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How does a Gas Turbine Power Plant Work?

The main Equipment

1. Compressor.
The compressor sucks in air form the atmosphere and compresses it to pressures in the range of 15 to
20 bar. The compressor consists of a number of rows of blades mounted on a shaft. This is something
like a series of fans placed one after the other. The pressurized air from the first row is further
pressurized in the second row and so on. Stationary vanes between each of the blade rows guide the air
flow from one section to the next section. The shaft is connected and rotates along with the main gas

2. Combustor.

This is an annular chamber where the fuel burns and is similar to the furnace in a boiler. The air from
the compressor is the Combustion air. Burners arranged circumferentially on the annular chamber
control the fuel entry to the chamber. The hot gases in the range of 1400 to 1500 C leave the chamber
with high energy levels. The chamber and the subsequent sections are made of special alloys and
designs that can withstand this high temperature.

The turbine does the main work of energy conversion. The turbine portion also consists of rows of
blades fixed to the shaft. Stationary guide vanes direct the gases to the next set of blades. The kinetic
energy of the hot gases impacting on the blades rotates the blades and the shaft. The blades and vanes
are made of special alloys and designs that can withstand the very high temperature gas. The exhaust
gases then exit to exhaust system through the diffuser. The gas temperature leaving the Turbine is in the
range of 500 to 550 C.
The gas turbine shaft connects to the generator to produce electric power. This is similar to generators
used in conventional thermal power plants.


More than Fifty percent of the energy converted is used by the compressor. Only around 35 % of the
energy input is available for electric power generation in the generator. The rest of the energy is lost as
heat of the exhaust gases to the atmosphere.

Three parameters that affect the performance of a of gas turbine are:

The pressure of the air leaving the compressor.

The hot gas temperature leaving the Combustion chamber.
The gas temperature of the exhaust gases leaving the turbine.
The above is a simple description of the Gas Turbine. Actually it is a very sophisticated and
complex equipment which over the years have become one of the most reliable mechanical
equipment. Used in Combined Cycle mode gives us the most efficient power plant.

The Auxiliary Systems.

Air Intake System
Air Intake System provides clean air into the compressor. During continuous operation the impurities
and dust in the air deposits on the compressor blades. This reduces the efficiency and output of the
plant . The Air Filter in the Air Intake system prevents this.
A blade cleaning system comprising of a high pressure pump provides on line cleaning facility for the
compressor blades.
The flow of the large amount of air into the compressor creates high noise levels. A Silencer in the
intake duct reduces the noise to acceptable levels.
Exhaust System
Exhaust system discharges the hot gases to a level which is safe for the people and the environment.
The exhaust gas that leaves the turbine is around 550 C. This includes an outlet stack high enough for
the safe discharge of the gases.
Silencer in the outlet stack reduces the noise to acceptable levels.
In Combined Cycle power plants the exhaust system has a diverter damper to change the flow of
gases to the Heat Recovery Boilers instead of the outlet stack.
Starting System
Starting system provides the initial momentum for the Gas Turbine to reach the operating speed. This is
similar to the starter motor of your car. The gas turbine in a power plant runs at 3000 RPM (for the 50
Hz grid - 3600 RPM for the 60 Hz grid). During starting the speed has to reach at least 60 % for the
turbine to work on its on inertia. The simple method is to have a starter motor with a torque converter
to bring the heavy mass of the turbine to the required speed. For large turbines this means a big
capacity motor. The latest trend is to use the generator itself as the starter motor with suitable electrics.
In situations where there is no other start up power available, like a ship or an off-shore platform or a
remote location, a small diesel or gas engine is used.
Fuel System
The Fuel system prepares a clean fuel for burning in the combustor. Gas Turbines normally burn
Natural gas but can also fire diesel or distillate fuels. Many Gas Turbines have dual firing capabilities.
A burner system and ignition system with the necessary safety interlocks are the most important items.
A control valve regulates the amount of fuel burned . A filter prevents entry of any particles that may
clog the burners. Natural gas directly from the wells is scrubbed and cleaned prior to admission into the
turbine. External heaters heat the gas for better combustion.
For liquid fuels high pressure pumps pump fuel to the pressure required for fine atomisation of the fuel
for burning.

