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In electricity generation, an electric generator is a device that converts mechanical energy to electrical energy.

A generator forces electric current to flow through an external circuit. The source of mechanical energy may be a reciprocating or turbine steam engine, water falling through a turbine or waterwheel, an internal combustion engine, a wind turbine, a hand crank, compressed air, or any other source of mechanical energy. Generators provide nearly all of the power for electric power grids. The reverse conversion of electrical energy into mechanical energy is done by an electric motor, and motors and generators have many similarities. Many motors can be mechanically driven to generate electricity and frequently make acceptable generators.

The two main parts of a generator or motor can be described in either mechanical or electrical terms. Mechanical:

Rotor: The rotating part of an electrical machine Stator: The stationary part of an electrical machine


Armature: The power-producing component of an electrical machine. In a generator, alternator, or dynamo the armature windings generate the electric current. The armature can be on either the rotor or the stator. Field: The magnetic field component of an electrical machine. The magnetic field of the dynamo or alternator can be provided by either electromagnets or permanent magnets mounted on either the rotor or the stator.

Because power transferred into the field circuit is much less than in the armature circuit, AC generators nearly always have the field winding on the rotor and the stator as the armature winding. Only a small amount of field current must be transferred to the moving rotor, using slip rings. Direct current machines (dynamos) require a commutator on the rotating shaft to convert the alternating current produced by the armature to direct current, so the armature winding is on the rotor of the machine.


A dynamo is an electrical generator that produces direct current with the use of a commutator. Dynamos were the first electrical generators capable of delivering power for industry, and the foundation upon which many other later electric-power conversion devices were based, including the electric motor, the alternating-current alternator, and the rotary converter. Today, the simpler alternator dominates large scale power generation, for efficiency, reliability and cost reasons. A dynamo has the disadvantages of a mechanical commutator. Also, converting alternating to direct

current using power rectification devices (vacuum tube or more recently solid state) is effective and usually economic.

Without a commutator, a dynamo becomes an alternator, which is a synchronous singly fed generator. Alternators produce alternating current with a frequency that is based on the rotational speed of the rotor and the number of magnetic poles. Automotive alternators produce a varying frequency that changes with engine speed, which is then converted by a rectifier to DC. By comparison, alternators used to feed an electric power grid are generally operated at a speed very close to a specific frequency, for the benefit of AC devices that regulate their speed and performance based on grid frequency. Some devices such as incandescent lamps and ballastoperated fluorescent lamps do not require a constant frequency, but synchronous motors such as in electric wall clocks do require a constant grid frequency. When attached to a larger electric grid with other alternators, an alternator will dynamically interact with the frequency already present on the grid, and operate at a speed that matches the grid frequency. If no driving power is applied, the alternator will continue to spin at a constant speed anyway, driven as a synchronous motor by the grid frequency. It is usually necessary for an alternator to be accelerated up to the correct speed and phase alignment before connecting to the grid, as any mismatch in frequency will cause the alternator to act as a synchronous motor, and suddenly leap to the correct phase alignment as it absorbs a large inrush current from the grid, which may damage the rotor and other equipment. Typical alternators use a rotating field winding excited with direct current, and a stationary (stator) winding that produces alternating current. Since the rotor field only requires a tiny fraction of the power generated by the machine, the brushes for the field contact can be relatively small. In the case of a brushless exciter, no brushes are used at all and the rotor shaft carries rectifiers to excite the main field winding.

Induction generator
An induction generator or asynchronous generator is a type of AC electrical generator that uses the principles of induction motors to produce power. Induction generators operate by mechanically turning their rotor faster than the synchronous speed, giving negative slip. A regular AC asynchronous motor usually can be used as a generator, without any internal modifications. Induction generators are useful in applications such as minihydro power plants, wind turbines, or in reducing high-pressure gas streams to lower pressure, because they can recover energy with relatively simple controls. To operate an induction generator must be excited with a leading voltage; this is usually done by connection to an electrical grid, or sometimes they are self excited by using phase correcting capacitors.

Electrically excited DC motor

Main article: Brushed DC electric motor

Workings of a brushed electric motor with a two-pole rotor and PM stator. ("N" and "S" designate polarities on the inside faces of the magnets; the outside faces have opposite polarities.) A commutated DC motor has a set of rotating windings wound on an armature mounted on a rotating shaft. The shaft also carries the commutator, a long-lasting rotary electrical switch that periodically reverses the flow of current in the rotor windings as the shaft rotates. Thus, every brushed DC motor has AC flowing through its rotating windings. Current flows through one or more pairs of brushes that bear on the commutator; the brushes connect an external source of electric power to the rotating armature. The rotating armature consists of one or more coils of wire wound around a laminated, magnetically "soft" ferromagnetic core. Current from the brushes flows through the commutator and one winding of the armature, making it a temporary magnet (an electromagnet). The magnets field produced by the armature interacts with a stationary magnetic field produced by either PMs or another winding a field coil, as part of the motor frame. The force between the two magnetic fields tends to rotate the motor shaft. The commutator switches power to the coils as the rotor turns, keeping the magnetic poles of the rotor from ever fully aligning with the magnetic poles of the stator field, so that the rotor never stops (like a compass needle does), but rather keeps rotating as long as power is applied. Many of the limitations of the classic commutator DC motor are due to the need for brushes to press against the commutator. This creates friction. Sparks are created by the brushes making and breaking circuits through the rotor coils as the brushes cross the insulating gaps between commutator sections. Depending on the commutator design, this may include the brushes shorting together adjacent sections and hence coil ends momentarily while crossing the gaps. Furthermore, the inductance of the rotor coils causes the voltage across each to rise when its circuit is opened, increasing the sparking of the brushes. This sparking limits the maximum speed of the machine, as too-rapid sparking will overheat, erode, or even melt the commutator. The current density per unit area of the brushes, in combination with their resistivity, limits the

output of the motor. The making and breaking of electric contact also generates electrical noise; sparking generates RFI. Brushes eventually wear out and require replacement, and the commutator itself is subject to wear and maintenance (on larger motors) or replacement (on small motors). The commutator assembly on a large motor is a costly element, requiring precision assembly of many parts. On small motors, the commutator is usually permanently integrated into the rotor, so replacing it usually requires replacing the whole rotor. While most commutators are cylindrical, some are flat discs consisting of several segments (typically, at least three) mounted on an insulator. Large brushes are desired for a larger brush contact area to maximize motor output, but small brushes are desired for low mass to maximize the speed at which the motor can run without the brushes excessively bouncing and sparking. (Small brushes are also desirable for lower cost.) Stiffer brush springs can also be used to make brushes of a given mass work at a higher speed, but at the cost of greater friction losses (lower efficiency) and accelerated brush and commutator wear. Therefore, DC motor brush design entails a trade-off between output power, speed, and efficiency/wear.