How Do Generators Work?

Last Updated August 26, 2019

Generators are so essential today that normal day-to-day activities would come to a halt if they all jammed. They are handy in industries and homes; when there is a power outage, generators are up and running. What happens? Do you really want to know how generators work and everything pertaining to them? Read on to get the full information.

Understand the Generator

There is so much Physics that goes on before a generator can actually supply electric power. This is where we mention all hard terms like ‘electromagnetic’, ‘voltage’ and ‘engine.’ Worry not, you will get it all figured. By the time you are done with this article, you should probably consider an Engineering job involving generators.

Let’s have a step by step description of how generators work. It is time you got an idea of the principle behind the operation of the machine, its composing parts. Also, you may wonder types of generators available. You can read them here.

The principle behind how generators work

All generators, big, medium-sized or small, work based on Michael Faraday’s discovery: the principle of electromagnetic induction. In electromagnetism, the difference in voltage between two ends induces the flow of electric charges, which in turn generates an electric current. The voltage difference exists when a conductor like a coil of wire moves in a magnetic field.

The wires then transport this electric current to electric systems in need of power and light up the whole place. Generators are simply components that move wires near a magnetic field to create a steady flow of electrons. So, basically, they convert mechanical and chemical energy to electrical energy: they do not create it! They work like electric motors but in reverse.

If all that sounds like gibberish to you, here is a simple how generators work explanation for dummies. Do you see how you can use any possible form of energy to pump water through pipes, but not really create the water? That is the principle behind generators: they convert energy to some form that creates a flow of electric charges but doesn’t create the electric charges.

Parts of a Generator

You want to know how do generators work in power outage, don’t you? You have to be conversant with what makes them up first. Below are the main parts of a generator, within which other components are that aid in the operation.

Engine

This is the source of mechanical energy to the generator. It varies sizes depending on the amount of power you desire. Size is directly proportional to power output, thus the generators you use for commercial purposes have larger engines than those meant for domestic use. They also consume different fuels depending on the type and where you intend to use your generator.

Alternator

Do you remember all that electromagnetism stuff? It takes place at the alternator; the part responsible for the conversion of mechanical energy into the desired electrical energy. It consists of a stator with electric conductor coils wound around it and a rotor that moves around the stator. This outputs an alternating current thanks to voltage difference induced at the ends of the stator.

The rotor produces a magnetic field by using an exciter using direct current (DC), installation of permanent magnets or by induction using brushless alternators. Brushless alternators are the best for huge generators, have the easiest maintenance procedure and produce clean power.

For a long-lasting generator, go for one with metallic alternator housing with ball bearings for durability. ‌ ‌The plastic housing is prone to wear and tear and is hazardous once it exposes the interior. Needle bearings are great but do not last long.

Voltage regulator

Without control and regulation, your generator could either jam or blow up. The voltage regulator conducts a cyclic process of alternating direct and alternating currents until it can output the right amount of AC. The voltage regulator, exciter windings, rotating rectifiers, and the rotor/ armature conduct the whole procedure.

Perceive the voltage regulator as the traffic police at the roundabout. They are there to create a balance which if altered, you shall experience some serious chaos or stagnation.

Fuel system

The best generators have a fuel system to sustain them for 6-8 hours, depending on their size and power output. Many have a fuel system mounted on the frame. However, most of the commercial machines require an external fuel system to sustain them longer. They all have the following parts working together for smooth operation:

Fuel pump – to electrically transfer fuel from the main tank to the smaller one used for that period the generator is on. You did not expect to use buckets for the transfer, did you?

Fuel injector – it transfers already atomized liquid fuel into the combustion chamber of the engine.

Fuel filter – ensures that you only use clean fuel. This is the part responsible for separating water and other impurities that may cause corrosion and contamination from the fuel.

Ventilation pipe – it is there to prevent a pressure/ vacuum build-up when refilling and emptying the fuel system.

Pipe connection – it is the link between the fuel system and the engine. Again, no buckets!

Overflow connection – during refilling, there is a risk of fuel overflowing and spilling all over the place. The overflow connection is there to nullify chances of this occurring. The manufacturers really had every possible risk covered, didn’t they?

Cooling and exhaust system

You may have or not, noticed that a functional generator will produce a significant amount of fumes, heat, and noise, however, there are still some very quiet generators. Cooling and ventilation are mandatory if you want your machine to operate well and last ages.

For this reason, generators have coolants like water and hydrogen circulating within each time they are on. Ensure that you check the level of coolants daily, and keep the fun clean. It should be well installed so that it does not interfere with how others comprising systems work.

