9 Power Plant Types and their Features Explained

Power plant types are; diesel, coal, gas, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, nuclear, tidal and wind-driven power plants. These types may be broadly grouped into non-renewable and renewable power plants.

In this article, the types of power plants are discussed extensively, based on the following outline;


-Non-Renewable Power Plant Types

-Renewable Power Plant Types










Non-Renewable Power Plant Types

The non-renewable power plants include all types which are driven with energy from non-renewable sources like coal, diesel, and natural gas. They are discussed as follows;

1). Coal-driven Power Plant as one of the Power Plant Types

A coal-driven or coal-fired power plant is a type of power plant which depends on coal as its primary source of energy [7].

This is one of the most commonly-used types of power plants, accounting for more than 40% of electricity generation in the United States [8].

In most coal-driven power plants, a steam turbine mechanism is used. Heat from combustion of the coal is used to produce steam, which is in turn used to drive a turbine. Mechanical energy derived by this method is then used to generate electricity through electromagnetic induction, in a generator.

However, coal is a fossil fuel, and has some disadvantages. One of these is the fact that it is not renewable, and extensive usage can lead to resource depletion.

Another disadvantage is the risk of environmental degradation which accompanies the use of coal as a fuel. Greenhouse gases and other toxic effluents from coal-driven power plants can negatively impact air quality, and may contribute to global warming [11].

What this implies is that the scheme operation of coal-driven power plants requires plans for routine environmental remediation to be included. However, the abundance and high energy-density of coal make it possible for this type of power plant to run at high capacity.

It is also necessary to note that coal-driven plants are among the types of power power plants that can be described as thermal power plants, due to their dependence on heat energy to generate electricity.

Coal-driven Plant as one of the Power Plant types (Credit: Tennessee Valley Authority 2013)
Coal-driven Plant as one of the Types of Power Plants (Credit: Tennessee Valley Authority 2013)


2). Diesel-driven Power Plant as one of the Power Plant Types

Like the other fuel-based types of power plants, diesel-driven plants depend on diesel; a derivative of petroleum, for primary energy supply.

The chemical energy in diesel is converted to heat energy through combustion. This heat is then used to energize and mobilize a fluid, which is used to drive a mechanical component (such as the turbine) to produce mechanical energy.

A common and important component of this type of power plant is a diesel engine [2]. This engine includes the equipment needed to combust diesel effectively.

When mechanical energy has been produced in the power plant, the generator transforms this energy to electricity by electromagnetic induction.

Because diesel is not as abundant and easy-to-handle as coal, diesel-driven power plants often operate at a small-scale compared to coal plants. Diesel power plants also pose similar environmental challenges as coal plants, due to the release of greenhouse gases and toxins as the fuel is combusted.


3). Gas-driven Power Plants

Gas-driven or gas-fired power plants burn natural gas to generate electricity.

It is also one of the thermal types of power plants, and commonly makes use of a hydraulic mechanism that includes a steam turbine.

Gas-driven power plants are also fairly common, and they account for up to 23% of global power generation [1].

Like diesel plants, these systems usually require a combustion engine to effectively and efficiently convert chemical energy in the fuel to heat energy for power generation.

Gas-driven Plant as one of the Types of Power Plants (Credit: Pro-Per Energy Services 2011 .CC BY-SA 4.0.)
Gas-driven Plant as one of the Types of Power Plants (Credit: Pro-Per Energy Services 2011 .CC BY-SA 4.0.)


Renewable Power Plant Types

4). Solar Power Plant

Solar power plants or power stations are industrial facilities that use solar energy to generate electricity.

Based on mechanism of operation two types of power plants can be identified under this category; which are solar thermal and solar photovoltaic.

The solar thermal power plant works in a manner similar to nonrenewable plants like coal and diesel-driven types. This means that primary energy is used in the form of heat, which is then converted to mechanical energy by the mobilization of a fluid.

On the other hand, solar photovoltaic power plants use solar panels (made up of photovoltaic cells) to generate electricity directly from solar energy, through the photoelectric effect [9].

In terms of design, the solar thermal type of power plant is usually equipped with concentrating mirrors that deflect solar radiation in a desired direction, while solar photovoltaic power plant is equipped with solar panels which capture and convert solar radiation to produce electricity.

The main advantage of this type of solar plant lies in the fact that solar energy is abundant on Earth [5]. However, further technological development is needed to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of solar energy as a primary source for electricity generation.

Solar as one of the Types of Power Plants (Credit: Thomas Lloyd Group 2018 .CC BY-SA 4.0.)
Solar as one of the Types of Power Plants (Credit: Thomas Lloyd Group 2018 .CC BY-SA 4.0.)


5). Nuclear Power Plant

As the name implies, nuclear power plants depend on nuclear energy as their primary form of energy.

