Electrical generator

NRC image of Modern Steam Turbine Generator. In electricity generation, an electric generator is a device that converts mechanical energy to electrical energy. The reverse conversion of electrical energy into mechanical energy is done by a motor; motors and generators have many similarities. A generator forces electrons in the windings to flow through the external electrical circuit. It is somewhat analogous to a water pump, which creates a flow of water but does not create the water inside. 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.

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Electrostatic induction The triboelectric effect, where the contact between two insulators leaves them charged.

Because of their inefficiency and the difficulty of insulating machines producing very high voltages, electrostatic generators had low power ratings and were never used for generation of commercially-significant quantities of electric power. The Wimshurst machine and Van de Graaff generator are examples of these machines that have survived.

Faraday's disk

Faraday disk

In the years of 1831-1832 Michael Faraday discovered the operating principle of electromagnetic generators. The principle, later called Faraday's law, is that a potential difference is generated between the ends of an electrical conductor that moves perpendicular to a magnetic field. He also built the first electromagnetic generator, called the 'Faraday disk', a type of homopolar generator, using a copper disc rotating between the poles of a horseshoe magnet. It produced a small DC voltage. This design was inefficient due to self-cancelling counterflows of current in regions not under the influence of the magnetic field. While current flow was induced directly underneath the magnet, the current would circulate backwards in regions outside the

influence of the magnetic field. This counterflow limits the power output to the pickup wires, and induces waste heating of the copper disc. Later homopolar generators would solve this problem by using an array of magnets arranged around the disc perimeter to maintain a steady field effect in one current-flow direction. Another disadvantage was that the output voltage was very low, due to the single current path through the magnetic flux. Experimenters found that using multiple turns of wire in a coil could produce higher more useful voltages. Since the output voltage is proportional to the number of turns, generators could be easily designed to produce any desired voltage by varying the number of turns. Wire windings became a basic feature of all subsequent generator designs. However, recent advances (rare earth magnets) have made possible homo-polar motors with the magnets on the rotor, which should offer many advantages to older designs.


Dynamos are no longer used for power generation due to the size and complexity of the commutator needed for high power applications. This large belt-driven high-current dynamo produced 310 amperes at 7 volts, or 2,170 watts, when spinning at 1400 RPM.

The Dynamo was the first electrical generator capable of delivering power for industry. The dynamo uses electromagnetic principles to convert mechanical rotation into a pulsing direct electric current through the use of a commutator. The first dynamo was built by Hippolyte Pixii in 1832. Through a series of accidental discoveries, the dynamo became the source of many later inventions, including the DC electric motor, the AC alternator, the AC synchronous motor, and the rotary converter. A dynamo machine consists of a stationary structure, which provides a constant magnetic field, and a set of rotating windings which turn within that field. On small machines the constant magnetic field may be provided by one or more permanent magnets; larger machines have the constant magnetic field provided by one or more electromagnets, which are usually called field coils. Large power generation dynamos are now rarely seen due to the now nearly universal use of alternating current for power distribution and solid state electronic AC to DC power conversion. But before the principles of AC were discovered, very large direct-current dynamos were the only means of power generation and distribution. Now power generation dynamos are mostly a curiosity.

Other rotating electromagnetic generators Without a commutator, the dynamo is an example of an alternator, which is a synchronous singly-fed generator. With an electromechanical commutator, the dynamo is a classical direct current (DC) generator. The alternator must always operate at a constant speed that is precisely synchronized to the electrical frequency of the power grid for nondestructive operation. The DC generator can operate at any speed within mechanical limits but always outputs a direct current waveform. Other types of generators, such as the asynchronous or induction singly-fed generator, the doubly-fed generator, or the brushless wound-rotor doubly-fed generator, do not incorporate permanent magnets or field windings (i.e, electromagnets) that establish a constant magnetic field, and as a result, are seeing success in variable speed constant frequency applications, such as wind turbines or other renewable energy technologies. The full output performance of any generator can be optimized with electronic control but only the doubly-fed generators or the brushless wound-rotor doubly-fed generator incorporate electronic control with power ratings that are substantially less than the power output of the generator under control, which by itself offer cost, reliability and efficiency benefits.


