In the years of 1831–1832, Michael Faraday discovered the operating principle of electromagnetic generators. The principle, later called Faraday's law, is that an electromotive force is generated in an electrical conductor that encircles a varying magnetic flux. He also built the first electromagnetic generator, called the Faraday disk, a type of homo polar generator, using a copper disc rotating between the poles of a horseshoe magnet. It produced a small DC voltage.
This design was inefficient due to self-cancelling counter flows of current in regions not under the influence of the magnetic field. While current was induced directly underneath the magnet, the current would circulate backwards in regions outside the influence of the magnetic field. This counter flow limits the power output to the pickup wires and induces waste heating of the copper disc. Later homo polar generators would solve this problem by using an array of magnets arranged around the disc perimeter to maintain a steady field effect in one current-flow direction.
Another disadvantage was that the output voltage was very low, due to the single current path through the magnetic flux. Experimenters found that using multiple turns of wire in a coil could produce higher more useful voltages. Since the output voltage is proportional to the number of turns, generators could be easily designed to produce any desired voltage by varying the number of turns. Wire windings became a basic feature of all subsequent generator designs.
Dynamos are no longer used for power generation due to the size and complexity of the commutator needed for high power applications. This large belt-driven high-current dynamo produced 310 amperes at 7 volts, or 2,170 watts, when spinning at 1400 RPM.
The dynamo was the first electrical generator capable of delivering power for industry. The dynamo uses electromagnetic principles to convert mechanical rotation into pulsed DC through the use of a commutator. The first dynamo was built by Hippolyte Pixii in 1832.
Through a series of accidental discoveries, the dynamo became the source of many later inventions,including the DC electric motor, the AC alternator, the AC synchronous motor, and the rotary converter.
A dynamo machine consists of a stationary structure, which provides a constant magnetic field, and a set of rotating windings which turn within that field. On small machines the constant magnetic field may be provided by one or more permanent magnets; larger machines have the constant magnetic field provided by one or more electromagnets, which are usually called field coils.
Large power generation dynamos are now rarely seen due to the now nearly universal use of alternating current for power distribution and solid state electronic AC to DC power conversion. But before the principles of AC were discovered, very large direct-current dynamos were the only means of power generation and distribution. Now power generation dynamos are mostly a curiosity.
Without a commutator, a dynamo becomes an alternator, which is a synchronous singly fed generator. When used to feed an electric power grid, an alternator must always operate at a constant speed that is precisely synchronized to the electrical frequency of the power grid. A DC generator can operate at any speed within mechanical limits, but always outputs direct current.
Typical alternators use a rotating field winding excited with direct current, and a stationary (stator) winding that produces alternating current. Since the rotor field only requires a tiny fraction of the power generated by the machine, the brushes for the field contact can be relatively small. In the case of a brushless exciter, no brushes are used at all and the rotor shaft carries rectifiers to excite the main field winding.
The two main parts of a generator or motor can be described in either mechanical or electrical terms.
- Rotor : The rotating part of an electrical machine
- Stator: The stationary part of an electrical machine
- Armature: The power-producing component of an electrical machine. In a generator, alternator, or dynamo the armature windings generate the electric current. The armature can be on either the rotor or the stator.
- Field: The magnetic field component of an electrical machine. The magnetic field of the dynamo or alternator can be provided by either electromagnets or permanent magnets mounted on either the rotor or the stator.
Because power transferred into the field circuit is much less than in the armature circuit, AC generators nearly always have the field winding on the rotor and the stator as the armature winding. Only a small amount of field current must be transferred to the moving rotor, using slip rings.Direct current machines (dynamos) require a commutator on the rotating shaft to convert the alternating current produced by the armature to direct current,so the armature winding is on the rotor of the machine.
An electric generator or electric motor that uses field coils rather than permanent magnets requires a current to be present in the field coils for the device to be able to work. If the field coils are not powered, the rotor in a generator can spin without producing any usable electrical energy, while the rotor of a motor may not spin at all.
Smaller generators are sometimes self-excited, which means the field coils are powered by the current produced by the generator itself.The field coils are connected in series or parallel with the armature winding. When the generator first starts to turn, the small amount of remanent magnetism present in the iron core provides a magnetic field to get it started, generating a small current in the armature.This flows through the field coils, creating a larger magnetic field which generates a larger armature current. This "bootstrap" process continues until the magnetic field in the core levels off due to saturation and the generator reaches a steady state power output.
Very large power station generators often utilize a separate smaller generator to excite the field coils of the larger. In the event of a severe widespread power outage where islanding of power stations has occurred, the stations may need to perform a black start to excite the fields of their largest generators, in order to restore customer power service.