Why do turbine halls have high ceilings?
August 5, 2014 12:34 PM   Subscribe

Whether it's in a dam, nuclear power station, or a converted thermal power station, the turbine hall of an electricity-generating facility always seems to be a lot taller than the equipment inside requires. I assume there must be a reason for this, given the cost of materials. Is it to dissipate heat, or to serve some other objective?
posted by sindark to Technology (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I suspect that it is to allow ease of moving equipment into and out of place. All the pictures you linked to include tracks high on the wall with a crane that can move back and forth the length of the hall. You would need to make the ceiling high enough to have room for the crane and lifting space under it. This is the type of crane in each shot.
posted by procrastination at 12:40 PM on August 5, 2014

Cranes? There will be crane equipment in the roof to lift components in and out. That will mean the hall will need to tall enough to lift over the tallest equipment in place. Just a guess, though.
posted by firesine at 12:41 PM on August 5, 2014

I always thought it was a combination of noise and heat reduction and need room to construct the machines and work on them.
posted by 724A at 12:42 PM on August 5, 2014

The crane idea is a plausible suggestion. I also once visited a gas-fired power station that had high ceilings, but where equipment extended a lot higher up than it does in the examples in the original question.
posted by sindark at 12:43 PM on August 5, 2014

For the ones I am familiar with (and at least the first two in your examples; I cannot see the third) it's due to the crane, which needs to be able to lift pieces clear of installed elements, and which has its own headroom requirements.

Heavy-lift bridge cranes can be ... large.
posted by aramaic at 12:43 PM on August 5, 2014

My almost completely uninformed guess is that if you ever have to swap out a turbine or pull a piece out for maintenance, you're going to need a lot of breathing room. Your first linked picture appears to have a steel rail in the foreground for some sort of crane (in the far background) that is probably related.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 12:44 PM on August 5, 2014

Seems like I had an OK guess, typed way too slowly.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 12:45 PM on August 5, 2014

don't forget that gas and steam turbines that size are assembled in place mostly - so you need lots of space to work, and the marginal cost of the space is pretty low.

That hydro turbine hall looks weird but if you look at the Wiki page for the type of hydro turbine it is


Its pretty clear what's going on.
posted by JPD at 12:54 PM on August 5, 2014

Yeah, you can see the crane at the far end in each of your example pictures.
posted by zsazsa at 12:59 PM on August 5, 2014

The traditional design for a turbine hall almost always involves a gantry crane so you can swap out the turbines themselves. That necessitates a ceiling that is at least as high as the diameter of the largest turbine doubled (so that you can lift one above another), plus clearance above the gantry for the crane mechanism itself.

On some buildings, including the Tate, you can see that the walls are very heavily reinforced up to the level of the crane, and then above that they're more lightweight 'curtain walls' or minimally load-bearing walls just to support the roof.

Also, if you look closely at the photo of the Tate, the gantry crane is still there, along the far wall, about 2/3rds of the way up from the floor, in front of the vertical slit windows.

It's not specific to power generation turbines; pumping stations are often designed the same way. The nicest one I've seen is the Baltimore Public Works Museum / Eastern Avenue Pumping Station, which used to be open to the public. It had very thick (3-4' thick) brick masonry walls to support the gantry crane.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:06 PM on August 5, 2014 [6 favorites]

The equipment, plus some breathing room, is what you need to get out. Look at the nuclear power station again. Pulling out a stator (don't forget, almost 1/2 is below the floor, as you need to access to the bearings, which are in the center), which will be more than 100T (can be much more!), is not a small operation, and a bit of room is appreciated.

The heights of these buildings are carefully designed to accommodate the maintenance activities, but not much more, as any increase in height under the crane rail is expensive. Above the rail you can put more room if you like (it's cheaper, but not free), but it's usually just the space required for air handling (if you have it, and it needs to be above the crane) and maintenance space for the crane itself.
posted by defcom1 at 2:31 PM on August 5, 2014

Beyond the crane, don't forget that the third floor's ceiling is defined by where the fourth floor's floor needs to be. Why make an extra floor when nothing will go there?
posted by Brian Puccio at 5:43 PM on August 5, 2014

In a pumping station the pump extends quite a distance under the floor. The motor is above the floor and the pump is below it.
In these photos of the generator floor at Hoover Dam, the generators are visible above the floor. They are attached to the turbines which extend below the floor ( I don't know how far).
There would need to be enough overhead clearance to remove and repair the pump.
posted by H21 at 7:42 PM on August 5, 2014

Certainly in the case of a hydro installation, there is a LOT of stuff under the floor. Visible on top you'll at most see the exciters, underneath is the alternator itself which is *much* larger, and beneath that are the turbines themselves, which are also large.

So typically if you look at the space from the floor to the bottom of the gantry, beneath the floor will be two or more levels of a similar size.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 8:24 PM on August 5, 2014

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