Rotor from generator

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

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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 electrical 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 necessarily have the commutator on the rotating shaft, so the armature winding is on the rotor of the machine.


A small early 1900s 75 KVA direct-driven power station AC alternator, with a separate belt-driven exciter generator. Excitation (magnetic)

An electric generator or electric motor that uses field coils rather than permanent magnets will require a current flow to be present in the field coils for the device to be able to work. If the field coils are not powered, the rotor in a generator can spin without

producing any usable electrical energy, while the rotor of a motor may not spin at all. Very large power station generators often utilize a separate smaller generator to excite the field coils of the larger. In the event of a severe widespread power outage where islanding of power stations has occurred, the stations may need to perform a black start to excite the fields of their largest generators, in order to restore customer power service.

DC Equivalent circuit Equivalent G VG=generator RG=generator VL=generator RL=load resistance circuit of = open-circuit internal on-load generator and load. generator voltage resistance voltage

The equivalent circuit of a generator and load is shown in the diagram to the right. The generator's VG and RG parameters can be determined by measuring the winding resistance (corrected to operating temperature), and measuring the open-circuit and loaded voltage for a defined current load.

Engine-generator Engine-generator

An engine-generator is the combination of an electrical generator and an engine (prime mover) mounted together to form a single piece of self-contained equipment. The engines used are usually piston engines, but gas turbines can also be used. Many different versions are available - ranging from very small portable petrol powered sets to large turbine installations.

Linear electricity generator In the simplest form of linear electricity generator, a sliding magnet moves back and forth through a solenoid - a spool of copper wire. An alternating current is induced in the loops of wire by Faraday's law of induction each time the magnet slides through. This type of generator is used in the Faraday flashlight. Larger linear electricity generators are used in wave power schemes.

DC generator theory
Question 1:
Generators used in battery-charging systems must be regulated so as to not overcharge the battery(ies) they are connected to. Here is a crude, relay-based voltage regulator for a DC generator:

Simple electromechanical relay circuits such as this one were very common in automotive electrical systems during the 1950's, 1960's, and 1970's. The fundamental principle upon which their operation is based is called negative feedback: where a system takes action to oppose any change in a certain variable. In this case, the variable is generator output voltage. Explain how the relay works to prevent the generator from overcharging the battery with excessive voltage. Reveal Answer

Question 2:
A mechanic has an idea for upgrading the electrical system in an automobile originally designed for 6 volt operation. He wants to upgrade the 6 volt headlights, starter motor, battery, etc, to 12 volts, but wishes to retain the original 6-volt generator and regulator. Shown here is the original 6-volt electrical system:

The mechanic's plan is to replace all the 6-volt loads with 12-volt loads, and use two 6-volt batteries connected in series, with the original (6-volt) regulator sensing voltage across only one of those batteries:

Explain how this system is supposed to work. Do you think the mechanic's plan is practical, or are there any problems with it? Reveal Answer

Question 3:
If an electric current is passed through this wire, which direction will the wire be pushed (by the interaction of the magnetic fields)?

Is this an example of an electric motor or an electric generator? Reveal Answer

Question 4:
If this wire (between the magnet poles) is moved in an upward direction, what polarity of voltage will the meter indicate?

Describe the factors influencing the magnitude of the voltage induced by motion, and determine whether this is an example of an electric motor or an electric generator.

Reveal Answer

Question 5:
If this wire (between the magnet poles) is moved in an upward direction, and the wire ends are connected to a resistive load, which way will current go through the wire?

