What Does a Generator Do? Learn How a Generator Work to Power a House

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Last Updated on September 19, 2021 by

Illustrated red generator next to article title

A generator is a device that converts mechanical energy into electrical energy. An electrical generator aims to provide backup power to electrical appliances in an emergency when the local grid fails. 

Following the invention of the first generator in 1831 by the British scientist Michael Faraday, generators of all kinds are available in the world today to meet a variety of purposes. 

Portable generators of various capacities are available for powering devices like mobile, lights, and coolers to more demanding appliances like refrigerators and microwaves. You can learn about more uses of portable generators in this article. 

Industrial generators are used to power factories, facilities, and companies, allowing continuous production even in the event of a power failure. Permanent installation generators are also available to power an entire house for a prolonged period. 

Generators of various sizes and shapes are available, and they run on different kinds of fuels. Fuels like propane, gasoline, diesel, and natural gas are used to power generators. 

Some generators can even be powered by using solar energy. Bi-fuel and tri-fuel generators are also available, suitable for areas where one fuel is short in supply. 

How a Generator Produces Electricity

Turbine generator, fuels and others (icons)

Though the purpose of a generator is to provide backup power when the main power grid fails, generators can’t actually create electricity. The job of generators is to convert mechanical or chemical energy into electrical energy. Various types of generators are available that convert different types of energy to produce electricity. 

Turbine Driven Generators

Most of the electricity in the world is generated by turbine generators. Water, steam, or combustible gases are used to rotate the shaft in a turbine generator. 

The mechanical energy created due to the rotation of the shaft is captured and converted by the turbine generator. The generators at Hoover Dam are examples of turbine generators used to power entire grid lines. 

Steam turbines, hydroelectric turbines, combustion gas turbines, and wind turbines produce electricity by applying the same principle using different elements like steam, water, air, and combustion gases. 

Fuel Driven Generators

 Fuel-driven generators, which can be portable or permanently installed, generally power only one house or some electrical appliances inside a home. They mostly work based on the electromagnetic induction theory by Faraday in 1830. 

Fuels such as diesel, propane, and natural gas power the engine by connecting the fuel tank to the engine. 

The chemical energy inside the fuel is converted to electrical energy, which allows the engine to create an electric field by mobilizing the rotor attached to the engine. The rotor spins inside a stator which contains conductors such as copper coils wrapped around it. 

Faraday discovered that when rotated inside a magnetic field, a conductor can generate electrical charges that can be used to create a flow of current. 

In modern generators, the same electromagnetic induction theory is used to generate electricity.  The generated electricity inside the alternator which consists of both the rotor and the stator is then directed towards the power outlet in the generator. 

The output voltage generally is expected to be 120 VAC at 60 hertz. If the output voltage is too high, the voltage regulator will decrease the direct current supplied to the rotor. 

On the other hand, if the voltage output is too low, the voltage regulator would increase the direct current supplied to the rotor.   

Other Types of Generators

Solar-powered generators use energy from the sun to power the generator, while nuclear generators are powered by nuclear reactions producing steam. There are battery-powered generators where the battery is recharged to power the engine instead of using fuel or steam.

Components of a Generator   

  detailed illustration of the parts of a generator

author of the image edukasikini

There are some essential components in a generator that are required for optimum performance. The generator cannot even function without some of these components, while others help modify and control the performance of the generator. To understand how a generator works, you need to know about the components of a generator. 

1. Engine

The engine is one of the most crucial parts of a generator. It is powered by the fueling system of the generator when the chemical energy in the fuel is converted to mechanical energy to rotate the engine. The power of the engine determines how much electricity a generator would produce.

Three important factors should be considered which can also determine the quality and performance of the engine.

  • Type of fuel used
  • Engine Type (OHV or non-OVH)
  • CIS (cast iron sleeve) in the Engine cylinder

2. Alternator 

The alternator consists of two essential parts of the engine: the rotor and the stator. The mechanical energy of the engine is converted into electrical energy using this alternator. This part of the generator is where electricity is actually produced. 

