| Several years ago I was asked by power producers within the electric utility industry to write and then present a training course on the subject of coal power plant fundamentals. The finished product was a two day introductory course on the energy transformation process within a coal fired plant.
Since that time my seminar, entitled Coal Power Plant Fundamentals, has been presented to a variety of audiences, including Mirant Corporation, Platte River Power Authority, and Integrys Energy Group, Inc. Audience makeup has been diverse and has included equipment manufacturers, mining companies, power industry consultants, and regulatory agencies.
This seminar, which I continue to present today in meeting rooms across the country, covers all major systems in a typical power plant, from coal handling when the coal first enters the plant, to its eventual end destination, the electrical switch yard which facilitates power transmission to customers. My Power Point presentation is embellished with ample illustrations, including photographs that I have taken during the course of my career and diagrams which I created using CAD, or Computer Aided Drawing software, one of which is featured below. In addition to the overhead slides, I provide a 150-page bound book which is distributed to seminar attendees. They use it to both follow along with my lecture and have a source of refresher material to take home with them. I’ve been told that having my illustrations in front of them makes a world of difference towards their understanding of the subject matter.
The unique thing about my course is that it focuses on the simplified presentation of complex engineering concepts, much like my blogs do. Of course it always helps to have an engineering background or scientific background of sorts, but I wrote the course to accommodate understanding of the subject matter by individuals without any technical background. Accountants, salespersons, administrative staff, plant operating and maintenance workers, and journalists have all found the course to be easy to follow, interesting, and informative.
So how do you get electricity from coal? To answer this question and give you a sampling of my seminar material let’s take a look at Figure 1.
Figure 1 – The Coal Power Plant Energy Transformation Process
Following along from left to right, the coal is first burned in order to transform the chemical energy which it contains into heat energy. That heat energy is then absorbed by water inside a nearby boiler, where it is converted into steam. The heat energy in the steam flows through a pipe into a steam turbine where it is again transformed, this time into mechanical energy that enables the turbine shaft to spin. The mechanical energy in the turbine is then transmitted by its shaft, enabling it to turn an electrical generator. And, finally, the mechanical energy is transformed by the generator into electrical energy for our usage.
Simple process, right? Well, maybe, maybe not. My illustration certainly helped to simplify things, but there are a lot of details that were purposely omitted so as not to “muddy the waters.” It’s those details which have the potential to make things a lot more complicated, and next week we’ll begin to take a closer look at some of them.