We know that current moving through a wire will create a magnetic field, and that this magnetic field will produce a reaction force against the static magnetic fields coming from the two permanent magnets. Which direction will this reaction force push the current-carrying wire? How does the direction of this force relate to the direction of the wire's motion? Does this phenomenon relate to any principle of electromagnetism you've learned so far? Reveal Answer

Question 6:
Determine the polarity of induced voltage between the ends of this wire loop, as it is rotated between the two magnets:

Reveal Answer

Question 7:
If the ends of a wire loop are attached to two half-circular metal strips, arranged so that the two strips almost form a complete circle, and those strips are contacted by two "brushes" which connect to opposite poles of a battery, what polarity of voltage will be measured as the loop is rotated counter-clockwise?

Reveal Answer

Question 8:
How does Faraday's Law of electromagnetic induction relate to the voltage output of a DC generator? According to Faraday's Law, what factors can we alter to increase the voltage output by a DC generator? Reveal Answer

Question 9:
DC generators will act as DC motors if connected to a DC power source and not spun at a sufficient speed. This is a problem in DC power systems, as the generator will act as a load, drawing energy from the battery, when the engine or other "prime mover" device stops moving. This simple generator/battery circuit, for example, would not be practical for this reason:

Back in the days when automobiles used DC generators to charge their batteries, a special relay called the reverse current cutout relay was necessary to prevent battery discharge through the generator whenever the engine was shut off:

When the generator is spun fast enough, it generates enough voltage to energize the shunt coil with enough current to close the relay contact. This connects the generator with the battery, and charging current flows through the series coil, creating even more magnetic attraction to hold the relay contact closed. If the battery reaches a full charge and does not draw any more charging current from the generator, the relay will still remain closed because the shunt coil is still energized. However, the relay contact will open if the generator ever begins to act as a load to the battery, drawing any current from it. Explain why this happens. Reveal Answer

Question 10:
A shunt-wound generator has an electromagnet "field" winding providing the stationary magnetic field in which the armature rotates:

Like all electromagnets, the magnetic field strength produced is in direct proportion to the amount of current through the wire coil. But when the generator is sitting still, its output voltage is zero, and therefore there will be no current through the field winding to energize it and produce a magnetic field for the armature to rotate through. This causes a problem, since the armature will not have any voltage induced in its windings until it is rotating and it has a stationary magnetic field from the field winding to rotate through. It seems like we have a catch-22 situation here: the generator cannot output a voltage until its

field winding is energized, but its field winding will not be energized until the generator (armature) outputs some voltage. How can this generator ever begin to output voltage, given this predicament? Reveal Answer

Question 11:
In a shunt-wound DC generator, the output voltage is determined by the rotational speed of the armature and the density of the stationary magnetic field flux. For a given armature speed, what prevents the output voltage from "running away" to infinite levels, since the output voltage energizes the field winding, which leads to greater field flux, which leads to greater output voltage, which leads to greater field flux, which leads to . . . ?

Obviously, there must be some inherent limit to this otherwise vicious cycle. Otherwise, the output voltage of a shunt-wound DC generator would be completely unstable. Reveal Answer

Question 12:
With regard to a DC electric generator, what is the neutral plane? Why is this important? Reveal Answer

Question 13:

Suppose a generator is mechanically coupled to an internal combustion engine in an automobile, for the purpose of charging the starting battery. In order that the battery not be over-charged by the generator, there must be some way of controlling the generator's output voltage over a wide range of engine speeds. How is this regulation of generator output voltage typically achieved? What variable within the generator may be most easily adjusted to maintain a nearly constant output voltage? Express your answer in relation to Faraday's Law of electromagnetic induction. Reveal Answer

Question 14:
In most high-power DC generator and motor designs, the wire used to make the field winding is much thinner gauge than the wire used to make the armature winding. This indicates the relative magnitude of current through these respective windings, with the armature coils conducting much more current than the field coils. That the armature conducts more current than the field is no small matter, because all current through the armature must be conducted through the brushes and commutator bars. The more current these components have to carry, the shorter their life, all other factors being equal. Couldn't the generator be re-designed so that the field conducted most of the current, with the armature only conducting a small amount? This way, the brushes and commutator bars would only have to carry a fraction of their normal current, making them less expensive and longerlived. Explain why this is impossible to do. Hint: consider the design of a permanent-magnet generator.

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