The Rankine cycle or Rankine Vapor Cycle is the process widely used by power plants such as coal-fired power plants or nuclear reactors. In this mechanism, a fuel is used to produce heat within a boiler, converting water into steam which then expands through a turbine producing useful work. This process was developed in 1859 by Scottish engineer William J.M. Rankine. This is a thermodynamic cycle which converts heat into mechanical energy—which usually gets transformed into electricity by electrical generation.
The efficiency of the Rankine cycle is limited by the high heat of vaporization by the fluid. The fluid must be cycled through and reused constantly, therefore, water is the most practical fluid for this cycle. This is not why many power plants are located near a body of water—that's for the waste heat.
As the water condenses in the condenser, waste heat is given off in the form of water vapour—which can be seen billowing from a plant's cooling towers. This waste heat is necessary in any thermodynamic cycle. Due to this condensation step, the pressure at the turbine outlet is lowered. This means the pump requires less work to compress the water—resulting in higher overall efficiencies.