How do Generators work?

In one way or another, we have all interacted with a type generator here or there. Right? If you have ever experienced a power outage, they might even be owning one. A generator is a handy equipment that has proven more than once how useful it is in providing reliable portable or emergency power for recreational, residential, or commercial applications.

For most people, all they are concerned about is the power the generator has to provide. For others like you want to learn more about how generators work. The concept is quite simple; all you need to know is the type of generator you’re dealing with. I’ll break down this topic to make sure that you have a clear concept of how generators work at the end of this post. Read along!

What types of generators are there?

Generators’ classification can be done according to how they produce power, type of energy they produce, the fuel they use, application, and maneuverability. In this case, we’ll be looking at the how-they-produce-power classification. There are two main types here; there is an electric/mechanical generator and a solar generator. These two types have entirely different mechanisms of producing power; however, the result is electricity.

Electric generators use a mechanical method of kinetic energy to electric power to produce alternating current. On the other hand, the solar generator uses solar panels to convert solar energy to electricity typically produced as Direct Current then converted to Alternating Current by an onboard or separate inverter.

Now that you know what types of generators available based on how they produce power, it’s time we jump right to how these two generators work.

Electric Generator & How Does it Work?

As aforementioned, an electric generator is a power unit designed to use mechanical energy to produce electricity. It does this by making electrical charges and more them through electrical currents. It uses fuel to rotate the generator engine, which in return, turns and creates mechanical energy. This power is then pushed through an electrical conductor inside a magnetic field. Here electric charges are produced, thus generating electric current.

What Components Make Up an Electric Generator?

A generator is one unit fitted with several components that work together to produce power. Each of these has a part to play in ensuring electric energy is produced. Let’s get a brief look at each of them before looking at how a generator produces electricity.


It is the mechanical unit that supplies energy. The engine power is responsible for how much the generator provides. Electric generators come in various engine sizes. The engine size determines how much electricity it produces. Most of the electric generators are fuel-powered. There those that use gasoline, diesel, propane (liquid or gaseous), or natural gas. Some use dual-fuel engines capable of running on a dual fuel feed of propane and gasoline or diesel and gas.

A generator engine can either be an overhead valve engine or a non-overhead valve engine. The overhead valve engines feature intake and exhaust in the engine cylinder head instead of engine block mounting. They are more expensive than the non-overhead valve engines. Why? They are smaller, longer-lasting, easier to use, and produce lower noise and fewer emission levels while operating.

Another feature you will notice on generator engines is a cast iron sleeve inside the engine cylinder. It’s a desirable feature to reduce engine wear and tear; it ensures extended durability. It’s necessary to lengthen the generator’s engine operation life, especially if it is to be used regularly.


It’s a component that does the conversion of mechanical energy to electrical energy. It’s also referred to as the ‘Genhead.’ It contains both stationary and moving parts that work together to provide an electromagnetic field ideal for the movement of electricity and generate electricity. A housing unit surrounds its rotor and stator to enclose the operation.

The housing can either be metal or plastic; metal is the most preferred as it’s resistant to damage. Some alternators might feature ball bearings or needle bearings; ball bearing has a more extended durability.

There is also the brush and brushless designs; the brushless produce cleaner power and requires less maintenance.

Fuel System

The generator engine requires fuel to produce the rotation needed by the alternator to create electricity. The fuel system includes a fuel tank, fuel pipeline taking the fuel to the engine, a fuel pump, and a return pipe. There is also a fuel filter designed to remove debris before it gets to the engine’s combustion chamber.

A fuel injector is another fuel system component designed to force fuel inside the combustion chamber. Another element you’ll find here is a carburetor, a device designed to mix air and energy to improve combustion in the engine; it delivers proper air-fuel ratio for combustion.

Voltage Regulator

A Voltage Regulator is needed to control electricity voltage produced by the generator. It does also help in converting AC electricity to DC power when required. The initial energy produced is used up by the generator when you start it is to get it started. After that, the generator will build up electricity for output to other areas. Once you connect the load that consumes the energy, the voltage regulator interacts with the alternator to create more current until it reaches its capacity.

Cooling System

When the engine is burning up or when the alternator rotates at high speed, there is a heat generator. The cooling system does its work to make sure the unit(s) doesn’t overheat. Those generators feature an air cooling system, an oil cooling system, or a fan cooling system. All these methods are useful, but the fan cooling design is more applicable to those massive units. On the other hand, the air cooling system is more practical for portable generators that have a small motor.

Exhaust System

The exhaust system offers a way to get rid of the burning fumes out of the generator. When connected with a muffler, it helps lower the generator engine operating noise. It releases the gases out into the open. The design employed on the muffler will determine how quiet the generator will be. Remember, the gases produced are potentially dangerous to cause death.

Lubrication System

A generator has multiple moving parts, especially inside the engine. They require adequate lubrication to ensure smooth operation and prevent excess wear. Refilling needs to be done after every 8-hours of process. The best thing is modern generators come with low-oil protection that shuts down the generator when the oil level goes below the recommended point.

Generator start

It’s required to start the generator engine. The generator starts are of various types, including electric/battery-powered, recoil, automatic, keyed, or even remote-wireless starts.

Battery Charger

If the generator uses an electric start, then there will be a battery charger. It’s fully automatic to ensure the battery is always ready to when whenever required. It needs to supply a constant low-level voltage.

Control Panel

This is the place where all the generator controls are located. You interact with the generator is through here. You will get the power breakers, outlets, and indicators here. Some generators feature a control panel with choke and economy mode.

