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How did the first electric power plant work?

  1. Apr 22, 2009 #1
    Two sentences or so in a general American history book I was reading last night got me thinking. The book I was reading said that the first American electric power plant opened in New York City. I believe the book said that the first American electric power plant opened in 1887. My guess is that the first power plant used was a steam engine powered by coal. Is this correct? If not, how did this power plant work? I mean, how did this power plant generate electricity back in the 1880s?

    My book just mentioned that the first power plant opened in NYC in the 1880s. I think that most readers would get the impression that there was just one giant power plant in NYC in the 19th Century, but I (based on my supposition that the first power plant was a steam engine/ generator) suspect that this first power plant couldn't send its electricity very far and was thus limited in the economies of scale it could achieve. I suspect that for the first power plants, many smaller plants were required rather than a single large one for a given region. Were many smaller plants required rather than a single large one for a given region?
     
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  3. Apr 22, 2009 #2

    mgb_phys

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    Correct - in fact very little has changed. The only difference is a steam turbine instead of steam piston engine.
    Often power plants were for an individual customer, a factory or a railroad - there wasn't the technology to transmit electricity long distances or the customer demand.
    There also wasn't a lot of standardization ( votage, AC/DC, frequency) so each installation was unique.
     
  4. Jul 2, 2009 #3
    Correct! in fact very little has changed. The only difference is a steam turbine instead of steam piston engine.
     
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