How Does A Portable Generator Work?

Parts of a Portable Generator

In order to understand how a portable generator works, you need to know what the different components of the machine are, and what they do. Knowing the role that each component plays will not just help you understand how the portable generator works, but also to recognize any potential sources of problems if your generator malfunctions.

If you are thinking about buying one, take a look at our reviews of some of the top portable inverter generators on the market.


The engine of your portable generator is the most crucial part of the equipment. Every generator contains an engine. This is the part of a machine that is responsible for converting the fuel source into a usable form of energy (in this case, electricity) and effectively allowing it to perform its intended functions.

The engine of a portable generator uses the fuel source (natural gas, propane gas, gasoline, diesel, bio-diesel) to create mechanical energy, which allows the machine to produce electrical energy.

Alternator and Voltage Regulator

The engine produces electricity by converting the fuel source, but there is more to making the portable generator useful for different applications.  There is another crucial aspect that affects how a portable generator works. It is not just responsible for producing electricity, but it also supplies controlled voltage.

The engine produces mechanical energy, but it is the alternator that is responsible for converting it into electrical current. The rotor, within the alternator, rotates because of the mechanical energy created by the engine, creating a rotating electromagnetic field around the stator. The stator is a fixed part within the alternator, which consists of a set of coils that conduct electricity.

The continually moving electromagnetic fields from the rotor generate electrical currents in the stator via the process of electromagnetic induction.

The electrical current generated in the alternator is not exactly consistent. The voltage regulator is responsible for controlling the voltage produced and ensuring it remains at a suitable level for use.

Control Panel

An automatic generator relies on a control panel to start and stop, without having to do it manually. The automatic transfer switch senses when the generator needs to run. When the signal is received, the control panel in the generator turns on the ignition and the starter is engaged.

Similarly, the control panel also takes the responsibility of shutting off the generator. The automatic transfer switch waits for a signal that the generator needs to be shut down. Upon receiving the signal, the control panel shuts down the engine and turns off the generator.

More advanced generator control panels can monitor the voltage, current and frequency. The control panel also protects the engine by monitoring the coolant temperature (where applicable), oil pressure and automatically shuts down the generator if something goes wrong.

Safety Features

Last but not least, it is important to understand the safety features of a portable generator. The control panel essentially works as a safety feature for the generator by monitoring its voltage, current, oil pressure and coolant levels in order to send the signal to shut it down when necessary.

Another aspect of safety is that all the mechanical parts of the generator are encased to ensure nobody can come into contact with them. Portable generators also have strong covers, which protects the plug-in ports from harsh elements.

Final Thoughts

Along with understanding how a portable generator works, make sure that you take care of the maintenance of your generator so that it can function properly for a long time. While portable generators are typically durable machines, maintaining their oil levels and using good quality fuel can help you avoid any complications in the long run.

Check out our article on what size portable generator you need in case you are about to buy one.

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