Upgrading Steam Power (Coal + Nuclear)

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IronCartographer
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Upgrading Steam Power (Coal + Nuclear)

Post by IronCartographer »

TL;DR: Instead of a Mk. 2 steam engine (or equivalent "turbine" that simply consumes steam), consider a single combined power generating entity with a base-load turbine and cooling tower unlocked relatively early, with red+green science. It would provide built-in support for steam looping -> water preheating, plus some fun mechanics to choose from.

Edited preface for clarity: This is a suggestion for the base game, though a mod may be able to fill the void.
The yellow box shows what would be a single concrete structure linked to allow the flow/emission of excess steam/water as needed. Thanks go to GotLag's Reactors mod for the graphics.
Each power plant would have two parallel flows passing through them: Steam and water. As the steam goes through the plants, it's converted into electricity and (variably heated) water, with excess being evaporated. Boilers only accept water, not steam.

As described here (motivation), I believe a single entity would unify all aspects of improving steam power--both coal and nuclear--and that it's likely now or never (adding closed-loop later with a 3rd steam generator and new behavior would be hard to justify). If a Mk. 2 steam engine (or turbine that functions exactly the same with a simple increase in power output) were added, it would save some space and time but otherwise be a missed opportunity to improve and diversify steam power while bridging the enormous tech gap between steam engines and nuclear power research/construction.

Coal, nuclear--it doesn't care as long as it gets steam to the turbines and (dynamic amounts of) water to the towers:
Steam HybridCycle Coded.png
Steam HybridCycle Coded.png (3.52 MiB) Viewed 6618 times
Assume the boiler chain is outputting steam, despite the old boiler design.

Features:
  • Inputs: Water, Steam
  • Outputs: [More] Water, [less] Steam
  • Same electrical priority as solar
  • Beginner-friendly design integration (basically a chemical plant that outputs power, and around the same tech level)
  • Much more efficient and compact power generation from steam compared to early engines
  • Outputs partially preheated water for even greater efficiency
  • Accepts steam at the same rate whether generating or evaporating/condensing
  • Behavior priorities:
    1. Turbine (with condensing to water)
    2. Output excess steam
    3. Condense steam to water
    4. Evaporation (once water output flow or temp is at max)
  • Overall, gains enough efficiency to be worth the "dumb weight" of wasted excess steam--if scaled appropriately to the base load demand (wasteful if overbuilt, or you let your factory idle without a smart shutoff)
Now, for some of the many optional behaviors:
  • Turbines slower to ramp up/down, making steam engines (early) and accumulators (later) very useful to handle fluctuations in demand
  • "Noteworthy" startup time so turning steam "off" with a pump/valve (or any possible interruption, e.g. nuclear reactor scram) has a cost
  • Minimum output, below which turbines in the same network begin to shut down to compensate--see above
  • For added complexity, the input temperature of the water source could affect operating parameters. This could be done in many ways with a variety of effects on layout optimization (series vs. parallel turbines, for example)
If this technology were unlocked by a red+green research, with Concrete and Fluid Handling among the prerequisites, it would arrive at roughly the same time as oil, and soon after electric furnaces are researched. This is perfect timing, as both are good reasons to upgrade base-load power efficiency. It would offer the player a way to improve their steam efficiency in the early-mid-game, and practice working with pipes containing multiple fluids without the mess that comes from mistakes when learning oil.

Burner stage -> Steam stage -> Turbine/Solar stage -> Accumulator stage -> Nuclear steam generation (late game)

It makes for a very fluid (pardon the pun) progression.
Last edited by IronCartographer on Wed Jan 18, 2017 1:47 am, edited 7 times in total.

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Re: Combination Steam Turbine and Cooling Tower

Post by Tarradax »

I love the idea. One question, though - have you considered the numerical values for the power output?

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Re: Combination Steam Turbine and Cooling Tower

Post by IronCartographer »

Tarradax wrote:I love the idea. One question, though - have you considered the numerical values for the power output?
That depends on the actual dimensions of the entity, its cost to build, and its consumption rate.

Bare minimum would be chemical plant size, but probably larger. At that scale, probably 10-15 MW per. These would be somewhat expensive (concrete for something other than the rocket silo, in vanilla!) and should be very satisfying when you build your first one.

Meanwhile, I just went back to the FFF discussion and saw this:
Linosaurus wrote:On another topic. Let's make some ideas to make closed water cycle an option that fits nicely in but can still be completely ignored.

