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Power For The Long Run

What are the typical life spans of different types of electric-generating plants?

There is no simple answer to that question, because plants don’t typically have a life span. Instead, certain parts, or the infrastructure that makes up the plant, have an operational time frame.

For example, in a fossil fuel plant, the superheated tubes in the hot-gas section could decay and fail over time. However, a utility could simply replace and fix this part of the plant. Generating plants can continually get refurbished. For example, the blades in a plant with combustion turbines have a finite life, but replacing the blades will keep the plant operational.

Theoretically, power plants of any kind could be run indefinitely with proper maintenance and part replacements.

One exception: nuclear plants with boiling or pressurized water reactors. Generally, these plants have life spans of upward of 70 years.

Political issues can reduce a power plant’s life span. Economically, most coal plants will not become obsolete because new plant efficiency gains will be somewhat marginal. However, political forces could be used to shut down these plants because of emission concerns.

—NRECA COOPERATIVE RESEARCH NETWORK

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