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.
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.