A feedwater heater is a power plant component used to pre-heat water delivered to a steam generating boiler. Preheating the feedwater reduces the irreversibilities involved in steam generation and therefore improves the thermodynamic efficiency of the system.This reduces plant operating costs and also helps to avoid thermal shock to the boiler metal when the feedwater is introduced back into the steam cycle.
An economizer serves a similar purpose to a feedwater heater, but is technically different as it does not use cycle steam for heating. In fossil-fuel plants, the economizer uses the lowest-temperature flue gas from the furnace to heat the water before it enters the boiler proper. This allows for the heat transfer between the furnace and the feedwater to occur across a smaller average temperature gradient (for the steam generator as a whole). System efficiency is therefore further increased when viewed with respect to actual energy content of the fuel.