Here's mine.
  • Steam turbines are available way before nuclear. You can use them as a more powerful but not more efficient steam generator. You can research cooling towers too.
  • Turbines have an output pipe on the side for recycled water, but if it cannot be pumped out it just disappears.
  • This means that you can just ignore the output.
  • Additionally. If you build a closed loop system and the output pipe is jammed it will not stop like a refinery, it'll just evaporate your precious water. Players who build closed loop desert oasis power systems probably enjoy that. Sort of.
You know, I wouldn't build a closed loop coal powered steam turbine system. I'd just make sure the first power plant had its rest water available. Then the next power plant would be a blueprint with cooling towers and then the normal power plant. Using the same recycled water. Just a few power plants wide, in a line across the Sahara. It would be beautiful.... I may have gone off track there.
That's a nice simplification! It would still require circuit logic to form a properly prioritized loop, but beginners could use that preheated water elsewhere for a first step exactly as described.

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Re: Combination Steam Turbine and Cooling Tower

Post by ssilk »

In the latest FFF Kovarex mentioned, that the circulating water mechanism (which includes of course cooling etc) will not be implemented now, cause the nuclear power itself was complex enough.
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Re: Combination Steam Turbine and Cooling Tower

Post by IronCartographer »

ssilk wrote:In the latest FFF Kovarex mentioned, that the circulating water mechanism (which includes of course cooling etc) will not be implemented now, cause the nuclear power itself was complex enough.
Indeed!
kovarex wrote:The main reason is that the jump the player needs to do when he wants to switch to the nuclear power is big enough already.
The idea here if you read at the end with the tech tree is that this unlocks much earlier while still using coal power, so the switch to nuclear power is totally separate. Power plants would be a flexible, efficient alternative to building solar or spamming the same old basic steam engine all the way up the tech tree. :)

Isn't there a need, at some point, for a higher power steam generator?

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Re: Combination Steam Turbine and Cooling Tower

Post by Cabanur »

I'd really like there to be cooling towers in the game too, but It just seems hard to put them in a way that is relevant gameplay-wise and intuitive when building them for the first time with absolutely no knowledge of the mechanic.

This las point is my bet on why the Devs ditched the idea, you have to consider a guy who got the game on a steam sale and has never even heard of it and has absolutely no interest in browsing this forum, or searching google for tutorials. That guy has to be able to figure it out by him/herself.

My idea to overcome this is have the regular boilers only be able to heat up the water to 99.99 ºC. Not 100. 99.99. This seems trivial because it's intented to be. Hopefully on your first few power plants you'll get to a point where you realise your steam engines are less effective at 80 C than at 95. With that on the player's mind, the nuclear power plant should be able to heat water up to maybe 500 ºC, and the turbine should not work (or barely work) with temperatures below 101ºC. I feel like this is a good way to introduce the player to the difference between water and steam without having to code a whole different entity in the game's engine.

The water enters the turbine at 500 ºC and exits at say 150. Then the player can choose to use Steam engines on that output which makes all the water evaporate, or use a cooling tower to cool it to maybe 80 ºC.

In this step, I have a question: should the cooling tower be a double cirquit? AFAIK the way they work IRL is the hot steam is never released to the atmosphere, it's cooled by a secondary water cirquit (which would require another pump and adds complexity for the newbie player) that does evaporate water. I can't see how one would visually design this structure that haves two separate water inputs (one very hot, the other one ambient temperature) and one moderately hot output in a way that is clear for all players.

On the other hand, if you just make it single cirquit, it either doesn't loose any amount of water, then steam should't realistically be drawn, breaking the whole point of the chimney, or some amount of water is lost and then it's just like having regular steam engines but keeping some of the water in exchange of not giving more power.

I don't know man, i really really would like to see the damn cooling towers in the game but I don't see how they make sense for us.

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Re: Combination Steam Turbine and Cooling Tower

Post by IronCartographer »

Cabanur wrote:My idea to overcome this is have the regular boilers only be able to heat up the water to 99.99 ºC. Not 100. 99.99. This seems trivial because it's intented to be. Hopefully on your first few power plants you'll get to a point where you realise your steam engines are less effective at 80 C than at 95. With that on the player's mind, the nuclear power plant should be able to heat water up to maybe 500 ºC, and the turbine should not work (or barely work) with temperatures below 101ºC. I feel like this is a good way to introduce the player to the difference between water and steam without having to code a whole different entity in the game's engine.

