Steam turbine engines create most of the electricity in the United States. They’ve become an integral part of keeping America going. Have you ever wondered how these large machines work? It’s your lucky day! Let’s take a closer look at how steam turbines work.
How Does a Steam Turbine Work?
Let’s break the operation down into simple terms for everyone to understand. A steam turbine uses a heat source—solar, coal, nuclear, or gas—to heat water to an incredibly high temperature until it becomes steam. The steam expands and cools as it flows past the turbine’s spinning blades, turning the steam’s energy into kinetic energy in the rotating blades.
Steam turbines drive electrical generators because of the rotary motion they create. The turbines have an axel that connects to a generator, producing energy via a magnetic field that produces an electrical current.
What About the Blades?
Turbine blades control the steam’s direction, pressure, and speed as it passes through the turbine. Many turbines require different turbine blade designs based on their size.
Large-scale turbines contain many blades that attach to the rotor and extract energy from the steam while optimizing the pressure levels.
The multi-stage approach allows the blades to reduce the steam pressure in stages. It reduces the stress on the blades and improves the turbine’s output.
History of the First Steam Turbine
Sir Charles A. Parsons developed the first modern steam turbine in 1884. It lit up an exhibition in Newcastle, England, and produced a measly 7.5 kilowatts of energy. Most current steam turbines can produce over 1,000 megawatts of energy at large-scale power plants. That’s a significant increase in power!
The generation capacity has increased since the first invention, but the design hasn’t changed. Parson based the intuitive design on Carnot’s Theorem and the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Carnot’s Theorem claims greater steam temperature creates greater power plant efficiency.
That was a closer look at how steam turbines work and a glance into the history of these large machines. They truly are fascinating!