Alternating current (AC) generators are devices which convert mechanical energy to alternating electrical energy, and they are constructed of a wire coil which spins in a magnetic field. These generators utilize slip rings in order to create alternating current, as opposed to direct current generators which employ direct current. Powered by steam turbines, gas turbines, and internal combustion engines, AC generators are utilized in a variety of applications. These generators are commonly found in power plants, sailboats, electric scooters, bicycles, wind turbines, and small hydropower plants; they function by converting high-pressure gas streams into lower-pressure gas streams.
Often referred to as alternators, AC generators operate on the principle of Faraday’s Law of Electromagnetic Induction, which states that electromotive force (EMF) is formed in a current-carrying conductor which creates a uniform magnetic field. The wire coil features a magnetic flux which changes when a conductor travels in a uniform magnetic field, forming an EMF. Additionally, rotating the conducting coil or the magnetic field causes voltage to be generated. Ideally, the armature coil is stationary rather than revolving which makes it easier to extract induced alternating current.
An AC generator consists of a coil, slip rings, and a powerful magnetic field. The coil is rotated within the magnetic field and an EMF is induced, moving in one direction as that coil moves up through the magnetic field on one side. As the coil continues to rotate, an alternating EMF is induced in the opposite direction as well; this side of the coil travels downward while another side moves upward.
AC generators feature two major components: the rotor that revolves and a stator that remains static. To start, the stator holds the armature coil in place, and the armature winding is intended to carry current to the load, which refers to any external equipment using electricity. Moreover, the stator is broken up into the frame, core, and armature windings. The rotor is composed of magnetic field windings with slip rings attached to each one, and it rotates on a common shaft. In addition, the two main types of rotors are salient pole rotors and cylindrical pole rotors. Salient pole rotors are the most common rotor type, as they are utilized in applications with low and medium speeds. Because of this, their bases are attached to the rotor, and the protruding salient poles are often visible. On the other hand, cylindrical pole rotors are often used in fast-moving applications and feature a sturdy cylinder with slots on its surface.
There exist two types of generators: asynchronous and synchronous versions. Asynchronous generators rotate with the assistance of slip, and the rotor is unable to match the synchronous speed of the stator. These generators are often used to power wind turbines. However, synchronous generators consistently rotate at the same speed, which creates an EMF. Synchronous generators are used in power plants to create high voltages.
Given their working principles, AC generators are used to generate electricity from places like windmills, hydroelectric dams, and more. These generators can be stepped up and down through transformers, which means the transmission link size of AC generators is smaller than a DC generator. AC generators experience fewer losses and are smaller in size than DC generators.
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