Basics of an Engine Generator Set

A back up power system set has several key components that are essential to it's operation. These components are pieced together to form what is called an engine generator set. The two main components are the engine and the generator. Other ancillary components are the control panel, radiator, starting system, skid base / assembly, enclosure, lubrication, fuel, cooling and exhaust systems. All of these components work together to form an engine generator set and provide electric power to a specified load.

The engine is considered the prime mover in the system. It produces mechanical energy that is taken by the generator and turned into electrical energy. This energy provides power to back up loads from facilities such as data centers, homes, hospitals, or water facilities. There are many different types of engines. For purposes of this article we will discuss the diesel engine. The generator or sometimes called alternator takes the mechanical energy produced by the engine and converts it into electricity. The generator consists of a rotating part called a rotor and a stationary part called a stator. While the rotor is rotating it is creating a magnetic field around the stator. A potential difference (voltage) is created between the windings. The voltage has a current associated with it. With voltage and current you have power. With power, you can provide back up or prime power to facilities or devices.

The engine requires a fuel supply. The fuel supply in this case is diesel fuel. It is stored in a diesel fuel tank that is typically mounted below the engine generator set for 12-24 hour capacities. This means at full load, the engine generator set will run for 12-24 hours off that one tank of fuel. It is monitored with fuel level sensors and the control panel of the unit so that it tells the user that it needs to be re-filled. There are times that a much larger tank is supplying fuel to this smaller tank at the generator set.

A starting system is required for the engine. The starting system consists of a set of batteries and a battery charger. The battery charger is usually very intelligent and keeps the batteries charged up to an acceptable level. Most system fail to starts are associated with dead batteries on the engine generator set. This system is a very important component to the unit working properly.

As all these parts move around on the engine generator, they get very hot. There needs to be a way to cool it. Most generators have radiators, similar to our automobile. It needs to be filled with coolant and it's level checked periodically. There are controls and sensors that monitor the coolant level and let the user know when it is time for a refill. A lubrication system is also required due to the moving parts. Oil is the typical lubricant. It is stored in a pump and provided to the engine as a means to lubricate the moving parts.

The engine produces toxic exhaust fumes that requires a way to direct it out of the engine or provide an exit away from doors, windows, buildings etc. The exhaust system is typically constructed of iron or steel and has a flexible connection to the engine. This flexible connection allows for the vibration of the unit while running.

The control panel provides information on voltages, currents, power, and a wide array of other information to the user. It acts as a user-interface to the system. It alerts operating personnel of things such as low fuel, low coolant level, etc. It is also used by servicing technicians to service the product and make adjustments to the parameters of the system as needed.

The skid base/assembly is simply the steel structure on which the engine, generator, and all other ancillary components are mounted and wired together. For those systems with sub-base fuel tanks, the tank will be mounted below the skid base. If the unit will be installed outside, an enclosure will be mounted over the engine generator set and bolted directly to the skid base.

All of these components work together to form what is called the engine generator set or genset for short. Gensets provide power to many facilities when utility power is not there. This could be during a bad storm, black out, or just to take the demand off the utility grid. Smaller units are installed at homes to provide a back up for creature comforts when bad storms, snow, or winds eliminate the utility power. Knowing and understanding each of these key components will assist you in understanding the complete operation and requirements to maintain it for successful operation in the future.

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