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The Generation Game – Know Your Plants: Part 2!

August 13, 2019 | Silver Shemmings

As a firm we are finding ourselves increasingly involved in energy projects and disputes. We have also found that, specialists aside, there tends to be something of a lack of understanding about power generation methods and the surrounding issues

This area is made all the more challenging by the troublesome interface that power generation projects have with the Construction Act. This article is part 1 of 2 discussing a variety of power generation methods, and the first in a series of energy focused pieces

Projects in the field of power generation can be on or off-shore (or, in some cases, both), vary dramatically in size and output and can sometimes span multiple jurisdictions. Below is a summary of the various methods of power generation

Thermal
Traditional thermal power stations produce electricity across several stages of conversion. This begins in the boilers where burnt fuel produces steam from water – this then drives turbines thereby generating electricity.
Power stations utilising coal first crush the fuel so it burns better before feeding it into the boiler for combustion. Where oil is the fuel of choice, it is utilised in a similar way

The turbines in power stations operating with a combined cycle (which are more efficient than the examples directly above) are driven by exhaust gases. The energy from these gases is then captured by waste heat boilers, producing steam that then drives another turbine

The most environmentally friendly form of coal-based generation is Integrated Coal Gasification Combined Cycle technology (“IGCC”) which enables power generation virtually free from greenhouse gas emissions. IGCC is employed in a combined cycle: turbines are initially driven by syngas (or synthesis gas, which is produced by the gasification of carbon fuel) whereas the exhaust gases undergo a heat-exchange with steam, becoming superheated, to drive another turbine

Hydroelectric
Hydroelectric plants represent a cheap, low-emission, way of producing a substantial amount of power. These installations are generally either in the form of a dam, or a mid-river plant. In either case, water flows through tunnels, turning turbines to produce electricity

These plants are not without a downside however; the amount of land required for construction often results in population displacement and the resultant inconsistencies in downstream flow can impact agriculture and other livelihoods and industries

One example of a contentious hydroelectric plant is the Kishanganga dam, which 7 years before commissioning became the subject of a tense arbitration between India and Pakistan relating to land ownership and the rights to water flow

Wave power
Distinct from tidal power, the surface of the ocean produces energy in the form of waves. This energy is captured wave energy converters using a variety of methods which are dependent upon desired power output and geographical location

Wave power systems include pontoons with push/pull generators; air compression generators and reservoir overspill generators.
It is one of the oldest (and most challenging) forms of power generation, with attempts dating back to the nineteenth century. Scotland saw the world’s first commercial plant in 2000 with the installation of the Islay LIMPET.

Solar
Solar power plants use two technologies: photovoltaic (PV) systems and concentrated solar power (CSP). The former absorbs the sun’s energy with semiconductor PV cells which are assembled in a modular fashion to produce a panel. Following exposure to sunlight, a direct current is formed across the panel’s layers which is then converted to an alternating current for export into the grid or residential or commercial use

CSP utilises reflective surfaces to concentrate sunlight, using the accrued heat to power steam-driven turbines

Due to the production cost of PV panels having been reduced, this method of power generation has increased in popularity in recent years. At the time of writing it accounts for around 5% of the electricity generated in the UK. Notable investments into this sector include Elon Musk’s SolarCity, which is a subsidiary of Tesla

If you would like to know more about the above topic, or want to know how we can help you with an energy project or dispute, please contact Laughlan Steer


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