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How does a generator work: Turning movement to electricity

By Leonard Evans
I am a senior editor at Bebest, where I can share valuable content about convenience in life based on issues related to household devices.
How does a generator work: Turning movement to electricity

In a world where electricity is the lifeblood of modern living, generators play an important role, ready to step in when the lights go out. But have you ever wondered how these clever devices convert movement into electrical power that fuels our daily routines? Join us on a journey to demystify the mechanics behind generators and discover the magic of electricity generation. 

The definition of Portable Generators

How does a generator work:
The definition of Portable Generators

Portable generators are compact devices designed to produce electricity in situations where a traditional power supply is unavailable or unreliable. These generators are smaller and more mobile than permanent standby generators, making them suitable for various applications such as camping outdoor events and providing emergency backup power. They are typically fueled by gasoline, diesel, or propane and can be easily transported to different locations. Portable generators feature outlets where you can plug in appliances and devices to access temporary electrical power.

How does a Generator work?

It’s important to understand that generators do not actually “create” electricity. A generator is a device that converts mechanical energy into electrical energy. It achieves this by using the electromagnetic principles that Michael Faraday initially discovered in the early 1830s. Faraday’s contributions were valued highly. They are commonly used to deliver energy in a variety of scenarios, including supplying homes and businesses with electricity and bringing electricity to remote areas that are not connected to the power grid.

The core principle of electromagnetic induction serves as the fundamental basis for its functionality. This idea says that if you have a changing magnetic field near a piece of wire, it can make electricity flow through the wire. In a generator, a magnetic field is made to move or rotate, and this magnetic field makes electricity flow in a wire. This wire is wrapped around a part that doesn’t move, called the stator. The stator is where the electricity is made and sent out for use.

What are the primary parts of a generator?

How does a generator work
The primary parts of a generator

The essential elements of an electrical generation apparatus encompass:

  • The rotor
  • Stator
  • Armature
  • Voltage regulator
  • Water pumps
  • Fuel reservoir
  • Fuel combustion system

The rotor constitutes the moving part, housing the magnets responsible for generating the magnetic field in rotation. In contrast, the stator stands as the fixed component containing the electric conductor that transforms the rotating magnetic field into electrical energy. The armature, a conductor coiled around the stator, generates the electrical output. Managing the generator’s voltage output is the role of the voltage regulator. Lastly, the fuel combustion system fuels the internal combustion engine, propelling the rotor’s movement

How do generators create or produce electricity?

How does a generator work
How do generators create or produce electricity?

Generators consist of two essential components: a rotor and a stator. The rotor is the rotating part of the generator, often propelled by various energy sources such as steam, water, or internal combustion engines. This rotation engenders a dynamic magnetic field around the rotor, a field in constant flux owing to its rotation. The stator, in contrast, remains stationary and encircles the rotor. Within the stator are coils of wire, carefully arranged to maximize the efficiency of the induction process.

As the rotor spins, its changing magnetic field cuts across the wire coils of the stator. This cutting of magnetic lines of force induces a voltage, an electric potential, within the wire coils. This voltage acts as a driving force, pushing electric charges to start flowing through the wire. The flow of these charges constitutes an electric current—an actual manifestation of the elusive phenomenon we call electricity.

This generated electric current is then channeled through output terminals, ready to be directed to various applications. From illuminating our homes to powering industries and driving innovation, the electricity produced by generators is the foundation of our modern world. Without this process, our technological landscape would be vastly different, lacking the power to run the devices and machinery that define our way of life.

Electrical requirement

Importance of size

Generator sizing is crucial. It’s important to select the right generator capacity, including a bit of extra power, to effectively handle the electrical loads you plan to use. Choosing a generator that’s too small can lead to similar issues as experiencing a “brownout” from the utility company, potentially causing damage to various devices, ranging from large appliances like well pumps to smaller ones like computers.

Use a Transfer Switch

Use a Transfer Switch
Use a Transfer Switch

Pairing a portable generator with a manual transfer switch, a reliable piece of electrical equipment, is the safest method to use one as a backup power source for your house. The “genset cord,” a lengthy, heavy-duty wire used to link the generator to the transfer switch, is hooked into an electrical receptacle erected outside the home (formally referred to as a “power inlet box”). The transfer switch is connected to the outlet by a cable on the interior of the building. The transfer switch’s circuit breakers and the genset cord carry electricity from the generator to the receptacle, interior cable, and different circuits you need to securely power.

The transfer switch has 3 main purposes:

  • Isolating Circuits: The transfer switch isolates the circuits you intend to power. This selective distribution helps prevent overloading and maximizes the efficiency of the generator’s output.
  • Preventing Backfeeding: Backfeeding occurs when generator power flows back into the utility lines, posing a danger to utility workers and potentially causing fires. The transfer switch ensures that power is not fed back into the grid.
  • Avoiding Simultaneous Power Sources: The transfer switch prevents utility power and generator power from being active in the system simultaneously. This prevents accidents and ensures that power from the generator doesn’t travel back through the utility lines.

Utilizing Sturdy Cables

Utilizing Sturdy Cables (Properly)
Utilizing Sturdy Cables

In case you’re not yet able to invest in a transfer switch installation, you can safely operate appliances directly connected to the generator. This can include powering devices such as refrigerators, power tools, and computers by extending long, heavy-duty extension cords to the generator. These cords must be of robust construction with a wire gauge that matches the current they will carry; the cord’s labeling will indicate its rated electrical load capacity. Additionally, it’s essential to choose cords designed for outdoor use. Lastly, take care to route the cords in a way that prevents damage, kinks, or coiling, especially when powering high-wattage appliances like heaters. Coiled extension cords can become excessively hot and may even melt under such conditions.


Generators are a significant invention that has reshaped how we utilize and consume energy. From providing backup power during blackouts to supplying electricity to massive systems, generators have undoubtedly become an indispensable part of modern life. Understanding the mechanics of how generators work allows us to appreciate their value and crucial role in our energy systems. Whether it’s a small portable generator or a large-scale power plant, the principles of electromagnetic induction continue to power our world in remarkable ways.

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