How does the power generation industry work?
Electric power perhaps is the mainstay of human life in today’s world. There is hardly any aspect of human life that is not touched by electricity. Generation of electric power is a prime concern of the government and they set policy guidelines so that the country can produce enough electric power. There are many ways of producing electricity which include hydel power, thermal power, solar power and wind power. The electric power industry comprises two forms of generation and supply – grid supply and standalone supply.
Grid supply involves the generation of electricity at one central generating facility and distributing it through a vast network of transmission lines that accomplishes last mile connectivity to users who could be households or industrial or commercial establishments.
Standalone supply involves the generation of electricity on a standalone basis at the place where the user requires power. This is meant for captive use and requires generation and supply of enough power for specific uses. These uses could include standby generation of power to be used in the event of a breakdown in grid supply, generation and supply of primary power where grid supply is not possible, such as construction sites, mining fields and remote areas and augmentation of power when grid supply is not sufficient. Standalone generators perform a vital function in ensuring continuous and uninterrupted supply of electricity for applications such as hospitals and process industries.
Growth opportunities for the generator industry
A KPMG report opines that by the year 2022, to achieve the vision of “Housing for all by 2022”, 9 crore houses needed to be built in the country with an investment of US$ 2 trillion. This would also require another US$ 1.5 trillion investment to develop supporting infrastructure essential to ensure sustainable growth. Another report from Motilal Oswal underlined the importance of the construction industry involving the doubling of road construction activity, building metro rail systems and bringing changes in railway operations. These new development activities will require the active involvement of the Indian generator industry and leverage its growth.
Types of generators based on fuels used
The generator industry comprises different types of generators based on several classifications. One classification is on the basis of fuels used. Various fuels used in generators include diesel, petrol, gas, solar energy or a combination of fuels. The most common fuels used in India are diesel, petrol, gas and solar energy. Solar energy and its combination with other fuels (hybrid) are gaining ground in India today.
Let’s understand the features of various types of generators that run on different fuels.
Diesel is by far the most popular fuel used by power generators because of many advantages including its easy availability all over India. The main advantages of diesel generators are low flammability of fuel, lower prices, consistent performance for long periods without malfunction, can operate under adverse conditions, longer life and best fuel efficiency.
Petrol is almost as good a fuel as diesel but its operating cost is higher because of the higher cost of petrol as compared to diesel.
Gas generators use propane or natural gas as fuel. These fuels are cleaner than diesel or petrol and hence more environment-friendly. They also create lesser noise than diesel and petrol generators.
Solar generators use energy from the sun to produce electricity which can be used directly to power devices that run on DC power or used indirectly, after converting to AC through inverters, to power devices that run on AC power. The advantages of solar generators include noiseless operation, absence of pollution, almost no running cost and abundant supply during sunny days. However, the acquisition cost is higher than other types of generators.
Hybrid generators use a combination of solar energy and other fuels (diesel, petrol, CNG, etc.) to benefit from the best of both worlds. These generators can run on solar energy during the day time and on other fuels during the night or when ample sunlight is unavailable.
All these types of generators serve a host of applications that include backup supply and prime supply for all kinds of devices, small and big.
Types of generators based on power output
Another classification of generators is on the basis of power output, which is as per the requirement of different types of applications. Based on this classification, various types of generators include inverter generators, industrial generators, induction generators, standby generators and portable generators.
Let’s see what these are.
Some applications such as recreational vehicles, automobiles and air conditioners require power that can vary as per the need of the time. Inverter generators facilitate such requirements by converting the AC output of the generator to DC and then inverting it to AC to ensure that steady current is supplied to the device, gadget or appliance. These come in various sizes and can produce 2000 to 5000 watts of power at 220 volts.
Applications in industrial settings need power that can vary in a wide range. Industrial generators serve these power needs of industrial applications with their unique features. Industrial generators have characteristics that include ruggedness, robustness, ability to perform under adverse conditions, amenability to customization, ability to operate for long hours and ability to generate single or three-phase power. These types of generators are available in the widest range of power output from as low as 20 kilowatts to as high as 2500 kilowatts.
