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What Is an Electric Power Plant?

Nuclear power plants use heat generated from nuclear reactors to create electricity.
A turbine designed to generate energy from the wind.
A hydroelectric power plant.
Electric power plants provide energy to customers via a power grid.
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  • Written By: Daniel Liden
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 08 July 2014
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An electric power plant is a facility that exists for the purpose of generating electric power and sending it toward wherever it is needed. There are several different methods of generating electricity, but generally an electric power plant burns fossil fuels, such as coal, to heat water and produce steam. This steam is pressurized and used to turn a turbine, and electrical energy is gained from the mechanical energy of the rotating turbine through the use of a series of magnets. The interactions result in electrons which are sent through power lines until they reach the homes and businesses where they are needed.

Coal is the most commonly used fossil fuel for the generation of electricity because of its high energy content and ready combustibility. It does, however, produce a great deal of fossil fuel waste. Burning coal releases massive quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and is thought to contribute significantly to global warming and to the greenhouse effect. As such, scientists continually seek the cleanest and most efficient method of generating energy at an electric power plant.

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An electric power plant can come in many different forms, based on the kind of fuel it uses and the methods used to convert that fuel to electrical energy. For example, nuclear power plants utilize the heat from nuclear reactors, and geothermal power plants use steam generated by extremely hot rocks located deep underground. Usually, an electric power plant will make use of steam turbines to provide the mechanical energy to be transferred to electrical energy. Sometimes, however, a plant will have a gas turbine that is directly turned by natural gas. Some also make use of microturbines which are inexpensive and can make use of a variety of different kinds of fuels.

Renewable forms of electrical energy generation are gaining prominence as the expense and limited nature of fossil fuels become strongly apparent. Energy can be gained from wind, using windmills which directly use the power of the wind to turn turbines and generate mechanical energy which can, in turn, be converted to electrical energy. A solar thermal electric power plant uses the heat energy of the sun to boil water and turn turbines. These methods of energy generation are renewable and clean, but tend to be less efficient at actually generating electricity than fossil fuel plants are. The supply of fossil fuels will run dry, but the Earth will still have plenty of wind and sunlight.

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Discuss this Article

pleonasm
Post 3

@umbra21 - It's not exactly guilt free, but the technology exists at the moment for people to build nuclear power plants which could make electricity much cheaper and greener.

They would also be much safer than in the past.

Unfortunately because of high profile accidents nuclear power has been all but written off as a viable energy source and all the power plants already in existence aren't poster children for it since they are built with old technology.

I'd rather get my electricity from a nuclear plant than a coal or diesel power plant.

umbra21
Post 2

@croydon - That does sound like an amazing idea, although I imagine they would have to spend a bit on the people washing the glasshouse windows.

If they build it big enough though, it will work really well.

Its very encouraging how people are starting to find ways to create power with sustainable energy. Power plants were always the kind of thing that I associated with pollution, but there are many different kinds now which don't use fossil fuels.

Of course, there are still downsides to almost any power plant.

Wind turbines can disrupt or kill birds and bats and they are very noisy and take a lot of space.

Hydro-electric power plants often stop fish from reaching spawning grounds, and so on.

But the technology is improving quickly. I'm sure my grandkids will be able to enjoy cheap and guilt free electricity.

croydon
Post 1

I read an article recently about a fantastic new power plant they are building in the deserts of California.

It is enormous, with a massive circular greenhouse area at the base of a tall tower.

The idea is that the air in the greenhouse area will be heated from the sun and will rise into the tower.

Inside the tower are big turbines which are turned by the rising air to generate power, almost like a steam electric power plant.

Once it is built the only thing it will cost is maintenance since there is no input needed except for the sunlight. And the desert has no shortage of that.

They even think you could use the outer edges of the greenhouse to grow food, although the middle of the area would be far too hot.

It's too bad it will only work in desert environments, but then, a lot of impoverished places have deserts.

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