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Hydraulics in Hydroelectric Energy and Thermal Energy Plants

Hydraulic energy can be found in both types of facilities, performing important functions in support of the basic operations.  Cylinders and motors open and close gates and valves, controlling the flow of water fed to the turbine generators in hydroelectric plants.

In thermal plants there are more opportunities for hydraulic power, mainly having to do with feed stock, be it gas, coal, lignite, refuse or biomass.   Gas delivery to the boilers is similar to the delivery of water to turbines. Variable speed hydraulic conveyors and augers feed the coal, etc. into the continuous burners as required by the control system.  The storage and movement of masses of raw material, sometimes covering acres of ground, present many challenges for power station managers.

Rail delivery of coal to large power stations can sometimes reach one hundred or more cars.  Most are bottom delivery, discharging their loads onto hydraulic conveyors, running in pits below the tracks. In other instances, hydraulic tippers rotate the freight cars, individually, to empty from the top. In either case, the conveyors move the coal out to the storage area mostly outside, but could be sheltered.  Here, the material is raised and tipped in long triangular shaped stacks, the height depending on the ‘natural angle of repose’ for each material. 

When the coal, or such, is needed by the boilers, hydraulic powered scrapers, or ‘reclaimers’, running crosswise at the end of the stack, drag the material out to the edge and onto feed conveyors running parallel to the stack.  The coal is transported to the boilers and dumped onto moving grates, ignited by the burning coal ahead. At the far end of the boilers, the ash removal and processing system takes over.  Here, other hydraulic powered machines move, treat and dispose of the waste products.

Maintenance machines, the ones that clean out the pipes and flues of the boilers are mostly hydraulic powered both with cylinders and motors.  A novel application of hydraulic power that is used both in power generation and other industries is portable machining. Worn or damaged machine parts, flanges and cylinders can be accurately machined in place using their own mounting and assembly holes to secure and align the hydraulic powered heads that turn, bore, grind and lap the parts back into operating condition with the minimum of disassembly.

The generated steam, on its way to the turbines, passes through valves controlled by hydraulic motors directed from the main control room in response to demand.

This, however, is not the end of hydraulic power in the Energy field.  Recent developments have introduced hydraulic power to the Grid.  Remotely operated hydraulic switching mechanisms are proving more reliable and precise than those mechanically or electrically powered.