Induction generators are basically induction motors which turn into induction generators when a prime mover drives the motor at speeds higher than its synchronous speed. The prime mover could be a windmill, engine or a turbine. Induction generators are of two types known as self-excited generators and externally excited generators. For instance, a windmill-driven generator represents the self-excited type of induction generators whereas electric locomotives, elevators, cranes and hoists use the externally excited type of induction generators.
Standby generators, as the name suggests, are standby sources of power meant to be used when grid power fails. For instance, when grid supply fails in commercial establishments they cannot afford to stop their operations and in such an eventuality, they use standby generators to ensure continuity of operations. These generators are available with a variety of power outputs that can be used in hospitals, restaurants, hotels and residential homes/apartments. These generators can run on different types of fuels.
During disasters, there is a breakdown of the grid supply of power. These situations require power to undertake rescue operations and portable generators serve the purpose. These generators are also very useful in applications such as outdoor functions or camping. They are also very useful in construction activities to give power to small tools. Similarly, portable generators serve a useful purpose in agriculture as well. Because they are portable, these generators come with low power outputs.
Applications of generators
Generators find uses in a variety of applications.
- As the prime power source, generators can be used in remote areas, mines, bore well, disaster-affected areas, construction sites and agricultural settings where grid power supply is not available.
- Generators can be used when setting up a new industrial plant before the plant secures grid supply.
- Generators find uses in event management activities. For instance, the outdoor shooting of films, wedding processions and cultural and community-based events need power for short durations. Generators fill the role of prime power supply adequately.
- As sources of standby power, generators help residential settings, commercial establishments and industrial undertakings ensure continuity of operations if there is a disruption in grid supply.
Main parts of a generator
The main parts of a generator can be classified as engine, fuel system, alternator, voltage regulator, lubrication system, cooling system and exhaust system.
Let’s see what these are.
The engine is the heart of a generator. It uses the energy of the fuel to provide mechanical energy which is then converted to electric energy. Although the principle is the same, the construction of the engine is dependent on the type of fuel used in much the same way as a diesel engine or petrol engine used in automobiles. The engine is also built to suit certain levels of output required of it.
The fuel system supplies fuel to the engine using a system of storage and delivery through the engine chamber which includes a fuel pump, fuel filter and fuel injector/carburetor. The storage capacity is decided on the basis of hours of operation required.
An alternator comprises a rotor and a stator, in which the moving rotor creates an electromagnetic field around the stationary stator thus generating electric voltage. This is how the mechanical energy of the engine gets converted to electric energy required by users.
As the voltage requirements of various applications are not constant and vary in terms of desired rating, a voltage regulator is used for regulating the power generated by the generator.
Since the engine and alternator have moving parts, a lot of friction is caused which can harm the generator. A lubricating system helps to reduce friction and smoothen the functioning of various parts of the generator using lubricating oils.
When a generator operates it generates electrical energy and also heat which keeps on increasing its internal as well as external temperatures if not checked. These high temperatures can harm the generator’s performance and therefore a cooling system is an essential part of any generator. Cooling in genset is generally achieved by using fans or coolant or by using a combination of both.
Just as in an automobile, the generator produces exhaust gases while burning fuel and therefore an exhaust system is integrated for removing these gases.
Generator Maintenance and Servicing
Proper maintenance and servicing of the generator are very important to ensure that you get the best performance for your investment. While you may have taken an AMC and your purchase could have a warranty, it is always good to maintain the generator in tip-top condition by following the tips given below.
- Follow all guidelines as per the instruction manual and warranty conditions
- Ensure adequate cover for the generator to avoid direct contact from sunlight and rain
- Keep the area housing the generator well ventilated
- Use recommended fuel only
- Ensure that the fuel tank is not empty before switching on the generator
- Perform periodic check on oil and ensure oil level always
- Clean filters periodically and change as recommended
- Check wiring and cords periodically and change if found damaged
If the generator malfunctions even though maintenance is excellent, there could be some major fault and the services of a company technician should be requisitioned.