Steam-electric power station

Mohave Generating Station, a 1,580 MW steam-electric power plant near Laughlin, Nevada fuelled by coal

The steam-electric power station is a power station in which the electric generator is steam driven. Water is heated, turns into steam and spins a steam turbine which drives an electrical generator. After it passes through the turbine, the steam is condensed in a condenser. The greatest variation in the design of steam-electric power plants is due to the different fuel sources.

Almost all coal, nuclear, geothermal, solar thermal electric power plants, waste incineration plants as well as many natural gas power plants are steam-electric. Natural gas is frequently combusted in gas turbines as well as boilers. The waste heat from a gas turbine can be used to raise steam, in a combined cycle plant that improves overall efficiency.

Worldwide, most electric power is produced by steam-electric power plants, which produce about 89% of all electric generation. The only other types of plants that currently have a significant contribution are hydroelectric and gas turbine plants, which can burn natural gas or diesel. Photovoltaic panels, wind turbines and binary cycle geothermal plants are also non-steam electric, but currently do not produce much electricity.



Reciprocating steam engines have been used for mechanical power sources since the 18th Century, with notable improvements being made by James Watt. The very first commercial central electrical generating stations in New York and London, in 1882, also used reciprocating steam engines. As generator sizes increased, eventually turbines took over due to higher efficiency and lower cost of construction. By the 1920s any central station larger than a few thousand kilowatts would use a turbine prime mover.


The efficiency of a conventional steam-electric power plant, defined as energy produced by the plant divided by the heating value of the fuel consumed by it, is typically 33 to 4... more

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