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Understanding Coal Power Plant Heat Rate and Efficiency

Understanding Coal Power Plant Heat Rate and Efficiency

02/01/2015 | Una Nowling, PE

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The Input/Output Method

One of the simplest ways to calculate your NPHR is to divide the Btu/hr of fuel heat input by your net generation
(electricity and steam to the customers) in terms of kW. However, determining the heat input can be quite
In my experience, a minority of combustion power plants have a good measure of their actual fuel burn rate at
each unit. An industry rule of thumb is that volumetric feeders are accurate to within +/5% at best, and
gravimetric feeders are accurate to +/2% at best. In practice, I find that the actual error in fuel burn rate
measurement can be from 5% to 10%.
At one power plant I worked at, the only capability for estimating the coal burn rate was to rely on photographs
of the coal yard taken by a spritely lady from her Cessna aircraft, and by comparing the estimated stockpile size
with train receipts for the month to determine how much coal was burned overall. The potential error for this
method could easily be greater than 25%.
Another important factor in heat input measurement is the fuel quality analysis, especially the fuels heating
value. (See Primer on Fuel Quality Analysis in the January 2015 issue for more detail.) Generally speaking, the
error in a fuel burn rate calculation cannot be less than the error in the fuel analysis, so choosing ones


and frequency carefully will provide greater certainty when calculating the fuel burn rate.
SH AREmethods

In short, the input/output method is not an ideal method to track the difference in efficiency at your coal-fired
power plant unless you have accurate coal feeders (Figure 1) plus an accurate and regular determination of
your fuel heating value.

1. Coal feeders are important. Often ignored until something breaks, inaccurate coal feeders can make it difficult to determine
your plant heat rate. Courtesy: Una Nowling

The Heat Loss Method and the Three Efficiency Boxes

A significant problem with using the input/output method to determine your heat rate is that, should your heat
rate change from one situation to the next, you have no idea of what led to the change. Was the boiler less
efficient at burning the fuel? Is turbine efficiency reduced due to high condenser backpressure? Has station
service power increased? Because the input/output method treats the power plant as a black box, the engineer
must rely on a more accurate method of determining heat rate.
The heat loss method for determining your heat rate essentially breaks the power plant into three subsystems
where an energy conversion process occurs: