How Electric Generators Work
Posted By:  Amy Wagner
Sunday, April 17, 2016

An electric generator converts mechanical energy from an external source into electrical energy. A generator doesn’t create energy. It uses mechanical energy supplied to it from another source to force electric charges present in wire to move through an external electric circuit.

Electricity starts with matter, which starts with atoms. In an atom you’ll find a nucleus orbited by one or more electrons, each with a negative charge. In most things, electrons stick close to their atoms and therefore don’t conduct electricity well (things like wood, glass and plastic).

But other materials are composed of atoms that share electrons more freely. Magnets can get electrons to move (you see this when you draw a paperclip towards a magnet – the electrons are jumping and causing the paperclip to move), which, when paired with a metal wire, will form a magnetic field around the wire.

So now we can see that there’s a clear link between electricity and magnetism. A generator is just a device that uses something as simple as a hand crank to something complex like nuclear fission to move a magnet near a wire to create a steady flow of electrons.

Michael Faraday, a British scientist, is often credited as the first to discover the principle of electromagnetic induction and put it to use with a generator in 1831.

One of the first ways to produce a steady stream of current was to use the natural force of falling water to power a turbine equipped with a shaft that rotated coils of copper wire between the poles of a magnet. And what was that source of water? Niagara Falls, of course.

If you haven’t discovered the humorous and fascinating podcast, Stuff You Should Know, this is a good time to go check it out. They offer an entertaining rundown of how electricity works here:

Want to know more about electricity? Give us a call, we’re the experts.


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