The Main Differences Between A Generator And An Alternator

Both alternators and generators are primary methods to produce electric power. The sole function of both is to change energy in mechanical form into energy in electrical form.

Their main function may be the same, yet the similarities end here. There are many differences between a generator and an alternator, particularly when taking into account the power output, efficiency, and physics of each type.

Here is an overview of how each electrical device differs. But before going over the differences, it is important to gain an understanding of how each device works.

What Is A Generator?

Generators, similar to alternators, work on converting energy that is in a mechanical state into energy that is in an electrical state.

However, currents that are produced by generators are either Direct Current or Alternating Current, better known as DC or AC. Electrical energy production linked to generators is associated with the principle known as Faraday's Laws of Electromagnetic Induction.

What this translates into is that when a conductor cuts magnetic flux, EMF is induced, which results in current flow when these conductors are closed.

In most cases, generators are utilized for operating the larger-scale operations that demand electrical energy in high amounts. These devices are also relatively bulky, which means they need ample space.

However, unlike the alternator, a generator is polarized after the device is installed, and this means that the units are also used for charging dead batteries.

What Is An Alternator

Like generators, alternators follow similar mechanisms when it comes to changing mechanical energy into ready to use electrical energy. An alternator that also goes by the name of a Synchronous Generator, is a device that changes mechanical power into AC electrical power at specific frequencies and voltages.

In alternators, there is a rotor that features a magnetic pole that is triggered by mechanical energy. The magnetic pole rotates which results in a magnetic flux that cuts a stator conductor, which leads to the induction of EMF in them. The magnetic field which is caused by the spinning action alongside a stator causes changes in the magnetic flux, which results in producing a current.

However, as was mentioned above, when a current generates inside an alternator, it remains as is, without converting to DC. Unlike a generator, that continuously generates power, an alternator is far more energy-efficient, as these devices only produce energy when required.

The alternators are used commonly within the automobile sector where mechanical power or energy that is converted is primarily used for recharging car batteries.

By now it is clear to see that the main difference between a generator and an alternator comes down to how each device produces energy and the energy currents that follow it. Since both generators and alternators change mechanical power into electrical power, it is accurate to classify the alternators as a generator type.

The Key Differences Between Generators And Alternators

- Power Output

While a generator and an alternator perform the same function when it comes to transforming energy in a mechanical state into energy in an electrical state, alternators only convert energy into AC. Generators, on the other hand, are able to transform energy into DC or AC.

AC energy or power is used commonly in business appliances and a variety of household appliances. It is also the standardized electrical current that is found in wall outlets. DC energy is mainly found in the electronic devices which are reliant on batteries. This usually includes common items such as alarm clocks, torches, and cell phones.

- Usage

One of the other defining differences between an alternator and a generator has to do with their usage. The alternator is mainly utilized in the automobile industry where they perform the function of charging batteries in vehicles such as trucks, cars, and more. The generator is a device that is used commonly in both commercial and residential settings as an alternative power source. A generator is a useful device to have in case of a power outage. Generators are also commonly used for emergencies and a variety of outdoor activities.

- Efficiency

Both the alternators and generators rely on a principle known as electromagnetic induction. However, when it comes to alternators there is no commutator present which makes these machines more straightforward, which also means that they require less mechanical detail and attention. This explanation of an alternator doesn't mean that generators are weaker devices. Instead, it simply means that the alternators are more efficient and more economical when compared to the generators.

- Power Product Process

Even though alternators and generators both generate electricity, each process is different. In the alternators, electricity generates due to a magnetic field caused by a spinning action inside the alternator's stator.

Generators, work in a different way when it comes to producing electricity. The generation of electrical energy is caused by the winding of wires in a magnetic field that is fixed.

- Design

When it comes to the design of an alternator and a generator, the generators tend to be big and bulky. These devices are used commonly in high-power stations. The alternators are devices with modest dimensions, and most of these devices fit into the drivetrain of a car. The most common uses of alternators fall into the automotive industry.

- Polarization

When it comes to alternators, polarization is no longer required once the device is installed. This is where the generators are different as polarization will be required after the installation.

- Charging Dead Batteries

An alternator cannot and shouldn't be used to charge a dead battery. Generators, on the other hand, are commonly used to charge dead batteries. Using an alternator to charge dead batteries could result in the potential risk of blowing up or burning the battery.

Final Thoughts

From the comparisons mentioned above, it becomes clear to see that there are many differences between generators and alternators. Each device serves its own purpose in different settings and industries. The one similarity that is constant between both devices is the fact that they can both convert mechanical energy into electrical energy.