Main Assembly and Frame

All the above components are housed in one unit by the main assembly and framing system. Most of the generators feature a steel frame, except for most inverter generators with a fully-enclosed plastic body. And since the engine vibrates a lot, you will find small rubber points to reduce the vibrations.

How Does an Electric Energy Generator Work?

What you should first know is, electric generators do not create electricity; they convert mechanical energy into electricity. It’s done by capturing heat energy, converting it to mechanical energy, converted to kinetic energy, and then to electrical power.

The last part is done inside the alternator, where electrons are forced to move by a rotating electromagnetic field. And once the current is established with the movement of electrons, it’s directed to the generator output through copper wires for use with external loads.

It’s a concept shared by those enormous hydro and wind generators that provide a massive amount of energy by turning turbines. Except for this time, they don’t require fuel but rather moving water and wind, respectively.

Generators use a technology discovered in 1831-32 by Michael Faraday, the principle of electromagnetic induction. Faraday discovered that when a conductor moves inside a magnetic field, electrical charges are created and directed to complete a current flow.

How much Energy can an Electric Energy Generator Supply?

A decent electric generator supplies anything from 1000 watts and up. Most of the small portable generators’ capacities range from 1000 watts and 5000 watts. For the residential market, the generator capacities range from 5000 watts and 50 kW for the home standby units. For the commercial and industrial-use generators, you can expect to find a generator supplying anything between 50 kW and 3 Megawatts or more. This is a broad market with plenty of choices that also raise questions of the right generator for you.

What Devices Can You Power With an Electric Energy Generator?

A small portable generator is more than capable of lighting your camping tent, charge your devices, and keep you connected to the outside world. With the right size portable generator, you can also keep your RV powered all the time you’re out on the road.

An ideally home backup generator can keep your light up and run your essential appliances like the freezer and refrigerator. You can also get a portable generator that can give you enough power to power your whole house without compromising any power quality.

In other words, what a generator can power is limited by the amount of power the generator can deliver. It might not reach your main electricity capacity, but an ideally sized generator can keep you safe and operational during a power outage.

Solar Generator & How Does it Work?

Another type of commonly-used generator is the solar generator. It’s a reliable alternative power source that uses energy from the sun to provide a voltage supply. Most solar energy devices fall into this category, including those farm solar panels, portable power station systems, and smart solar boxes. Some of these solar power devices come with graphical user interfaces for improved usability.

They produce DC-current, which is then converted to AC by an onboard or separate inverter device. Solar generators rely on solar energy, meaning that these generators have no power when there is no sunlight. That’s why the energy produced here is mostly stored in a rechargeable battery for later use. Of course, you can use the generator directly but with a protected line and with small, low-power devices.

What Components make up a Solar Generator?

Solar generators come with four main parts: solar panel(s), solar batteries, a charge inverter, and a battery charger.

The solar panel received the energy from sunlight and did the direct conversion into electric power they processed through a battery charger. The energy processed here is the stores in a solar rechargeable battery for use later. The charge inverter covers the solar power stored in each battery to AC power for direct usage.

The solar panels vary in sizes, with the massive ones producing more power conversion than the small portable ones. High-end and advanced solar generators might feature circuit breakers to prevent the connected devices from drawing too much electricity. Most of the portable DC solar power supply is often uses for backup energy.

How does a Solar Energy Generator Work?

As mentioned before, a solar generator comes with a battery pack, a charge controller, and an inverter; all the three come in a compact unit that turns the solar energy into electrical current. The standard voltage ratings of the different solar generators are 12, 24, and 48 volts. The power can be converted to deliver 110 or 240-volt power too.

Most of the battery pack that comes with solar generators are lithium-ion batteries. Why? They have an extended life span, and they are affordable. You can also find some that use lead-acid batteries. These types act as an intermittent energy source you can save for later use.

The solar charge controller is in place to regulate the amount of electrical current and prevent electrical damage. It ensures the right amount of current is sent to the batteries.

And since most day-to-day appliances and devices use AC power, there is the need to convert the DC solar produce by a solar generator to AC. That is the work of an inverter. It steps up your solar generator’s voltage rating from 12, 24, or 48 volts to most appliance voltage rating, either 110 or 240 volts. If you have items that use DC power, you don’t need the inverter.

How much energy can a Solar Energy Generator Supply?

The amount of power produced by a solar generator varies from device to device depending on the panel sizes and battery capacity. In general, solar generators can provide a storage capacity of anything between 0.1 and 2 kWh. That’s why single solar power generators are mostly used for residential backup systems and outdoor power needs. If you need a large-scale solar power system, you will have to connect multiple solar generator units.

What Devices Can You Power With an Electric Energy Generator?

You can use a solar generator with light home appliances, portable electronics, and some small industrial tools. If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you can use it to charge your smartphone, laptop, tables, camera set, portable GPS technology, and more. The best part is, you can use it several times, depending on the battery pack capacity. You can also use a solar generator to run your small or medium refrigerator for several hours.

Final Thoughts!

The generator market is filled with portable, residential standby, commercial, or industrial standby generators with different operating applications. The capacities of these generators differ too. You may need extension cords when using portable generators to power your home or outdooring appliances and devices. You need a transfer switch for a safer hook up to your house power line for the standby generators. The type of generator suited for your needs depending on the electrical output required and the time you need it to run. And this is everything you might want to know about how the generator works. I hope you’ve learned something new.

About the author

Sharif Miah

I am Sharif, 22, a student, currently doing the BBA program. Besides, I am an online Blogger.

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