Boiler Alert: The Secret History of Energy Generation and Power Plants 

Oil refinery and​ industrial​ city​ After sunset

Power plants produce power. Power makes the world go round. In the 19th century, the world was barely beginning to grasp the immensity of electricity and the role that it would play in transforming society. The ubiquitous nature of electricity and our easy access to power might make it seem simple enough. The history of generating power is a long and winding road marked by significant milestones, discoveries, and great minds—all with their unique contributions to the diverse and robust power generation mechanisms we have today. From the light bulb to generators, to industrial boilers, the generation of power basically sustains the way of life we are so accustomed to in the modern world. 

Power Plants, Generators, Boilers & Other Essential Industrial Equipment 

A power plant generates electricity from a variety of sources or primary energy. They often convert mechanical energy into electrical energy to be used for manufacturing or other energy needs. According to the U.S Energy Information Administration, as of December 31st, 2019 there were 22,731 electric generators and about 10, 346 utility-scale electric power plants in the nation. That’s a lot of power! Every power plant uses at least one generator. There are different types of power plants that derive their power from a variety of sources. 

From Coal to Gas to Nuclear Discoveries 

From Thomas Edison to Nikola Tesla, to the less well-known names of Hippolyte Pixie, Charles Wheatstone, Charles R. Brush, the unlocking of electricity was led by many scientific minds. The discovery helped to illuminate our cities, and kickstart the industrial revolutions across the Western world. Advances in alternating current technology and hydropower had made their way to the world stage by the late 1900s. Coal power, however, had established itself as the leading means towards power generation. Steam generators were producing relatively high power by the onset of the 20th century.  By the 1910s, turbines and steam generators were being used to increase coal-fired power plants. The production of coal grew various industries and helped spearhead the production boom in the early turn of the century. 

Natural Gas

Then came natural gas. Today natural gas is a powerful energy source that keeps so much of the energy supply in America up and running. American inventor Charles Curtis would offer an invention of a different turbine to General Electric Co. The breakout of World War I and later World War II would kick the production of natural gas energy to overdrive. In 1948, GE installed its first commercial gas turbine for power generation. 

Nuclear Power

Then came the atom. Well, the atom had long been discovered but scientists were not quite sure how to harness its power for energy production. Throughout the early 20th century, atomic principles were a topic of deep interest. Einstein’s theory of relativity emerged in 1913 and continued to feed the study of the atom with scientists like Enrico Fermi and others that uncovered the splitting of the atom. As these different discoveries and scientific milestones turned to the evolution of better, more efficient, and cheaper energy, the world continued to grow, produce, and perfect the process and equipment. 

Different Types of Power Plants 

Power plants derive their power from different sources. The most common fuels are coal, natural gas, and uranium. Hydroelectricity (the use of water) is also used in some instances. Plants can also create power from wind, geothermal flows, and solar. 

In the United States the percentage of power sources is broken up as follows: 

  • Natural gas: 31.9%
  • Coal and coal products: 34.2%
  • Nuclear: 19.3%
  • Hydro: 5%
  • Solar/wind: 5.4%

Thermal Power Plants — The Power of Heat

Heat contains energy. Thermal power uses heat sources like steam and high pressures to harness that energy. 

Fossil fuel plants: These plants burn coal or oil to create the heat they then use to generate steam. This drives the turbines and creates electricity. 

Nuclear power plants: The nuclear power plant uses fission processes to generate electricity. This is where the splitting of the atom comes in. When uranium nuclei are split, it creates thermal energy needed to create steam. The steam then spins a turbine and generates electricity. 

Solar power plants: These plants are different, as their main source of energy is the rays of the sun. The sun’s rays create the steam needed to generate the power. 

Boilers are often used in some power plants to produce the high pressured steam needed for energy production. Manufacturing plants may use a boiler to create the energy they need to power their operations. Boilers extract the energy from the source (coal, natural gas, or nuclear heat) and heat water into steam to produce power. There are also approximately 226,000 manufacturing facilities and 21,000 other facilities that have industrial boilers. 

With Great Power Comes Great Equipment- Find What You Need With Wisco Supply 

Today’s industrial supply chain is a complex world of creation, production, and manufacturing. In order to produce the services and products that we all enjoy, we need the power and electricity to keep operations running. We have the supplies you need at Wisco Supply. 

Questions about our products or industrial supplies? Connect with us today.