Electricity is the lifeblood of the modern world. Everything from watches to cars now runs on electricity.
To put our dependence on electricity into numbers, we see that in 2008, the electricity consumption of the U.S. was at 2,989 TWh (Tera Watt-hours). Fast forward to 2019, we see that it has increased to 3,971 TWh. A TWh being equal to 1,000,000,000 kwh.
It is simply staggering to see how much we are now dependent on electricity in our daily lives. But where does all this power come from?
The answer is power plants. They produce electricity for the world to use.
There are different types of power plants in the world that work in conjunction to satiate the increasing need for electric power. Let’s find out in detail how these power stations work.
1. Hydroelectric power plants
Hydroelectric power plants are one of the most effective and eco-friendliest of all power plants. In a hydroelectric power plant, electricity is granted from water.
In detail, the potential energy of water is converted to electrical energy. When water is made to fall from a height on to a turbine, it spins the armature which is connected to a generator.
When the turbine spins, the generator starts to produce electricity. This electricity is then routed to all the different substations to distribute the power.
The world’s largest power plant is a Hydro-electric power plant called The Three Gorges Dam. The dam creates an astounding 22,500MW of power.
It achieves this feat by using 34 power generators. The dam is so huge that after its construction, the dam single-handedly slowed down the earth’s rotation.
One of the advantages of a Hydroelectric power plant is that there is no waste generated from the creation of energy.
2. Nuclear power plants
Nuclear power stations also top the list of power plants that can produce massive amounts of energy. A nuclear power plant works by converting nuclear energy into electricity.
The heat from the nuclear reactor is used to convert water into steam. The pressurized steam is then used to turn turbines connected to a generator.
As opposed to coal or natural gas power plants, a nuclear power plant doesn’t have to burn anything to create heat. The whole process is powered by nuclear fission.
Low-enriched Uranium pellets are loaded into the nuclear power plant. Then the Uranium atom is split creating the nuclear fission. This process releases huge amounts of energy.
The advantage of a nuclear power plant is that they do not need to burn anything to create energy. Hence, the carbon emission from a nuclear power plant is very low.
The disadvantages of a nuclear power plant are the nuclear waste that it creates and the steep cost of building one. Nuclear power constitutes more than 10% of the world’s energy needs.
The largest nuclear power plant in the world is the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa power plant situated in Japan. It is capable of producing 7,965MW of energy using seven boiling water reactors.
3. Coal-run power plants
The first two power plants that we discussed have a low carbon footprint. Coal run power plants are the exact opposite. They have a large carbon footprint, yet coal-run power plants account for nearly 40% of the world’s energy needs.
Coal run or coal-fired power plants burn coal to convert water into steam. This steam is then used to turn turbines which produces electricity with the help of a generator.
A 1000MW coal power plant burns through 9000 tons of coal per day. This process releases very high amounts of pollutants into the air.
When we look at the consumption of coal for generating power, no country comes close to China. Eight out of the eleven high capacity (more than 5GW) are in China.
Moreover, China is the largest CO2 emitter in the world!
DatangTuoketuo power station is the world’s largest thermal power plant boasting a capacity of 6.7GW. This coal plant uses more than 21 million tons of coal per year to meet the energy demands of China.
Coal run power plants fall under the category of thermal power plants. Diesel-run and Natural Gas-run power plants are the other two types of thermal power plants that are commonly used for electricity generation.
Green energy power plants
With the advancements in energy generation, we now have more than just thermal, nuclear and hydroelectric powerplants. They are called non-conventional power plants.
These power stations are capable of producing clean energy (or Green Energy). Let’s find out what they are all about!
Solar power plants: Solar power plants use the energy of the sun to produce electricity. Solar panels capture the sunlight using photovoltaic cells and convert it into electricity.
Today, an increasing number of countries are looking towards solar energy to offset their dependence on fossil fuels. Tengger Desert Solar Park is currently the world’s largest solar power plant in terms of capacity. It is capable of producing 1,547MW of energy.
Wind power plants: Wind power plants convert wind energy to electrical energy using wind turbines. These are also very effective at producing clean energy.
A collection of windmills span across an area is called a wind farm. The Gansu Wind Farm in China, which has the completion year of 2020, is stated to be the largest wind farm in the world.
Geothermal power plant: Geothermal powerplants are similar to the steam turbine power stations that we discussed earlier. However, instead of burning fossil fuels, geothermal power plants use the heat from the earth’s core to create steam.
The largest geothermal power plant is The Geysers Complex, situated in the U.S.. It is capable of producing 1,520 MW of energy. The biggest limitation of geothermal energy is that there are only a few places of the earth where it can be installed. Also, the cost of drilling and building plants can be quite expensive.
Tidal power plant: Tidal power plants use tidal fences or tidal barrages to harness the power of the tides. The adoption rates for tidal power plants have been low since there are some critical limitations to implementing a tidal power plant.
Over the years, we have seen a steady incline in the demand for energy all over the world. And moving forward, there is no sign of this pattern slowing down anytime soon! The yearly rise in pollution levels is a testament to our alarming rate of fossil fuel consumption.
What we can do though is move away from carbon-heavy sources of power like fossil fuels and embrace renewable energy sources. There have been massive efforts poured into this vision by different companies and countries to make this vision a reality.
In the coming years, we can hope to see more green energy power plants rather than the CO2 factories.