The components of a diesel generator and how they function

A diesel generator or diesel gen set can be a lifeline for your home or business. It can ensure a continuous supply of power when your mains supply fails, taking over so seamlessly that you won’t even notice the difference. More importantly, it helps to maintain continuous operations and mitigate the risk of profit-sapping downtime or (worse still) compromising data loss. Of course, diesel generators can also be used as a reliable main power source.

But have you ever wondered what makes your diesel generator work? What are the key components of a diesel generator and how do they function? We feel that educating our customers is the best way to help them make an informed decision on which generator is right for them. With that in mind, let’s take a close look at the key components of diesel generators and their functions…

The engine

Just like a diesel vehicle, a diesel generator is powered by an engine. This provides the mechanical energy which is concerted into electrical power by…

The alternator

The alternator uses the principle of electromagnetic induction. This involves causing electrons to flow through a wire by using a magnetic field. In the case of a diesel generator, several powerful magnets are placed around a rotating shaft attached to a rotor. As the shaft turns, the rotor keeps moving the north and south poles of its magnetic field across a bundle of wires that surround them.

This causes large volumes of electrical current to flow back and forth across the wires creating what is known as alternating current/ AC mains power.

The voltage regulator

The amount of electrical current produced depends on the speed of the engine. However, most electrical equipment requires a steady, consistent power supply. To provide this, a voltage regulator is needed to ensure that the power output remains consistent.

The fuel system

The fuel system, as with a diesel vehicle, keeps a feed of fuel coming to power the engine. The fuel system will contain a storage tank which will typically be able to keep the generator going for 6-8 hours depending on electrical load. This may be attached to the main housing for smaller or portable units or attached externally for larger models.

The exhaust system

As diesel fuel burns it creates toxic gases which need to be vented safely by the exhaust system. This is a network of pipes that channels exhaust gases safely into the outside air.

The cooling system

As well a creating mechanical energy, the operation of a diesel generator produces a lot of heat, so a cooling system is necessary to prevent overheating and damage to the unit. The cooling system is a network of pipes which carries a cooling fluid through the heat exchanger, transferring heat into the outside air or, in some cases, into a secondary fluid.

The starter and battery system

The diesel motor itself relies on a smaller electrical motor to start it and get it running. This starter motor is powered by a battery. This can either be charged externally or use part of the generator’s output to charge itself.

Control panel / transfer switch

Finally, the control panel puts the user in charge of the generator’s operation and functions. Most standby generators will also have a transfer switch which activates the generator when mains power is lost.

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