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Electric Power Plant

What is an electric power plant?

It is an industrial facility for generating electric power

What are the parts of a power plant?

Each power plant may have its own particularities, but some of the main components they all share are:

  • Heat source: this can be highly diverse, but the objective is to generate the temperature needed to start the Rankine cycle. Electrical nuclear power plants use nuclear reactors as a heat source, and they are simply called nuclear power plants.
  • Steam generator: with this engineering device, the heated water circulates through the reactor, producing and pressurizing water vapor, which will then go to the turbine. 
  • Turbine: a turbomachine engine that uses the flow of water vapor to produce mechanical energy.
  • Generator: using the mechanical energy produced by the turbine, the generator produces electric energy in the form of alternating current, which will then go to a transformer.
  • Capacitor: this is a heat exchanger that cools the water vapor used in the production of electrical energy to condense it back into water and close the Rankine cycle.
  • Cooling towers: these huge towers release the steam produced during the cooling of the reactor. In popular culture, cooling towers have been used as the iconic visual part of nuclear power plants.

What is the Rankine cycle?

It’s a thermodynamic circuit where heat is converted into work. This is achieved by heating water in a boiler until it evaporates and increasing the pressure of the steam that reaches a turbine, where it will produce kinetic energy while losing pressure. Finally, the steam condenses, transforming back into water and closing the cycle.

In nuclear plants, the Rankine cycle is activated by a nuclear reaction, unlike what happens in other types of plants where the heat source that starts the cycle can come from fossil fuel, for example.

What types of power plants are there?

According to the heat source, power plants can be classified as:

  • Fossil fuel.
  • Nuclear.
  • Geothermal.
  • Biomass.
  • Waste heat (generated by other industrial processes).
  • Solar.

Plants can also have different types of turbines:

  • Steam turbine.
  • Gas turbine.
  • Combined cycle (gas and steam turbines).
  • Microturbines and Stirling engines.

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