These are the main Aiuxiliary systems in a Gas Turbine Power Plant. Many other systems and
subsystems also form part of the complex system required for the operation of the Gas Turbine Power
General Layout of the Thermal Power Plant
Though each plant is unique in itself in terms of specific features and functionalities, still there is a
broad outline to which all thermal power plants confirm to and in this article we will study about the
general layout of a typical power plant.
There are four main circuits in any thermal power plant and these are
1. Coal & Ash Circuit this circuit deals mainly with feeding the boiler with coal for combustion
purposes and taking care of the ash that is generated during the combustion process and
includes equipment and paraphernalia that is used to handle the transfer and storage of coal and
2. Air & Gas Circuit we know that air is one of the main components of the fire triangle and
hence necessary for combustion. Since lots of coal is burnt inside the boiler it needs a sufficient
quantity of air which is supplied using either forced draught or induced draught fans. The
exhaust gases from the combustion are in turn used to heat the ingoing air through a heat
exchanger before being let off in the atmosphere. The equipment which handles all these
processes fall under this circuit.
3. Feed Water & Steam Circuit this section deals with supplying of steam generated from the
boiler to the turbines and to handle the outgoing steam from the turbine by cooling it to form
water in the condenser so that it can be reused in the boiler plus making good any losses due to
evaporation etc.
4. Cooling Water Circuit this part of the thermal power plant deals with handling of the cooling
water required in the system. Since the amount of water required to cool the outgoing steam
from the boiler is substantial, it is either taken from a nearby water source such as a river, or it is
done through evaporation if the quantity of cooling water available is limited.
The above breakdown of the plant would give you a clear idea about the components of the plant but a
complete picture shown below would be more useful in getting an idea how these circuits are integrated
together to form the complete power plant.
What is ISO rating of Gas Turbines ?
Ambient temperature, Relative Humidity, and Elevation.
The three standard conditions specified in the ratings are Ambient Temperature - 15 deg C, Relative
Humidity - 60 % and Ambient Pressure at Sea Level.
These conditions affect the air density. How does air density affect the Gas Turbine output and
performance ?
The compressor section in a fixed volume of air for each rotation of the blades. The mass of the air
depends on the air density. So at sea levels one rotation sucks in more kg of air than at place at high
The work done by the gas turbine i.e.: the heat energy to mechanical energy conversion depends on the
mass of the hot gases, the specific heat and the Temperature difference. The mass of the hot gases
depend on the mass of the air that is taken in. This means at sea level the Gas turbine gives more output
than at high altitudes.

Inlet and Exhaust Losses.

The standard conditions specify that Inlet and Exhaust losses as Zero.
The intake system and the exhaust system offer resistance to the flow of air and the exhaust gases. The
energy to overcome these resistances comes from the Gas Turbine. This reduces the nett output of the
Gas Turbine. The configuration and layout of the intake and exhaust systems varies from plant to plant
and accordingly the losses. These losses reduce the actual output of the Gas Turbine from the rated

Base Load Operation at 100 % rated power.

The standard considers that the Gas Turbine operates at 100 % rated load. The efficiency quoted at the
standard ratings are for this 100 % Load. Efficiency of the gas turbine at part load operations is
different from that at 100 % load. If you buy a machine rated at 100 MW and operate it at 75 MW you
will not get the rated efficiency.
The performance of a plant operating as a base load plant is different than a peaking load plant. This is
mainly due to the frequent starts and stops that lead to deterioration of the performance.

All the manufacturers provide correction factors for deviations from the various standard ratings
discussed above. If the actual conditions ar known the output and efficiency at the standard ratings is
corrected to the actual conditions. Consider these corrections when specifying, purchasing and
operating Gas Turbine power plants.
Understanding of the ISO ratings and the actual plant conditions is essential when specifying and
buying a Gas Turbine. Also this can be used to compare the performance of Gas Turbines.
Proper Site Selection for a Thermal Power Plant?

Selecting a proper site for a thermal power plant is vital for its long term efficiency and a lot many
factors come into play when deciding where to install the plant. Of course it may not be possible to get
everything which is desirable at a single place but still the location should contain an optimum mix of
the requirements for the settings to be feasible for long term economic justification of the plant.

