Uncontrollable Factors In Coal Fired Power Plants

    You know that little red guy that bobs in and out of a glass of water, seemingly without end?   He’s an example of a non-perpetual motion device, because even he will eventually come to a stop due to something known as uncontrollable factors.   Uncontrollable factors are a hindering factor in coal fired power plants, as well, most notably by a measure of efficiency known as heat rate.

Uncontrollable Factors At Play

Uncontrollable Factors At Play

    The term heat rate is industry jargon for gauging how efficiently a coal fired power plant is operating.   We previously learned that heat rate can be affected by things like missing thermal insulation on pipes and equipment.   Of course missing insulation can easily be corrected because it’s directly under human control, but heat rate can be affected by many factors we can’t do anything about, known as uncontrollable factors.

    Human fallibility is behind the phenomenon of uncontrollable factors, and because we are less than 100% accurate and efficient, so is anything that we make.   At their best utility coal fired power plants have an overall efficiency of between 30 and 40 percent, which means 60 to 70 percent of the stored energy inside coal is wasted and doesn’t go towards generating electricity.

    Unfortunately there’s nothing we can do to eliminate these waste factors until improvements are made in the present level of technology. When we look through a microscope to view microbes we’re limited by the accuracy of the equipment, and in a similar way we are limited in everything we do as humans by the equipment we’ve built.   That includes energy efficiency within power plants.

    We’ll start identifying the uncontrollable factors that affect power plant performance next time.

Copyright 2018 – Philip J. O’Keefe, PE

Engineering Expert Witness Blog



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