Combined Cycle Power Plant

A combined-cycle power plant uses both a gas and a steam turbine together to produce up to 50 percent more electricity from the same fuel than a traditional simple-cycle plant. The waste heat from the gas turbine is routed to the nearby steam turbine, which generates extra power.

In electric power generation a combined cycle is an assembly of heat engines that work in tandem from the same source of heat, converting it into mechanical energy, which in turn usually drives electrical generators. The principle is that after completing its cycle (in the first engine), the working fluid of the first heat engine is still low enough in its entropy that a second subsequent heat engine may extract energy from the waste heat (energy) of the working fluid of the first engine. By combining these multiple streams of work upon a single mechanical shaft turning an electric generator, the overall net efficiency of the system may be increased by 50 – 60 percent. That is, from an overall efficiency of say 34% (in a single cycle) to possibly an overall efficiency of 51% (in a mechanical combination of two (2) cycles) in net Carnot thermodynamic efficiency. This can be done because heat engines are only able to use a portion of the energy their fuel generates (usually less than 50%). In an ordinary (non combined cycle) heat engine the remaining heat (e.g., hot exhaust fumes) from combustion is generally wasted.

Combining two or more thermodynamic cycles results in improved overall efficiency, reducing fuel costs. In stationary power plants, a widely used combination is a gas turbine (operating by the Brayton cycle) burning natural gas or synthesis gas from coal, whose hot exhaust powers a steam power plant (operating by the Rankine cycle). This is called a Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) plant, and can achieve a best-of-class real (HHV – see below) thermal efficiency of around 54% in base-load operation, in contrast to a single cycle steam power plant which is limited to efficiencies of around 35-42%. Many new gas power plants in North America and Europe are of this type. Such an arrangement is also used for marine propulsion, and is called a combined gas and steam (COGAS) plant. Multiple stage turbine or steam cycles are also common.