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A machine that converts mechanical power into alternating-current electric power. Almost all electric power is produced by alternating-current (ac) generators that are driven by rotating prime movers. Most of the prime movers are steam turbines whose thermal energy comes from steam generators that use either fossil or nuclear fuel. Combustion turbines are often used for the smaller units and in cases where gas or all is the available fuel. Where water power is available from dams, hydroelectric ac generators are powered by hydraulic turbines. Small sites may also use diesel or gasoline engines to drive the generator, but these units are usually used only for standby generation or to provide electric power in re mote areas.
Most ac generators are synchronous machines, that is, the rotor is driven at a speed that is exactly related to the rated frequency of the ac network. Generators of this type have a stationary armature with three windings that are displaced at regular intervals around the machine to produce three-phase voltages. These machines also have a field winding that is attached to the rotor. This winding provides magnetic flux that crosses the air gap and links the stator coils to produce a voltage according to Faraday’s law. The field winding is supplied with direct current, usually through slip rings.
Induction generators, based on the principle of the induction motor, have been used in a few remote applications where maintenance of the excitation system is a problem. These units are essentially like induction motors, but are driven by a prime mover at speeds slightly above synchronous speed, forcing the unit to generate power due to the reverse slip. The units draw reactive power from the system and are not as efficient as synchronous generators.
High-frequency single-phase generators have been built as induction alternators, usually with twice as many stator poles (teeth) as rotor poles, and with a constant air-gap flux supplied from a homo-polar field coil in the center of the machine, pushing flux into the stator at one end and out at the other. Their effectiveness is lower than that of the synchronous machine because the flux is a pulsating unidirectional field, rather than an alternating field.
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