As of going green and avoiding inhalation of toxic and hazardous fumes, the exhaust system has to be in place. Is dying from inhalation of carbon monoxide a dignified death? The generator always has an exhaust system in place. However, you can add your own. Have the exhaust system freestanding to avoid affecting the operation of the engine. In addition, lately, exhaust gas emissions of generators have been set to some standards such as CARB to lower pollution.

Lubrication system

How does it feel to slide or concrete? You will not slide at all! An engine without an efficient lubrication system is prone to jamming and knocking out. Check the lubricant level in the pump at least every 8 hours and change that oil after every 500 hours of operation: this is subject to change depending on what your manufacturer states. Also, ensure that it is not leaking.

You can skip this whole lubrication part if smooth generator operation and durability is none of your business.

Control panel

The control panel is the user interface of the generator. When you purchase your own generator, you may not notice where all these other mentioned parts as they are inbuilt. However, the control panel is where you get to communicate with your gadget. Some of the things you get to control or witness operating in the control panel are these below.

Start/ shut down button – they are there, despite the machine being automated. In case of a power outage, the generator will automatically start running and go off when the blackout is over. However, for those used as the sole source of power, you have to turn the machine on and off using these controls.

Engine gauge – this is where you get to control engine operations regarding the amount of oil used, the duration of operation, coolant pressure, battery voltage, rotating speed, name them.

Generator gauge – anything to do with current and voltage can be seen here. You can adjust the output current, output voltage, and operating frequency at the generator gauge part of the control panel.

Switches – you will notice the phase selector, engine control and frequency switch, among others. It is mandatory that you go through your user manual to be conversant with how to operate a generator.

Battery charger

Steel makes up the battery charger to avoid corrosion. The part is fully automated and has no direct connection to the voltage used in running the generator. Its separately connected DC has it working automatically, and is responsible for the start function.

Note that the battery charger works using float voltage that must be at medium to low levels for it to stay charged and durable.

Frame

This is the body of the generator. It is its base support and plays a crucial role in earthing the entire system. Funny thing; some people will use only this part to judge what generator to purchase. Right, looks matter, but are you for real? The body should look good and all, but also have in mind everything to consider before buying the best generator.

Everything You Need To Know About Operating Generators

There is so much to know about operating a generator that you will need the manufacturer’s guide with you all the time. It is specific to your machine and has all the relevant info. Never lose it.

If you own a standby generator, for instance, your user guide will strictly require you to get an expert to perform the installation and maintenance procedures for you. Yours is to adhere to the scheduled dates and wait for it to automatically be on when the power is out. The case is different for small portable generators, which mainly require your direct input.

A step-by-step description of how to operate generators

It is time you used your machine like a pro. Below are 6simple steps to operating generators you wish you had known sooner.

Safety first

It goes without saying that if operating a machine jeopardizes your safety, then it is not worth it. Take all safety precautions when operating generators. Begin by abiding by the manufacturer’s operating instructions.

Set up your generator

This step encompasses everything from checking that the oil and fuel levels, confirming the air filters is clear and placing the generator at a safe distance from your house or water. All the basic instructions count. As you set up the machine, ensure that you put off the circuit breaker before you can run it.

Start the machine

Does the fuel system have fuel in it? If yes, turn on the valve, then start the generator. It is good practice to let it warm up for some minutes as advised by the user manual. After warming it up, switch on the circuit breaker. Ensure that your set-up is safe from water and mud as they are hazardous in this case.

Make the connections

The right way to make connections to your generator is connected cords to the generator first, then connect these cords to the appliances you want to power up. Use sufficiently long cords so that your machine stays at a safe distance from your house.

Do not ‘back feed’ power into your house. Carrying the generator out of your garage and setting it up away from your house may be cumbersome, but is it more cumbersome than fighting for your life in hospital after you blow up?

Turn it off

You will need to turn off the generator when:

  • You want to refuel it,
  • You are done using it,
  • The electric company in your area restores power.

To do it right, begin by turning off the circuit breaker, followed by switching off the machine. It is after these steps that you can turn off the fuel valve and proceed to the next step.

Store the generator appropriately

Before storing any machine, let it cool off. Finding a flat base that is free from moisture, debris and obstructions are one of the best generator storage practices. Ensure that it is an open space with sufficient ventilation to avoid build-up of gases from the fuel in the machine. Also, keep the user’s manual in the same area you keep your machine for easy accessibility.

Conclusion

Generators are not that complicated after all, right? To understand them, you need some time to read, have a close look at each part and operate it right. You can brag your knowledge to everyone else clueless about how to operate generators; you are ready. Reach out to us if information about generators begins to sound gibberish again.

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