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What Is a Thermal Power Plant?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 13 April 2014
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A thermal power plant uses steam to spin turbines, which in turn feed electric generators. Most power plants in the world use thermal energy to operate. A thermal power plant is usually defined by the type of fuel used to heat the water and create steam. Coal, oil, and even solar and nuclear powers can be used to create the steam necessary to run a thermal plant.

Many thermal plants operate on a partially closed loop, using what is known as a Rankine cycle. Water is heated by fuel, such as coal or nuclear power, until it becomes steam. Steam is passed through a series of chambers that make it stronger, hotter, and more powerful. The steam reaches the turbines and spins them, then is pushed through to a cooling storage area where it can condense back into water. The water can then be reused to create steam, completing the loop.

One type of thermal power plant that emits the heating step is a geothermal plant. This makes use of steam and naturally boiling water that rises from the earth in the form of geysers and hot springs. Geothermal sources can be unpredictable, and have somewhat limited use due to their presence only in certain places, such as alongside tectonic divides. Nevertheless, geothermal plants use less energy than many other varieties, making them more cost and time efficient.

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One of the major concerns with a thermal plant is the fuel used to generate steam from water. Common fuel sources include coal and other fossil fuels, which have several built-in problems. In addition to the dwindling resources available, fossil fuels are generally heavily pollutant and are believed by many scientists to be a major contributing factor in global warming. Nuclear sources are much cleaner, but worry many with the possibility of a harmful leak that could contaminate surrounding areas for centuries.

Solar thermal plants have the benefit of being non-pollutant and also utilizing a completely renewable resource: sunlight. Using solar panels to absorb sun, lenses and mirrors then concentrate the heat to activate a steam generator. This technology is in its infancy in the early 21st century; efficiency and the variables of a moving sun continue to create problems in building a large capacity solar thermal power plant.

A thermal power plant is a mighty tool in everyday life on the planet; many regions receive the bulk of their energy supply from thermal plants. Experts say the technology requires advances and refinements to meet growing energy requirements. In addition, pressure to reduce fossil fuel consumption and create low pollution energy sources requires new ideas, plans, and experimentation to be brought to the field.

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