How Does An Electric Generator Work

Electrical generators are standalone machines that provide electricity when a local power grid is unavailable. This could be during a blackout or for RV traveling or camping.

They are often used as backup power to businesses and homes, and some are even used as a primary power source for mining or farming operations, in places where a main electrical grid is inaccessible. 

Some electrical generators are small and portable, others are more permanent installations that are capable of powering entire homes. Then there are industrial generators which can power places such as hospitals.

There are also many types, natural gas generators, propane generators, and dual-fuel generators. 

But, how do they work?

Stay with us and we will help you find out.

How do electrical generators work?

A generator works by using mechanical energy supplied to it, to force the movement of electric charges through an external electrical circuit. This flow constitutes the output electric current.

This can be understood by considering the generator to be much like a water pump, which causes the flow of water but doesn’t create the water that flows through it. 

The electricity generated, is not created by the generator but it makes it flow. 

An electrical generator transforms mechanical force into an electrical current through a process that is known as electromagnetic induction.

Knowing how a generator works can help you be better equipped when you need to choose a generator to power your needs, be it during a storm, a blackout, tailgating, or even for your power tools. 

A good example of how this works is looking at a gasoline generator, with these, an internal combustion engine drives a rotating shaft that turns the armature ( electromagnet). This is much like how renewable energy, such as a wind turbine, spins, it generates electricity but the generating component is the wind. 

What is the difference between an electrical generator and an alternator?

A generator and an alternator as similar in both design and principle. But there are a few distinctions that are worth mentioning. 

First of all the design is significantly different. Generators feature a stational field in which the conductor will rotate to produce electromagnet induction. On the other hand, an alternator’s entire magnetic field turns while its conductors remain stationary.

Another difference is that generators can produce AC and DC power. Where alternators are only usually equipped for alternating currents, hence their namesake. 

Finally. The overall design of a generator allows them to produce huge amounts of wattage per kilowatt and therefore are much more substantial. Alternators are more economical and use fewer parts, they are also used in smaller loads applications, such as cars/automobiles. 

Some may wonder how they are different things as an alternator goes inside a generator. Well, the word alternator can refer to the joining of a rotor and stator as a part and not just as the standalone alternator we refer to here. 

The main parts of an electric generator

It is worth knowing what exactly makes up a generator. The more you know your generator, the more you can help it produce power. 

A generator has the following;

  • A radiator.
  • An engine.
  • An alternator.
  • A frame (also known as a skid).
  • Batteries.
  • Oil filters.
  • An air filter. 
  • A control panel.

A generator has 9 main active parts that play a role in powering your needs.

What does each of the nine main parts of a generator do exactly?

  • Alternator - The alternator is where the conversation from one type of energy to electrical energy happens. The alternator contains moving and stationary parts that work in tandem to create an electromagnetic field and the movement of electrons that produced your much-needed electricity.
  • Engine - The engine supplies energy to the generator. The power ability of the engine decides how much electricity a generator can provide you. 
  • Voltage regulator - This part helps to control the voltage of the electricity that your generator produces. It also will convert the electrical energy from AC to DC if you need it to. 
  • Cooling/Exhaust systems - If you have ever used or worked with a generator, you probably know that they produce a lot of heat and get very hot. They are inbuilt with a cooling system that ensures that the machines won’t overheat. Then the exhaust system removes the fumes from the form during its operation. This is another reason you should never have your generator too close to your home (10-15ft recommended)
  • Fuel system - The fuel system will make it possible for the generator to produce the energy. It includes a fuel tank, a pump, and a pipe all connecting the fuel tank to the engine. As well as a return pipe. There is also a filter in here that removes any debris before it gets to the engine and an injector that forces fuel into the combustion chamber. 
  • Battery charger - Much like a car or a phone, the batteries start up the generator. The charger is a fully automatic component that makes sure the battery is ready to go when you need it to by supplying a low level of voltage. This is much like many things that require powering.
  • Lubrication - Many small parts in a generator move. Many small parts in a generator move. So, they must stay lubricated with engine oil so that operation is always smooth. This system does that for you, all you need to do is check that the lubricant levels are regularly checked (we recommend every 8 hours of operation).
  • Control panel - Although it doesn’t produce the power, the control panel is very important. If your generator didn’t have a control panel, it would be a lot like having an oven without controls.  It controls every aspect of the operation of the generator from start-up, running, and outputs. Modern units are even able to sense when power may dip, go out, and can auto start the generator. 
  • Mainframe - Last but not least, the body. The mainframe holds it all together, it is what we see when we have a generator. It is the structure that holds all these other pieces together and keeps them secure and safe so that we can use this appliance to power up our lives. 

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