What is a Power Plant and How Does it Work?

A power plant is an industrial facility that produces electricity from primary energy sources. Most power plants use one or more generators to convert mechanical energy into electrical energy, which is then supplied to the power grid to meet the electrical needs of society. The exception is solar power plants, which use photovoltaic cells instead of a turbine to generate electricity. Nuclear power plants use the heat produced during nuclear fission to heat water, which is then used to spin large turbines that generate electricity.

Thermal power plants use fuel to heat water in a tank, producing steam (usually at high pressure). Renewable energy power plants derive their energy directly from their respective flows to generate electricity. This electricity is then transmitted through pylons along overhead power cables to its destination, where transformers reduce electrical power to ensure voltages for homes and utilities. Biomass can be burned directly in steam power plants or converted into a gas that can be burned in steam generators, gas turbines or internal combustion engine generators. Photovoltaics (PV) and solar thermal energy are the two main types of solar power generation technologies. Powerful energy sector interests are pushing for higher coal targets, which would be at odds with China's climate goals.

On the other hand, the sector is under pressure from renewables, the freezing of energy prices and the forthcoming reforms of the electricity market, as well as a national carbon trading scheme. The International Energy Agency (IEA) sees little role for coal-fired energy in 2C scenarios, since residual emissions are too high, even when using carbon capture and storage (CCS).Another 19 countries, responsible for 5% of current capacity, have committed to phasing out coal as part of the Powering Past Coal Alliance, led by the United Kingdom and Canada. To shed light on this story, Carbon Brief has mapped the past, present and future of all coal-fired power plants in the world.

Sue Bubb
Sue Bubb

Extreme zombie trailblazer. Friendly music expert. Evil pop culture specialist. Proud zombie junkie. Unapologetic music fan. Unapologetic foodaholic.

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