  • Rotor: The moving component which is responsible for producing the magnetic field by using a permanent magnet, by induction or by using an exciter.  
  • Stator: It is the stationary part inside which the rotor revolves. It contains electrical conductors wrapped like coils around an iron cast. 

The alternator that has metal housing lasts better than a plastic housing design. Using ball bearings makes the alternator more durable. In addition, a brushless design requires less maintenance, and the power produced is more refined.

3. Fuel System

The fuel system powers the engine of the generator, which enables it to create mechanical energy. It is a vital part of the generator that several types of fuels can power. The fuel system consists of several essential parts.

  • Fuel Tank: The fuel is stored in this part which also consists of a ventilation pipe to keep the pressure at optimum levels. 
  • Fuel Pipe: Two pipes connect the fuel tank to the engine. The supply pipe directs fuel from the tank to the engine, while the return pipe allows fuel to flow from the engine to the tank. 
  • Fuel Filter: The fuel filter removes debris formed in the fuel tank. The process is completed before transferring fuel to the engine. 

4. Voltage Regulator

There are two essential tasks that the voltage regulator performs. One of them is to control the amount of direct current supplied to the rotor which helps maintain the output voltage. The other job of the voltage regulator is to convert AC voltage to DC current. 

5. Cooling and Exhaust System

The generator gets heated due to continuous usage which means a cooling system is required to prevent overheating. Freshwater or hydrogen is often used as the coolant for generators.

It is also a good idea to place the generator in a place that is well ventilated, and the coolant levels should be inspected regularly. 

The exhaust system is used to remove the toxic fumes from the generator. The toxic fumes are produced by fuels like gasoline and diesel which need a proper exhaust system to be managed carefully. 

6. Lubrication System

The generator consists of several moving parts, making it essential to have a lubrication system for more durability and smoother performance. These parts are lubricated by the engine oil, preventing the generator from excess wear.

The lubricant oil levels should be checked every 8 hours, and after every 500 hours of operation, the lubricant oil should be replaced. 

7. Battery Charger

Battery chargers are fully automated which is required to start the generator. A precise float voltage is necessary to keep the battery charged at all times.

The battery charger is made up of stainless steel to prevent corrosion, making it more durable. It also contains an isolated DC voltage output which interrupts the performance of the generator. 

8. Control Panel

The control panel is the user interface that consists of several outlets and control switches, giving the user the ability to operate the generator. Most generators have an electric start, a shutdown button, several electrical gauges, generator gauges, and other control systems in the control panel

9. Main Assembly/Frame

The frame is the whole structure of the generator that holds all the parts of the generator rigidly in place. It is also possible to earthen the frame to make the use of the generator safer.

Safely Tips You Need to Know Before Running Your Generator

Generators are a lifesaver, but it is essential to know the proper safety guidelines before using a generator. Generators, if operated without following safety laws, can be fatal. 

You can get electrocuted if you handle a generator improperly, so before installing a generator, make sure you know the following safety guidelines:.  

1. Take prevention against CO Poisoning 

When fuels are burned in a generator, carbon monoxide gases are produced, which are extremely dangerous to humans. If generators are used indoors, carbon monoxide can quickly spread throughout the room, killing those who are exposed for long periods of time.

To make matters worse, CO gas has no odor, so you won’t even be aware of its presence until it’s too late.

To prevent CO poisoning from generators, be sure to take the following steps:

  • Install the generator outdoors and make sure that it is placed at least 20 feet away from your home.
  • Make sure the generator is not placed on a side of the house with windows or doors.
  • Install a CO detector and make sure the batteries are charged regularly. 

2. Always keep the generator dry

The generator must be kept dry at all times, as water and generators do not mix well. Never touch the generator with wet hands if you don’t want to be electrocuted.

To keep your generator dry, you can put up a canopy-like tent to keep rainwater from falling on top of your generator. 

You can find more preventive measures to run your generator even in rainy or snowy conditions here.

3. Do schedule maintenance of the generator by an expert

When installing a generator in your home, it’s best to hire a professional to ensure that the generator is properly connected to the main power panel.

Scheduling maintenance is also extremely important because a generator is made up of many parts that corrode and decay over time, which might make operating dangerous.

