A history that began in the late eighteenth century, contributed to the growth and development of humanity, and is set to change industrial approach: it’s the history of power generation from thermal power plants, which means the relationship between heat and electricity production.
The industrial and social progress of the last centuries is closely related to conventional power production at thermal power plants. Today, electricity from conventional sources is moving on fast tracks, thanks to the adoption of new techniques and particularly due to important cultural changes: the growing attention to the environment, reduced consumption, gradually leaving fossil fuels and an important carbon reduction target. This has produced a changed role of the industrial history in this part of the world and in our country.
The mechanism underlying generation from conventional sources remains the same: the plant uses the thermal energy that is generated by using fossil fuels (coal, oil or natural gas). At first it converts it into mechanical energy, then an alternator is used to turn it further, into electricity.
Presently, at a conventional thermoelectric power plant up to 45 percent of the heat energy released by the combustion is converted into electricity. The rest is dissipated in subsequent energy conversions (from chemical to thermal, from thermal to mechanical, from mechanical to electrical) and as residual heat in chimney flues and in the steam condensation process, but can be recovered in modern CHP or district heating plants. However, "combined cycle" power plants are different: they are integrated with a gas turbine and a steam turbine. They can reach a performance of up to 60 percent.
In any case, the generated and grid-fed electricity is then conveyed, through power lines, to transformation stations where other transformers make it available for subsequent distribution.
But even with a mechanism that has never changed, and that follows the most fascinating laws of physics, chemistry and thermodynamics, operational efficiency and excellence in environmental performance are a daily step forward. Through modern systems that optimise the energy and environmental footprint of plants, the evolution of the energy generation industry converges supports global energy efficiency and environmental impact targets.
On this basis, Enel is working to develop a new production model that can seize the needs for market transformation and meet challenges for the preservation of our planet. For years we have undertaken a process of renewal by turning our industrial assets more sustainable and efficient.
The results are tangible: 31 Enel power plants in Italy have generated, with an installed capacity of 27,761 MW at the end of 2016, 60.9 TWh of electricity, with decreased CO2 emissions and water consumption by using more efficient systems.
Enel’s conventional generation plants in Italy benefit fully from the Group's innovation strategy. The efficiency of conventional plants is a major element of Enel’s new vision, which has continued to implement the best solutions for the environmental upgrading of these facilities. The introduction of high-level technology to improve the performance of combined-cycle plants and the construction of fuel storing at coal-fired power plants are part of a continuous process of environmentally-friendly and energy efficient development that company is pursuing with all its available technologies.
The next step is the digital transformation of plants: systems based on big data, Internet of Things and the adoption of innovative instruments will soon introduce the Industry 4.0 approach in conventional generation.