How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 758

How do steam generators produce electricity? — KA, North Platte, NE
In a steam generating plant, water is boiled in a confined container (a "boiler") to produce very high-pressure steam. This steam is allowed to flow through a turbine to the low-pressure region beyond the turbine. A turbine resembles a fan, but one that is turned by the gas that flows through it rather than by a motor. The steam flows through the blades of the turbine and exerts forces on those blades to keep the turbine rotating. The steam loses energy as it twists the turbine around in a circle and this energy is transferred to the rotating turbine. The low-pressure steam is recovered from the end of the turbine. It is then condensed back into liquid water with the help of a cooling tower and then returned to the boiler for reuse.

The rotating turbine is connected to the rotating portion of a generator. This rotating component is an electromagnet and, as it spins, its magnetic field passes across a set of stationary wire coils. Whenever the magnetic field through a coil of wire changes, any current flowing through that coil experiences forces that may add or subtract energy from it. In this case, the rotating magnet transfers energy to the current passing through the wire coils and "generates" electricity. The current in these stationary wires carries away energy from the generator and it is this energy that eventually arrives in your home through the power lines. Overall, the energy flows from the boiler, to the steam, to the turbine, to the generator, to the current, and to your home.


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