes the power.

Hydropower plants range in size from micro plants to large power plants. A micro hydropower is operated by individuals to create their own energy needs or sometimes to sell the power they create to utility companies. Micro hydropower plants have a capacity of up to 100 kilowatts.

Small hydropower plants can generate around 100 kilowatts and 10 MW (megawatts). Large hydropower plants have much larger capacities of around 30 MW.

The largest hydroelectric power plant is found in China and it’s called The Three Gorges Dam. In 2020 the plant set a new world record for annual power generation volume by producing 111.88 kilowatt-hours. It uses 34 power generators to create all of its power.

A major advantage of hydroelectric power plants is that you don’t have to worry about any waste generated while energy is created. The three types of hydropower facilities include impoundment, diversion, and pumped storage:

Impoundment

This is the most common type of hydroelectric power plant. Impoundment is a large hydropower system which uses a dam. The dam stores the river water in a reservoir.

The water is released from the reservoir. Then the water flows through a turbine, which causes the turbine it to spin and activate a generator to produce electricity.

Sometimes the water has to be released to meet the changing electricity needs like recreation, flood control, fish passage, and other water quality and environmental needs.

Diversion

This facility is sometimes called a “run-of-river.” A portion of a river is channeled through a canal to use the decline of the river bed elevation in order to produce energy. This canal serves as a closed conduit that channels the flow of water to turbines along with water flow that is regulated by turbines, valves, and gates.

Sometimes with a diversion system, the use of a dam is not a requirement.

Pumped Storage Hydropower

The last type of hydropower plant is a pumped storage that works like one giant battery. Pumped storage hydropower stores the electricity produced by other power sources. Power sources such as nuclear, solar, and wind generate the power, and pumped storage stores this to use at a later time.

The energy is stored by pumping water from a reservoir that is at a lower elevation to a reservoir at a higher elevation. If the electricity demand is high, then the water is released back to the lower reservoir from the higher reservoir, and it turns a turbine that generates electricity.

Coal-Run Power Plants

These types of power plants burn coal in order to convert water into steam. The steam produced is then used to turn the turbines that use a generator to help them produce electricity.

Unfortunately, using coal to run power plants is not that great for the environment, and it produces plenty of pollution in the air. For example, a coal power plant that produces 1000MW will produce 9,000 tons of coal per day.

China has the highest consumption of coal because they not only have multiple coal-run power plants but they also have the world’s largest thermal power plant. It’s called the Datang Tuoketuo power station. The plant has a capacity of 6.76W, and it uses more than 21 million tons of coal every year to help meet the demands of China.

Nuclear Power Plants

Nuclear power plants have the ability to produce massive amounts of energy. It converts nuclear energy into electricity. There is a nuclear reactor that gives off heat, and then that heat is used to convert water into steam.

The steam becomes pressurized, and then it is used to turn turbines that are connected to a generator to create electricity. One of the bonuses of these types of power plants is that they don’t have to burn anything in order to create heat, so they don’t cause high amounts of pollution. The entire process is powered by nuclear fission.

Sometimes power plants require help from an experienced company such as EMF WA to repair or maintain plant equipment to ensure enough power is being generated with minimal downtime.

Wind Power Plants

These power plants are considered green energy, and they are non-conventional plants. They have the capability of producing energy by converting the energy from the wind to electrical energy we use in our homes with the help of wind turbines.

In certain areas with high winds, you might find what is called a wind farm. Wind farms are a collection of windmills across an area.

The largest wind farm is currently in China. It is located in the Gansu province, and it produces 6,000 MW. One of the major cons of wind power plants is that they require a lot more hardware in order to work effectively. With so many parts, you have to worry about things failing more often and needing repairs.

Geothermal Power Plant

Geothermal plants are very similar to the steam turbine power plants, but they use the heat from the earth’s core to create steam. One of the biggest limitations of these power plants is that there are only a few places on earth where these plants can be installed.

Another con is that the cost of building these plants and drilling is on the more expensive side. The largest geothermal plant is in the United States, and it is capable of producing 1,520 MW of energy. It is located north of San Francisco, California, in the Mayacamas Mountains.

Solar Power

With solar power plants, the energy of the sun is used to produce electricity. The solar panels use photovoltaic cells to capture the sunlight, and then this is converted into electricity.

Many countries are looking into making the switch to solar energy because it will help offset the dependence on fossil fuels.

Tidal Power Plant

With this type of power plant, the power of the tides is harnessed by tidal fences or tidal barrages to create electricity. Although this is a green energy source, the adoption rate for tidal power plants has been low because implementing this type of plant has critical limitations.

Tidal power plants can only be installed along coastlines. The difference in water levels from high tide to low tide has to be 5 meters high in order to produce electricity.

Automation Systems

Thanks to technology, nowadays, some power plants can be controlled using a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) or a Distributed Control System (DCS). Monitoring the condition of the plants items is great because it is easy to keep track of what can fail and what is running efficiently.

This is a great way to be proactive and maintain plant equipment before it fails instead of running around fixing broken equipment and dealing with downtime. With fossil fuel burning plants, automation systems are very useful because precisely controlling the system devices can help increase the availability of the plant.

The availability is the amount of time that the plant is capable of producing electricity over a certain amount of time, divided by the amount of time in that period. This is a major KPI which ensures the most efficient use of the plant.

Monitoring the demand helps the plant adjust the speed of the pumps automatically according to the time of day needed.

Feeling Like a Pro on the Different Types of Power Plants?

As you can see there isn’t just one kind of power plant, there are many types of power plants, and they each have their own unique pros.

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