Every aspect of our lives run on energy. Energy that we harness from our surroundings. And with the increase in our dependency on these energy resources, the conversation has shifted towards greener alternatives and sustainable resources – especially due to climate change. Are conventional energy sources going to take a backseat now? Let us look at one of the many conventional energy generation sources – thermal power plants. This article will discuss its workings as well as the advantages and disadvantages.
WHAT IS IT?
A thermal power plant or station is an electrical facility that uses any source of thermal (heat) energy and converts it into electric energy. Thermal energy is basically harnessing heat and converting it into electricity generation. And a thermal power plant uses steam in order to drive a steam turbine. Now the different sources of thermal or heat energy are what distinguish the design of a thermal power plant. For instance, fossil fuels, geothermal energy, nuclear energy, solar energy, and biomass (biofuels) are all examples of various sources of thermal energy that give different characteristics to thermal plants. It is one of the most utilized conventional sources of energy. Apart from the generation of electric energy, thermal power plants are also used for desalination of water, heat for industrial purposes, residential heating, etc.
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THE WORKINGS OF A THERMAL POWER PLANT
The most basic understanding of how a thermal power plant works is that it converts water into steam with the help of heat energy that is obtained from a solid fuel source. Firstly, a fuel source, for example, coal goes into a steam boiler and is burned. As a result, high-pressure steam is produced in the said seam boiler. Subsequently, this high-pressure steam goes through a heater, following which it enters a turbine at high speed. Now, this high-pressure steam gets converted into mechanical energy in the turbine and helps in moving the turbine blades. Finally, mechanical energy gets converted into electrical energy. The operation of a thermal power plant or station is very similar to the Rankine Cycle.
ADVANTAGES OF THERMAL POWER PLANTS
Initial Low Cost
A huge advantage of opting for a thermal power plant as an energy generator is its initial low cost. And in comparison to other sources of energy, thermal power yields better results with lesser cost. Most companies are profit-driven. And since these power plants are cost-effective, they are preferred over other sources of energy. For instance, sixty-five percent of India’s electricity generation is from thermal power plants. The largest thermal power plant in India, the Vindhyachal Thermal Power Station in Madhya Pradesh has a gross capacity of about 4760 MW.
Thermal energy is an accessible source of energy mainly because of the fuel source used. For example, coal is one of the most common fuels used for energy generation. And coal is not only easily available everywhere but it is also a very cheap resource. Also, these power plants do not require a lot of space in comparison to other types of plants like hydropower plants. Hence, one can install a thermal power plant anywhere as long as there is availability of water and fuel.
Thermal power plants are also called coal thermal power plants or steam turbine power plants. As seen above with the workings of a thermal power plant, the way it works is fairly simple. The heat production system is easier than other energy systems. Heat energy gets converted into electricity within a steam cycle. A conventional thermal power plant consists of a boiler room, machine room, electric power outlet, and other supplementary operations like water treatment, water management, back fuel cycle, etc.
Another advantage of these power plants is that it is hassle-free and is easy maintenance. Obtaining energy from thermal plants is easy and takes less effort than other methods of energy production. The plants also comparatively require lesser space. This results in easier maintenance of the space.
DISADVANTAGES OF THERMAL POWER PLANTS
Not a Clean Source of Energy
One of the major drawbacks of the utilization of thermal power is that it not a clean source of energy. Coal is one of the most commonly used raw materials and fuel to generate thermal energy. For instance, 85 percent of India’s thermal energy generation is coal-based and China mines half of the world’s coal. And as we are aware, fossil fuels like coal create by-products that are harmful to the environment. With the looming fear of the devastating effects of climate change, a transition towards a cleaner form of energy generation is important and necessary.
Expensive in the Longer Run
Though the initial cost of installing a thermal power plant system is cheap, the overall costing of the plant can be higher. The cost includes the fuel cost, capital for the plant, labor, maintenance, treatment, disposal, waste management, etc. And these are only the direct costs for the thermal plant. Apart from this, indirect social or environmental costs are also accrued with its use. Hence, it is an expensive energy source in the longer run.
As mentioned above, thermal plants are not completely a clean source of energy. Fossil fuel powered thermal plants have an adverse impact on our environment. Thermal power plants burn fossil fuels in order to convert it into energy. And this burning of fossil fuels produces huge amounts of carbon dioxide apart from other fumes and gases. It is estimated that over 35 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide are produced every year because of fossil fuel burning. These carbon emissions are extremely harmful and are among the leading causes of global warming. In addition to the pollution that thermal power plants are responsible for causing, they also require large amounts of water to create steam. This aggravates an already astute water scarcity experienced in many parts of the country.
Not As Efficient
The energy efficiency of a conventional thermal power plant is the saleable energy produced as a percent of the heating value of the fuel consumed. In comparison to other sources of energy, the thermal power plant is not an efficient energy generator. The overall efficiency of the power plant is quite less.
In conclusion, there is certainly a need to reduce our dependency on resources involving fossil fuels as they are finite resources. Efforts must be taken for the ethical and responsible consumption of our energy resources.