November 28, 2021

How Does a Generator Work?

In your home, you will find many devices that operate on electricity. Some of these include a microwave oven, air conditioners, refrigerators, and television sets. For the power to be delivered to all devices in your home, you need a generator device. Before you learn how a generator works, you should know that generators have essential components including the engine, control panel, battery charger, fuel system, alternator, voltage regulator, and lubrication system. Typically, a generator uses gas or diesel to turn the energy created by the fuel into electrical power and distribute this power to appliances connected in parallel. This mechanism can be likened to an assembly line consisting of workers performing certain tasks that result in one product. In this case, that product is electric power. The more workers there are involved, the more products get made at once. Also similar to an assembly line, generators simultaneously produce more than one type of power.

Types of Generators

Generators are often categorized as either stationary or portable, but it's more accurate to call them on-grid or off-grid systems. Stationary generators are connected directly to the utility grid, which delivers power when available and draws power from the generator when necessary. Portable generators provide electricity independent of the utility grid. They're useful during blackouts for powering appliances at home or work. However, due to their limited fuel source, they are not practical for permanent use in homes or businesses where grid connections are available.

How Do Generators Work?

A generator works through electromagnetic induction. It takes advantage of the fact that every magnet has two poles (a north and a south pole), and those poles always come in pairs, meaning there is always a north pole next to a south pole. These poles are attracted to each other but never touch because they're always separated by some space, even if just the tiniest sliver of space. That attraction between magnets is called magnetic force, and it's what we take advantage of in generators. The wire loops turn into electromagnets because electricity flowing through them makes them magnetic. When you put a magnet wire within an electromagnetic field, it becomes temporarily magnetized as well, so if you send an electric current through it, it generates its magnetic field.

The iron core inside an electric generator provides lines of magnetic force that aid the rotor in creating eddy currents (electrical charges) in the stator windings by causing electrons to flow through them. These eddy currents then build up due to Lenz's law. Therefore, an AC voltage/current for each stator winding is induced into the circuit. The magnetic field provided by the electromagnet then interacts with this current to produce a torque effect which causes it to rotate at high speed.

When a wire within a magnetic field is moving, it cuts the lines of the field, and this cuts the lines of force. That means a voltage or electromotive force (emf), which is a force that causes electricity to flow through the wire. People use this voltage to power electrical appliances like light bulbs or even televisions by hooking up wires with metal alligator clips to conduct electricity. The generators create an electromagnetic field by running an electric current over coiled-up wire loops around magnets.

They generate electricity because they send an alternating current through these coils, which creates changing electromagnetic fields that induce voltage into other coils of wire that are further away from the magnets. In summation, the alternating current generated in the coil by rotating it between these two electromagnets then powers the main system.

The power produced by a generator flows through wires to electrical outlets known as receptacles, which you'll find in your garage, workshop, and along your house's walls near doorways. Receptacles range in size from 20 to 100 amps. The size corresponds to the amount of current they can handle. That is an important consideration in determining how much power your generator can provide.

Safety Measures on Using a Generator at Home

A home's electrical system has a load limit beyond which it cannot operate safely, given the conditions under which you are using electricity at the time (such as lighting, appliances, and tools involved). For instance, if the air conditioner and microwave oven are running simultaneously, you need more capacity than when only one appliance is turned on.

When matching a generator to your needs, be aware that most generators will identify their amperage capabilities as 'Starting Amps' or "Running Amps." A true measure of amperage draw is known as Continuous Amperage. This specification is found only in larger industrial generators.

The key to using a generator safely is to remember that electricity demands are cumulative. A refrigerator by itself doesn't require much power, but several running simultaneously could exceed the capabilities of your portable generator. If you have any doubts about whether your home electrical system can accommodate all the appliances you'd like to run at once, consult an electrician to help you understand how generators work and also set them up.