Generators have been around since the early 1800′s, when inventors began experimenting with more efficient ways to create electricity. In the last two centuries, electric generators have come a long way in terms of efficiency and technology. The easy access and inexpensive cost of electricity today, has to do with the level of technological sophistication of electric generators. But for all the technological advance in generator technology, the basic principles have remained the same. A electric generator is essentially a device that converts mechanical energy to electrical energy. The source of mechanical energy may be reciprocating or through a turbine steam engine, water falling through a turbine or waterwheel, an internal combustion engine, a wind turbine, a hand crank, compressed air or any other source of mechanical energy.
There are several types of electric generators, with varying types of applications and uses
- Vehicle-Mounted Generators
- Engine Generator
- Human Powered Electrical Generators
- Linear Electric Generator
A vehicle mounted generator are often used on automobiles or water-crafts, with the goal of producing electricity using the vehicle’s own movement to power the generator. Being powered by the rider, efficiency is at a premium, so these generators may incorporate rare-earth magnets and are designed and manufactured with great precision. Nevertheless, the maximum efficiency is only around 80% for the best of these generators—60% is more typical—due in part to the rolling friction at the tire–generator interface from poor alignment, the small size of the generator, bearing losses and cheap design. An engine-generator is the combination of an electrical generator and an engine mounted together to form a single piece of self-contained equipment. The primary advantage of engine-generators is the ability to independently supply electricity, allowing the units to serve as backup power solutions.
Human powered direct current generators are commercially available, and have been the project of some DIY enthusiasts. Typically operated by means of pedal power, a converted bicycle trainer, or a foot pump, such generators can be practically used to charge batteries, and in some cases are designed with an integral inverter. However, the efficiency level of these generators is quite low and they are used mainly in developing countries, where more expensive capital cannot be bought. Linear electric generators are essentially when, a sliding magnet moves back and forth through a solenoid – a spool of copper wire. An alternating current is induced in the loops of wire by Faraday’s law of induction each time the magnet slides through. Larger linear electricity generators are often used in wave power schemes. Tachogenerators are frequently used to power tachometers to measure the speeds of electric motors, engines, and the equipment they power. Generators generate voltage roughly proportional to shaft speed. With precise construction and design, generators can be built to produce very precise voltages for certain ranges of shaft speeds.
The generator manufacturing industry is dominated by a handful of really big international firms such as General Electric and Siemens. While there is a prevalence of more middle market generator manufacturers, these manufacturers usually service the firms that cannot afford or do not really need the kind of equipment sold by the big generator manufacturers. These generator manufacturers tend to be more local in terms of operation. However, due to the technologically intensive nature of this industry, the R&D budgets in this industry can be quite high. While their is always the chance that someone can come up with a effective design for electric generators, it is definitely a difficult process, making the barriers to entry in this industry relatively high.
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