How do Generators Work?
Did you ever think about how generators work? When there is a power outage, generators are extremely useful, providing power where there is none. But, if there is no power available, how do generators provide power? This article will take an in-depth look at the main parts of a generator and provide some insight as to how generators work.
How Generators Work
Generators work by converting mechanical energy they obtain from an external source and converting it into electrical energy. It performs its work by using the mechanical energy that is supplied to it to force electrical charges in the wire of its windings to move through an external electric circuit. This flow of charges constitutes the output electric current supplied by the generator.
Modern-day generators work on the principle of electromagnetic induction which was discovered by Michael Faraday in 1832. This principle dictates that the above flow of electric charges can be put into motion by moving an electrical conductor, like a wire, that contains electric charges in a magnetic field. This movement creates a difference in voltage between the two ends of the wire or electrical conductor which causes the electrical charges to flow, generating the electric current.
Parts of An Electric Generator
For a better understanding, let’s look at the individual parts of the generator and see how they function.
Engine: The engine is the source of mechanical energy in the generator. The bigger the engine, the more power the generator is able to supply. Engines should be well maintained according to the manufacturer’s specification.
An engine may work with a variety of fuels. These include diesel, gasoline, propane and natural gas. Smaller engines tend to run on gasoline while larger engines will run on diesel, propane and natural gas.
Alternator: The alternator or ‘genhead’ plays a big role in how generators work. It is the part of the generator that produces an electrical output from the mechanical input supplied by the engine. It contains both stationary and moving parts. These components work together to cause movement between the magnetic and electric fields which, in turn, generate electricity.
If you are looking into purchasing a generator, here are some things you may want to keep in mind in regard to your generator:
Metal vs. Plastic Housing: An all-metal design will be stronger while a plastic housing can become deformed due to movie parts and exposure to the elements.
Ball Bearings vs. Needle Bearing: Ball bearing tend to last longer
Brushless Design: Brushless designs are also preferable as they require less maintenance and produce cleaner power.
Fuel System: A full fuel tank will typically have the ability to operate the generator for 6 to 8 hours. In smaller generators, the fuel tank will be part of the generator’s skid base or it can be mounted on top of the generator frame. For commercial applications, the fuel tank may be an external part which is erected or installed separately. All installations are subject to approval by the City Planning Division.
Parts of a fuel system include the pipe connection from the fuel tank to the engine, the ventilation pipe for the fuel tank, the overflow connection from the fuel tank to the drain pipe, the fuel pump, the fuel water separator or fuel filter and the fuel injector.
Voltage Regulator: The voltage regulator is another important component in how generators work. It regulates the output voltage of the generator. Voltage regulation is performed by a number of components. These components all participate in a cycle that produces the output voltage which enables the generator to operate at full capacity.
Cooling and Exhaust Systems: Because the generator becomes hot when it is working, it’s essential to have a cooling and ventilation system that withdraw the heat produced. Some systems use water or hydrogen as a cooling agent, but for most, a standard radiator and fan are mounted on the generator to induce cooling.
Lubricating System: The lubricating system helps keep the moving part of the generator functioning smoothly. The system consists of oil in a pump. It is a good idea to make sure there is an adequate amount of oil in the pump by checking the levels every 8 hours while it is operating. You should also check for leakage after every 500 hours of operation.
Battery Charger: The start function of the generator is battery operated. It keeps the battery charged using a ‘float’ voltage. If the float voltage is low, the battery will be undercharged. If it is too high, it will shorten the life of the battery. Battery chargers are typically stainless steel so they are not prone to corrosion. They are fully automatic so adjustments and maintenance are minimal. The DC voltage input of the charger is set at 2.33 Volts per cell, the precise flow voltage for lead batteries and the voltage is isolated so that it does not interfere with the functioning of the generator.
Control Panel: This is the user interface of the generator. It contains provisions for electrical outlets and controls. Features of the control panel may vary depending on the make and model of the generator you have. Typically, it includes an electric start and shut down, engine gauges which keep users updated on important parameters of the generator, generator gauges which measure the output current, and voltage and operating frequency of the generator, and other controls including phase selector switch, frequency switch and engine control switch.
Main Assembly/ Frame: All generators have a customized frame that provides structural support and allows for the generator to be operated safely.
Now that you have a better understanding of the way generators work, it can be helpful in maintaining and understanding your equipment. It can also provide insight on how this machinery can provide power in the case of outages. Generators are very useful pieces of equipment and understanding how they work can provide valuable knowledge for the future.