Every year, an expert should inspect the generator to ensure that all of the parts are in good working order. Aside from that, you should check for leaks on a regular basis and keep the generator clean.

For more generator safety tips, you can check this guide which also has a downloadable checklist.

Top 5 Generator Brands to Choose From

image with the logos of 5 brands (Jackery, Cat, Westinghouse, Champion, Wen)

If you are thinking about getting a generator, this generator calculator will help you calculate what power you need to run a whole house. When purchasing a generator, it’s helpful to consider a number of factors to ensure that your experience with the generator is as convenient as possible. To make things easier for you, we have compiled a list of 5 of the best generator brands that you can choose from. 

1. Jackery

The Jackery generators are a good and reliable choice. Jackery is a popular name in the world of generators and is a well-known brand in the US for providing robust and portable generators.

Jackery was founded by a former Apple battery engineer in 2012. Since then, Jackery has launched many models making it easier for outdoor explorers by providing a reliable electrical power source.

Some of the most popular models of Jackery are the explorer 500, explorer 1000, and explorer 1500. They also have solar generators like the Jackery Solar Generator 500 and Jackery Solar Generator 1000. You can find a carrying case for most of their models on their official website. 

For more information, you can visit this Jackery generators Guide.

2. Westinghouse

Westinghouse is a very prestigious company that George Westinghouse founded. Generators are one of the most popular products that they manufacture. They have a wide variety of generators in different price ranges.

Westinghouse generators can cost from $500 to $4000, and one common feature among them is that they are quiet and very easily moveable. The heavier models come with a wheel which makes it easy to move around.  

The WGen and iGen are two of the most popular series of Westinghouse generators. WGen7000, iGen1200, and iGen2200 are models worth checking out.   

You can check out this detailed Westinghouse Generator review to know more. 

3. CAT

Caterpillar, also known as CAT, designs some of the most unique and high-performance generators globally. CAT generators are generally very compact, but they can pack a nasty punch demonstrating their power.

Some CAT generators like CAT INV 2000 are made for RVs and campers allowing them to power appliances like stoves, mobiles, and heaters, making their experience more comfortable. Other models like RP6500 and RP7500 are good enough to power almost any house device for long hours. 

For more information regarding CAT Generators, you can read this CAT generators review guide

4. Champion 

Champion provides their users various models which have running watts from 1200 t0 12000 and starting watts of 1500 to 15000. Champion has a vast collection of inverter and portable generators for you to choose from.

The years of experience in manufacturing generators and using innovation to produce durable generators make Champion a leading brand when it comes to generators. The company Champion Power Equipment was founded in 2003. They have sold over 2.3 million generators in North America. 

Champion generators have excellent runtime, and they are very comfortable to use. It is easy to maintain them. Champion 100111, Champion 100307, and Champion 100433 are some of the most popular models, which are all a great combination of power and durability. 

We can read this detailed review of 10 Champion Generators to know if you are interested in this brand. 

5. WEN

WEN Products was founded in 1951 by Nick Anton. WEN was primarily established to make durable power tools. Their research and development team continuously keeps innovating and bringing better generators for their consumers.

WEN sells various kinds of inverters and dual-fuel generators. Along with generators, they sell various other accessories making it easier to maintain and clean the generator. WEN 3500, WEN 56180, and WEN 56200i are top-rated models. WEN generators are packed with power, and they are easy to maintain. 

Wrapping Up

To understand what a generator is, it is necessary to first understand what a generator does.

The process by which a generator converts mechanical energy to electrical energy can be a bit complicated to wrap your head around. But hopefully this article has made it a little easier to understand.

Learning about the various components of a generator can really help with visualizing how a generator works in its entirety.

When you’re familiar with the various parts of the generator, it makes it less intimidating to maintain. We all know that regular maintenance is essential if you want to keep your generator in good shape! 

Before using a generator, it is also critical to be aware of the safety precautions, when you finally decide to buy a generator. Always go with a brand that has a proven track record and a good reputation. Try looking into the five brands we suggested!

As always, feel free to share this article with your friends and family so they can be aware of how a generator works, how to handle one safely, as well as which generator brands to try.

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