How Does a Generator Actually Work?

Although many people know how to use generators, not many know how they actually work.

That’s unfortunate because generators are feats of mechanical ingenuity that are simply amazing when you really think about it.

If you know how generators work and understand the science behind them, you’ll gain a better appreciation for these machines and look at them differently.

 

The Science Behind Generators

At its core, generators work by converting mechanical energy into electrical energy.

But the real magic lies in how it does this: by using the phenomenon of electromagnetism.

Generators rely on the principles of electromagnetic induction, which Michael Faraday discovered as early as 1831. He found that moving an electrical conductor through a magnetic field (or vice versa) creates a change in the magnetic field that induces a flow of electrons. This flow of electrons, in turn, produces voltage (i.e. electricity).

By understanding this phenomenon and learning how to harness this energy, early engineers were able to develop generators and other key electric components like electric motors, transformers and inductors.

 

The Main Parts of a Generator and How They Work Together

In simplest terms, a generator creates electricity by moving a magnet rapidly around copper wire coils to create a steady flow of electrons.

To do this, a generator will need the following main parts:

  1. Engine – Serves as the source of mechanical energy in a generator system. This system spins magnets rapidly around electric conductors (ex. coils of copper wires).
  2. Alternator System – Converts the mechanical energy into electrical energy. This system captures the flow of electrons resulting from the change in magnetic fields and turns it into electricity.
  3. Fuel System – Provides the energy source to power the engine.
  4. Outlet – Provides the outlet for the electricity generated.

Today’s generators also come with several other parts that make this process safer and more efficient. These include parts and systems that cool and lubricate the generator to make sure it runs smoothly.

 

Think of Generators Like Pumps for Electricity

Although all generators work on the same principle of electromagnetic induction, not every generator produces the same level of power.

To understand the differences in power levels between generators, it helps to liken them to water pumps.

In the same way that a water pump directs water through a hose, a generator directs electrons (i.e. electricity) to its outlets. And just like water pumps, generators can vary the number of electrons running through its system (the “current”) and set the pressure for pushing these electrons out (the “voltage”). Generators typically do this by varying the speed of the magnet rotations inside their systems, which changes the force of the flow of electrons running through them.

Most generators are designed to produce and handle certain ranges of current and voltage, so it’s important to match your generator with the amount of power you need.

 

Generators are Simpler Than You Think

No matter how many extra features and processes that today’s generators have – and believe us, there are many – the core science powering them remain the same.

At the end of the day, generators are machines that provide power by turning mechanical energy into electricity via electromagnetic induction. This is the basis of some of the first generators ever made, and it’s the same foundation for generators of today (with a few tweaks and improvements, of course).

By understanding long-established scientific principles and applying them in clever ways, engineers have developed the modern generator that many of us take for granted so easily today.

Want to find out more about generators and how to pick one for your needs? Get in touch with us, and we’ll help you out!

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The Generator Place is the largest Honda retailer in Australia. In February 2005 the first Generator Place was opened in Brisbane, so with more than twelve years in business and the Generator Place now has 11 outlets around Australia.