Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Augmenting Thermal Power Plants with Hydropower from Cooling Water

Nuclear power plants discharge a lot of cooling water
Nuclear power plants discharge a lot of cooling water
Much of our current electrical generation is done by large utilities in what are generically termed thermal power plants. Thermal power plants include those that burn coal, natural gas, biomass, or other fuels. They also include nuclear power plants. The common element to all of these is that they heat water, creating steam which is then used to drive steam turbines which turn the generators that make the electricity.

Once the steam has passed through the turbine it moves into a condenser where it is cooled back into liquid water, and circulated around to be heated again. Many of the condensers use water to cool the steam. Some plants use a closed loop of cooling water, where the cooling water is itself cooled; in nuclear plants this is the purpose of the tall cooling towers. Steam that escapes is replaced by a fresh supply of water, which is why these plants are typically sited near rivers or by the ocean where there is a large continuous water supply.

Other plants use an open loop or once-through water for their cooling, where water is drawn in continuously for cooling, then discharged back into the river or ocean. These discharges are almost always gravity flows rather than pumped, and these discharges of large amounts of water, running continuously in artificial channels, are perfect for Hydrovolts turbines to generate power, augmenting that made by the main part of the plant. Hydrovolts turbines can generate additional power at modest cost by harnessing these untapped flows; the electricity is sent via the existing transmission infrastructure.

Like most other artificial water flows in constructed waterways, little or no permitting is needed because environmental impacts are minimal. As a result, cost is low and speed of implementation is relatively rapid. This is a solution that lets us take a small, but quick step to a better energy future.
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