How does a coal power plant work?

Coal is a common fuel source in any discussion about electricity generation. But how does rock from the earth’s crust turn into the power you use to light your house and charge your phone? Through heat, water, and electromagnetics. We’ll break it down.

Most electricity generation processes use motion to create electricity. The thing they are moving is giant turbines with electromagnets inside them. This motion is more direct with some clean energy sources like hydroelectric power and windmills. The wind pushes the blades of a windmill or churns water through a dam, which causes the turbines to rotate and build up a charge, which is then sent to the grid and your home. But the more traditional methods of using fossil fuels have a few extra steps in the middle.


First, coal is transported to the plant by either a freighter or train. Once it’s delivered, the coal is organized into massive piles that stretch across the yard. Giant machines transport the coal into the factory where they are fed into a huge pulverizer.


Inside the pulverizer, the coal is crushed into a fine powder to help increase its burning potential and fed into a furnace. The furnace lights the coal, which increases the overall temperature, to heat up a network of piping. This piping is used to funnel water into the furnace where it is superheated to around 1000 degrees Fahrenheit, turning it into steam. This ultra-hot steam can reach pressures of nearly 2,000 lbs per square inch. The steam is then funneled to large turbines, as was mentioned earlier. The extreme flow and pressure cause the turbines to spin.

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Electricity generation

The turbine is connected to a generator. This is where all that work and power is finally turned into electricity. Inside the generator is a rotor, attached to which is a large electromagnet wrapped in copper wire. Electricity is made as this electromagnet spins, causing an electron flow, which is just a fancy term for electricity. The electricity is channeled through something called a stater, and into a transformer. After the electricity passes through a transformer, it can then travel along the station’s lines and be transferred to the grid.


The steam that passed through the system is then pumped back into a nearby cooling source, such as a lake, where it is condensed into water and the process begins again.

To keep up with demand, coal factories have to burn an incredible amount of fossil fuels, which releases pollutants into the air. To power around 700,000 homes, a power plant would need to burn around 14,000 tons of coal a day. That’s about 140 railroad cars, every day. And coal isn’t a renewable resource, meaning that it took billions of years to create, but it’s taking us under a couple hundred to use it all up. We will have no means to replace it.

Unfortunately, coal is also one of the most common methods of electricity generation, despite the existence of more effective and safe methods, such as wind, hydroelectric, and solar power. If you’re interested in having electricity from cleaner sources, find out what options are available in your area. Solar energy providers are located in most cities and are one of the easiest and most direct ways you can contribute to a clean energy future. You can also participate in votes regarding clean energy initiatives.

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