The water enters the turbine at 500 ºC and exits at say 150. Then the player can choose to use Steam engines on that output which makes all the water evaporate, or use a cooling tower to cool it to maybe 80 ºC.
If the energy density of steam from a boiler attached to a heat pipe increases as you describe, that would certainly solve the water frustration with late-game steam power. That was my original reason for all of this: Conserving water so steam would be less annoying. If a turbine is added with the ability to use higher-energy steam more effectively, it won't help the early game, add anything to coal power, or teach new concepts about efficient design, but it will make sense.
Cabanur wrote:In this step, I have a question: should the cooling tower be a double cirquit? AFAIK the way they work IRL is the hot steam is never released to the atmosphere, it's cooled by a secondary water cirquit (which would require another pump and adds complexity for the newbie player) that does evaporate water. I can't see how one would visually design this structure that haves two separate water inputs (one very hot, the other one ambient temperature) and one moderately hot output in a way that is clear for all players.

On the other hand, if you just make it single cirquit, it either doesn't loose any amount of water, then steam should't realistically be drawn, breaking the whole point of the chimney, or some amount of water is lost and then it's just like having regular steam engines but keeping some of the water in exchange of not giving more power.
With coal power, the player would have to be careful: Build too many power plants and it will waste a lot of evaporated heat. With nuclear power, it would make sense to have the overflow heat linked to the turbines automatically, and the player would have learned his lesson from experiments with coal. But you are right, it is a bit of a trap. Like building too many trains on your rail without enough signals. :lol:

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Re: Combination Steam Turbine and Cooling Tower

Post by Mengmoshu »

Wanted to put in my word of support. I quite like Iron's initial proposal.

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Re: Combination Steam Turbine and Cooling Tower

Post by Align »

Whole-heartedly agree with more effective but more complex steam power arriving mid-game, would also help keep burner power relevant so it's not *just* a choice between solar and nuclear.

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Re: Combination Steam Turbine and Cooling Tower

Post by drmason13 »

If [steam turbines/cooling towers] were unlocked by a red+green research, with Concrete and Fluid Handling among the prerequisites, it would arrive at roughly the same time as oil, and after electric furnaces are researched. This is perfect timing, as both are good reasons to upgrade base-load power efficiency. It would offer the player a way to improve their steam efficiency in the early-mid-game, and practice working with pipes containing multiple fluids without the mess that comes from mistakes when learning oil.
This is a really good point here. The timing is important and spot on.

I can't wait to see how steam, heat pipes and cooling towers all end up working together with coal and nuclear for mid-late game power generation. Iron cartographer's original idea is promising (although I'm not 100% sure what role the cooling towers play exactly?). I do hope the devs read these comments and get their thinking hats on to iterate towards a fantastic solution like they did with the loaders come stack inserters.

I would also love to see all the tinkering and contraption building that will happen afterwards. I'm still amazed by the circuit connected, gradual shutoff and automatic backup generators that players managed to make with only simple steam, storage tanks and accumulators :D

Btw, I'm in favour of no nuclear meltdowns in vanilla. If people want their factories to explode whilst they are away killing biters they can install a mod ;)

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Re: Combination Steam Turbine and Cooling Tower

Post by IronCartographer »

drmason13 wrote:The timing is important and spot on.

I can't wait to see how steam, heat pipes and cooling towers all end up working together with coal and nuclear for mid-late game power generation. Iron cartographer's original idea is promising (although I'm not 100% sure what role the cooling towers play exactly?). I do hope the devs read these comments and get their thinking hats on to iterate towards a fantastic solution like they did with the loaders come stack inserters.
The tech curve and timing are why I'm still fascinated by this idea even though "high density steam" (via water expansion + temperature/pressure increases) would largely solve any late-game issues.

Regarding your question about the cooling towers, I'm not sure about the thermodynamic realism--it tries to be realistic enough while also being a good game mechanic. The key lies in the "Behavior priorities" list.

1. Power is generated if possible, slighly cooling the steam before it is passed to the processing tower
2. Any unused steam is sent to the output and subsequent steam plants / engines if possible
3. If the output water line has additonal capacity for heat or water, add as much as the heat exchange / condensing system is able to handle in a single power plant
4. Evaporate any remaining steam

I think that covers all the bases for making it a functioning building block. The mathematical details leave a lot of room for tweaking. It would probably be the largest "black box" in the game with so many internal mechanics, but I'm not sure how much of a problem that would be. The main thing is that it makes an upgraded steam power system approachable for beginners. Breaking the power plant into separate turbine and cooling tower entities would be more transparent, but also challenging and needing circuit logic which Factorio's design philosophy labels an optional feature, not a requirement.

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