The U.S. now has more sources of energy at its disposal than ever before -- hydroelectricity, coal, gas, nuclear power, solar power, and wind power (just to name a few). However, when a power generating plant develops infrastructure issues, the effects can be widespread. Engineers and scientists are hard at work developing products that can help extend the lifespan of power plants and minimize any service disruptions. Read on to learn more about three products and innovations that are destined to lead to the generation of cheaper, safer power.
One way some power companies have begun to save money is by monitoring operational alarms and engaging in "predictive maintenance" -- that is, anticipating potential problems or breakdowns to minimize the amount of time the power plant is out of service, rather than responding to issues only as they arise.
Most of these maintenance programs rely primarily upon quality assurance (QA) engineers to evaluate and report on each incident in which a piece of equipment begins to malfunction or shut down. If the company receives a number of negative reports from the same plant or the same area within a short period of time, it can anticipate that this equipment is about to break down permanently, and can quickly replace it without harming production -- rather than waiting for a larger malfunction that could put the plant out of commission for an extended period of time.
Other companies may chart the purchase and installation dates of certain pieces of machinery so that they can begin to replace this machinery once it nears the end of its expected lifespan.
One company has estimated that its implementation of this program saved customers around $70 million during 2014, and has reduced the time it takes to fix generating problems by 25 percent in the past 5 years.
Generating power from coal or gas is a messy process -- and the acids and other corrosive byproducts of this power generation can wreak havoc on traditional metals, even alloys. Over time and with frequent exposure, the pipes used to transmit liquid gas and generation byproducts can weaken significantly, putting those who work in these plants at risk of physical harm, and putting the entire power plant at risk of a leak or shutdown.
However, scientists from places like http://www.jamesduva.com/ have been hard at work developing and improving non-corrosive metals for use in this process. Alloy 20 pipes are one of the most popular non-corrosive pipes, and are created from a hybrid nickel-iron-chromium alloy that provides the strength and heft of steel with the corrosion resistance of an acrylic product. Unlike other metals, these pipes don't need to be heat-treated before use, and can remain strong for years.
One of the biggest environmental complaints about traditional coal- or gas-powered plants is the inherent inefficiency upon ignition of the fuel. In many of these plants, the majority of heat generated from combustion ends up as a waste product piped through smokestacks, rather than being converted to electricity. Not only does this process worsen air pollution in the surrounding area, it raises the cost of energy due to the relatively low amount of electricity produced by the combustion of coal or gas.
Cogeneration seeks to solve this problem by funneling this excess heat and energy into a nearby building or series of buildings with extensive energy needs -- like an airport, college campus, or hospital. This energy can then be used to power backup generators or assist the heating and cooling systems of these large structures.
Some estimates indicate that the creation of a cogeneration plant can bring the efficiency of coal and gas production from approximately 30 percent to 90 percent or more -- allowing around three times the energy production from the same amount of underlying material. This reduces both costs and pollution.