A solar thermal plant uses solar panels to absorb the sun, then lenses and mirrors to concentrate the heat and activate a steam generator.
A thermal power plant uses steam to turn turbines, which in turn power electrical generators. Most power plants in the world use thermal energy to operate. A thermal power plant is generally defined by the type of fuel used to heat water and create steam. Coal, oil, and even solar and nuclear energy can be used to create the steam needed to operate a thermal power plant.
Many thermal power plants operate on a partially closed loop, using what is known as the Rankine cycle. Water is heated by fuel, such as coal or nuclear power, until it turns into steam. The steam passes through a series of chambers that make it stronger, hotter and more powerful. The steam hits the turbines and spins them, then is pushed into a cooling storage area where it can condense back into the water. The water can then be reused to create steam, completing the cycle.
One type of thermal power plant that emits the heating step is a geothermal power plant. This makes use of steam and naturally boiling water that rises from the earth in the form of geysers and hot springs. Geothermal sources can be unpredictable and have somewhat limited use due to their presence only in certain places, such as alongside tectonic divides. However, geothermal plants use less energy than many other varieties, which makes them more cost and time efficient.
One of the main concerns with a thermal power plant is the fuel used to generate steam from water. Common sources of fuel include coal and other fossil fuels, which present a number of internal problems. In addition to the dwindling resources available, fossil fuels are generally highly polluting and considered by many scientists to be one of the main contributors to global warming. Nuclear sources are much cleaner, but many worry about the possibility of a harmful leak that could contaminate surrounding areas for centuries.
Solar thermal plants have the benefit of being non-polluting and also using a completely renewable resource: sunlight. Using solar panels to absorb the sun, lenses and mirrors, then concentrate the heat to activate a steam generator. This technology is in its infancy in the early 21st century; The efficiency and variables of a moving sun continue to create problems in building a large-capacity solar thermal plant.
A thermal power plant is a powerful tool in the daily life of the planet; many regions receive most of their energy supply from thermal plants. Experts say the technology requires advancements and refinements to meet growing energy needs. In addition, the pressure to reduce fossil fuel consumption and create low-pollution energy sources requires that new ideas, plans and experimentation be brought to the field.