How do Portable Generators work?

In simplest terms, Portable Generators typically consist of a power generator head, an engine, a source of fuel, and power receptacles or outlets, and is sometimes referred to as an engine-generator set, or a gen-set. Typically, a portable generator has the following components combined together onto a metal frame as a single unit:

  • Internal combustion engine
  • Alternator
  • Starter
  • Fuel tank
  • Outlets

The component that produces electricity to the power outlets is called the generator head. The engine powers the generator head and the engine is run on some sort of fuel, usually gasoline, liquid propane, natural gas or diesel. Regardless of which fuel source is used, an engine, usually a 4-cycle, will supply the mechanical energy that is necessary to power the generator head by spinning a shaft.  A constant speed regulator, or a governor, maintains the speed of the spin.

How Do The Cooling Systems Work?

There also needs to be a cooling system and a lubrication method of the moving parts. The generator head then turns the mechanical energy into electrical energy, providing electricity to the power outlets. In simple terms, a generator moves a magnet near a wire to create a steady flow of electrons. A generator harnesses this flow and redirects it to the outlets, providing power to your appliances.

If you have never studied physics, no worries here’s an analogy that will help you to better understand how this works with volts, amps and watts. Imagine a flow of water being sent through a water hose. The generator is like a water pump pushing the water through the hose, only instead of water, a magnet is used to push the electrons. Just like a water pump applies pressure to the water molecules, the generators magnet pushes electrons through and applies “pressure” for flow.

Read Also: Top 10 Best Portable Generator Reviews of This Year

Electrons move through the wire until it comes across a “load” like an appliance, then it will create heat or provide the power needed to run that appliance, then continue on its merry way. In an electrical circuit, the number of electrons is called the amperage or current, measured in amps. The pressure that pushes the electrons along is the voltage, measured in volts.

Understanding Watts, Amps & Volts

Portable generators are then measured by the amount of power they produce, called watts. As wattage increases, everything else increases with it. The basic formula as related to available power is watts = amps x volts. There are two types of watts: Running Watts are the continuous watts that are produced to keep an item running; and Starting Watts are the extra power that is needed to start up the larger motor-driven appliances or multiple items.

Animation to Show How a Generator Works

To ensure optimum safety with your generator, your unit must be placed outside for the highest safety from carbon monoxide emissions. Before you operate the unit, please take some time to educate yourself about how to operate this generator, and about all the risks involved with carbon monoxide so you are better prepared when the time comes to run this system in the safest way possible.

About the Author

Bob Robinson has been a tool enthusiast and lawn care expert for the past 11 years. First working with John Deere to reduce their impact on the environment, whilst building his love for writing in his spare time. Now, Bob runs the editorial team at BestofMachinery and tends to his garden in his spare time.

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