While nuclear fuels are not infinite or renewable in their natural occurrence, the energy efficiency and prolonged usability of these fuels, as well as technological improvements have made it arguable that nuclear energy is renewable.

In nuclear power plants, energy is extracted from the fuel through nuclear fission, which leads to the release of heat energy that can be used to produce steam for driving a turbine [3]. Some aspects of mechanism are slightly similar to that which is used in other fuel-based power stations like coal and diesel.

Because of the energy efficiency and relative longevity of nuclear fuels, nuclear power plants can also operate at high output capacity, and therefore constitute a significant portion of electricity supply stations in some parts of the world.

The energy density of nuclear fuel is generally higher than that of fossil fuels. Nuclear power plants are also believed to emit less greenhouse gases than fossil fuel-based plants. These attributes imply that nuclear plants may have some advantages.

However, the operation of these plants must involve measures to limit the exposure of nuclear waste to the environment, as this may lead to pollution and health problems [10].


6). Geothermal Power Plant

Geothermal energy is used to operate geothermal power plants.

The manner in which this geothermal energy is utilized may vary.

In many geothermal power plants, geothermal (or hydrothermal resources) are drawn directly from the subsurface in the form of steam [4]. This steam is used to drive a turbine and generate electricity.

More recent developments include the introduction of heat transfer mechanisms which help to derive heat (through conduction) from these hydrothermal resources, without need to extract steam directly from the subsurface.

Instead, the heat drawn from geothermal resources is used to produce steam which may then be used to drive the turbine. The only limitation of this system is the energy losses that occur as heat is being transferred. In order to make the power plant effective, an auxiliary energy source may be used to support the heating process.

In comparison to other types of power plants that use thermal processes, the geothermal plant can be considered to be environment-friendly. The construction and operation of this type of power plant requires deep wells to be drilled, in order to reach the underground resources.  


7). Hydroelectric Power Plant

Hydroelectric power plants depend on water to produce mechanical energy that can rotate a turbine and generate electricity.

In order for water to act as an energy source, it must possess kinetic energy. This can be achieved through motion.

In hydroelectric power plants, water is usually mobilized under the influence of gravity, so that kinetic energy is produced as the water flows and falls from a height [12].

Due to the requirement of water and mobility, hydroelectric power stations are usually situated in large water bodies like rivers. They are constructed with dams that control water flow as desired.

Hydroelectric Plant as one of the Types of Power Plants (Credit: Nataliya Shestakova 2017 .CC BY-SA 4.0.)
Hydroelectric Plant as one of the Types of Power Plants (Credit: Nataliya Shestakova 2017 .CC BY-SA 4.0.)


8). Tidal Power Plant

Tidal power plants use tidal energy to generate electricity.

This form of energy is similar to wave energy in the sense that both depend on ocean dynamics. However, unlike wave energy which is derived from wave motion, tidal energy is derived from the rise and fall of sea levels [6].

Like the hydroelectric plant, tidal power plant represents one of the cleanest types of power plants, with minimal environmental impact. The abundance of ocean water also implies that this is a sustainable technology.

In tidal power plants, the amount of power which is generated, depends on the size of the plant and the value of head (which is the height difference between low tide and high tide).

Tidal plants often use turbines, which may be placed close to or on the sea floor, and which can be rotated with kinetic energy from the rise and fall of sea levels. One of the advantages of this type of power plant is the fact that its performance can be predicted better than most other types, since the rise and fall of sea levels is a fairly continuous phenomenon.

Although tidal energy technology is not new, tidal power plants are not widely used. This is due to challenges in construction, operation and transmission of power.


9). Wind-driven Power Plant

A wind power plant, also referred to as a wind park or wind farm, is a facility which generates electricity from wind energy.

In order to generate electricity, wind power plants are usually equipped with wind turbines, which use a set of blades or any other moveable mechanism to harness wind (kinetic) energy and transform it into mechanical energy in the form of motion.

Wind power plants operate through an environment-friendly process that does not contribute significantly to degradation or pollution.

The power capacity of such plants depends on the size and number of wind turbines, which may be installed either onshore or offshore.

One of the disadvantages of wind power plants is geographic restriction. Because these plants depend on wind for their operation, they can only be effective in less-populated areas where strong air currents are abundant.



Types of power plants are;

  1. Coal-driven Power Plant
  2. Diesel-driven Power Plant
  3. Gas-driven Power Plant
  4. Solar Power Plant
  5. Nuclear Power Plant
  6. Geothermal Power Plant
  7. Hydroelectric Power Plant
  8. Tidal Power Plant
  9. Wind-driven Power Plant


These different types are classified based on their primary energy sources, which range from renewable (such as solar, wind, geothermal and tidal), to nonrenewable (diesel, natural gas, coal).

Some types of power plants are referred to as thermal power plants because they function by the use of thermal/heat energy to mobilize a fluid and drive a turbine.

The different types of power plants have slight variations in design, components, mode of operation and environmental impact.



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