The Requirements for the Site

As the name implies the power plant is meant for generating power which obviously means that it will
consume huge quantities of fuel. The exact quantity would depend on the size of the plant and its
capacity but it is a general fact that ample quantities of fuel must be available either in the vicinity or it
should be reasonably economical to transport the fuel till the power plant . Since most thermal power
plants use coal (they can use other fuels as well) it must be ensured that sufficient coal is available
round the clock. Just to give you a rough idea a power plant with 1000 MW capacity approximately
would require more than ten thousand tons of coal per day hence the necessity for continuous supply
and storage capability of coal in the power station.
Ash if the main byproduct of combustion and since the amount of coal used is huge, you can intuitively
imagine the amount of ash generated and it is certainly in the region of thousand tons per day. Ash is
much more difficult to handle as compared to coal since it comes out hot from the boiler and is very
corrosive in nature. Disposing of such huge quantities of ash requires a large amount of empty space
where it can be safely dumped.
There must be ample space for the storage of coal, disposal of ash, building of the power plant,
residential colony of workers, markets and so forth. An approximate analysis suggests that for every
MW of power generated there must be at least 3 acres of land available for the purpose. Hence the
power plant site needs to have good amount of land and this land should have good bearing capacity in
order to survive the static and dynamic loads during the operation of the plant.
As we saw in the previous article of this series, large amount of water is required for cooling purposes
in the power plant hence it is better if such a source is available nearby in the form of rivers etc.
Apart from these major requirements there are also other requirements which are equally important
such as the availability of skilled people to work for the plant and good transport facilities in the
Hence we see that setting up a thermal power plant requires a lots of factors to be considered
Having learnt about the basic plant layout and site selection of a power plant it is now time to take a
look at the overall functioning of the power plant. I suggest that if you havent read the first part of this
series regarding general layout of a thermal power plant, you take a look at it, especially the
accompanying diagram since I am not going to repeat the same diagram here but will explain based on
previous article.
The Functioning of the Plant
The four circuits of the thermal power plant make a complete picture when put together helping to
generate electricity out of fuels such as coal which is the most widely used fuel. The calorific value of
coals depends on the quality of the coal and the place from where it is mined.
Let us perform a simple calculation regarding the amount of coal required in a power plant.
Let us assume an imaginary thermal power plant which has a capacity of 1000 MW and try to find the
amount of coal required for its consumption. Also assume that the boiler operates at an efficiency of
75% and the heat supplied per kg of steam be around 500 kcal per kg and that the amount of steam
required per kWh is nearly 5 kgs. Further let us assume that the type of coal used in the plant has a
calorific value of 5000 kcal/kg
Then the quantity of coal required per hour would be given by
Weight of Coal Required ==> Capacity * Steam Requirement * Heat Delivered/Calorific Value of
Coal * Efficiency of Boiler
==> {1000 * 1000 * 5 * 500}/{5000 * 0.75 * 1000} = 666 tons/hr
Normally it is a practice to store coal for upto one month usage in case the power plant is situated at a
sufficient geographical distance from the coal source so that in case of any disruption of the
transportation system, the region is not immediately affected. You can calculate that in case the above
plant requires such a facility, we would require space to store and handle nearly 480, 000 tons of coal.
Coming back to the actual operation this coal is then fed to the combustion chamber of the boiler where
steam is generated giving rise to hot exhaust gases and ash which are handled by their respective
circuits. The steam turbine is driven by the steam which converts this thermal energy into the
mechanical energy and is coupled with an electric generator to convert it to electrical energy.
The electricity generated through the generator coupled to the turbine is then fed to the main grid via a
system of transformers and other electrical equipment and is usually taken to far off places via high
voltage transmission lines before it is actually supplied in the domestic or industrial sectors at their
respective voltage levels.
Hence we see that how the energy hidden within the ordinary coal is harnessed through the use of a
thermal power plant to light our homes and industries.
Coal Use in Electricity Generation
Old is gold goes the equally old and wise saying and this is applicable to the black diamond as well, in
the perspective of thermal power plants. Well if you are confused let me tell you that I am referring to
coal which is one of the oldest used fuels in the world. Though technology has gone skywards in the
previous couple of centuries, yet this source continues to occupy an important position in the energy
production scenario worldwide.
Coal Use in Electricity Generation
In the earlier days coal might have been used for providing heat for making food or in the blacksmiths
furnace but as technology made strides, so did the level and importance of coal in the energy
production arena went upwards. Currently thermal power plants produce hundreds of megawatts of
electricity from burning coal.
Despite the hue and cry of environmental concerns, which are of course true to a certain extent, various
other parameters have still kept coal as one of the most important sources of power generation in
thermal power plants.
The very first parameter is the ample abundance of coal in most parts of the world including the United
States. Estimates suggest that the US has reserves of coal which could last more then two centuries
even at the current rate of consumption. Apart from the reserves found on land there is also presence of
coal layers beneath the sea although it is difficult to commercially extract it from there, but there might
be a technology for this in the future.
The next factor is directly related to the above factor and is that of cost. As you know cost is closely
associated with availability and more abundant any commodity is, the lesser will be its price and vice
versa which is a law of economics. Hence producing electricity through the use of coal is much cheaper
than other non-conventional forms of energy such as say wind, nuclear and so forth.

Disadvantages of Coal
Of course all is not green in the literal sense in the use of coal in power plants. Environment and health
hazards are one of the most prominent reasons why many groups are against the use of coal for power
production. Disposal of large quantities of ash could pose problems in the coming years if the heaps
continue to grow.
Another major factor to be kept in mind is that despite the abundant supply of coal it is still a non
renewable source of energy which was formed through a complex process lasting thousands of years and
hence cannot be formulated at a short notice.
Despite the disadvantages, coal is still very popular in its use as power plant fuel and continues to
provide electricity to this power hungry planet.