Jean-Patrice Delia is Director of Operations at Thermogen Power Services where they focus on optimizing power plants focusing on fossil fuels, solar, and wind power. Before working for Thermogen, Mr. Delia worked for a number of other energy companies including General Electric and Siemens Power Generation.
If you’ve ever wondered how most homes in North America receive their electricity, JP explains the process of power plants, and how they convert heat into electricity.
What is Energy?
When energy experts use the term, they are most-often referring to electricity. This electricity arrives courtesy of heat, such as in the burning of fossil fuels, through renewable methods, water, wind, and sunlight can generate electricity, as well.
What are the Moving Parts Within a Power Plant?
As scientists and engineers continue to develop more sustainable energy solutions, most of today’s power plants require various fossil fuels.
While some power plants still use coal, most power plants in North America prefer oil and gas.
We are very fortunate in our neck of the woods, in the province of Quebec, that 98.5% of our electricity comes from hydro powered plants.
Jean-Patrice Delia explains that to release the heat necessary for electricity, power plant furnaces burns the fuel until it releases the necessary heat. For nuclear power plants, the nuclear fuel releases the heat that is necessary to convert into electricity in the reactor.
In either case, the heat released is used to boil water and release steam.
As the name implies, the boiler houses the water and releases heat from the furnace to boil water into steam.
Like a kettle of boiling water, the steam creates enormous pressure in order to move turbines at high speeds.
Condenser and Cooling Tower
Heat that is not converted to kinetic energy through the turbine is removed from the steam through cooling water, flowing through the condenser, which is then cooled down through the cooling tower. Cooling water is also necessary to prevent overheating of crucial parts of the system. The cooling tower uses ambient conditions to remove the heat from the hot cooling water.
The generator rotor is driven by the turbines, converting the kinetic energy to generate electricity.
How Electricity Arrives to the Home
Power plants generate electricity, but power distribution requires an infrastructure of power lines and transformers. Jean-Patrice Delia states that this infrastructure allows for electricity to arrive at homes, buildings, and other equipment necessary to sustain a reasonable quality of life in a particular area.
Most people understand how power lines work. These lines allow power (electricity) to traverse long distances in a short period of time. It is the highway of electricity.
The faster that electricity travels across power lines, the less energy is lost during the process. However, electricity at too high a voltage (fast speeds) is too powerful for public consumption.
Therefore, electricity leaving a power plant becomes high voltage in a “step up transformer” and is released to the power lines for transport. As that electricity approaches a house or building, a “step down transformer” lowers the voltage for safe use.
If an area of power infrastructure wants to move electricity at higher speeds across longer distances, energy companies can build pylons. These towers are super-high voltage lines raised at heights far above everyday power lines.
If power lines are electric highways, then pylons are electric interstates.
Powerplants are key to society functioning as we know it today and it is important to understand how they operate.