How Does a Portable Generator Work? A Complete Guide


For every camper out there who is looking to have a portable source of electricity, a portable generator is a must-own device. In order to get the most out of it, you’ll do well to know exactly how one works. That’s what we’ll be taking a look at in this article.

Put simply, the generator utilizes the mechanical power that a gas-powered engine produces and converts it into electrical energy. When the engine of the portable generator works, it turns on the alternator, which in turn, produces electrical energy. That helps us have a source of electricity when there’s a power outage, or when there are no other sources of electricity around.

In the modern age, it’s practically impossible to use any appliances without electricity. Even when we travel, we should have a source of electricity readily available for more comfort. A portable generator provides that, as we can connect several appliances and electricity-powered tools to it. And the more powerful the generator is, the more appliances we can connect to it.

The Parts of a Portable Generator

Compared to stationary generators, portable generators are not permanently installed, although they do have a couple of things in common. Both use an engine to provide enough mechanical power, which is then transformed into electrical energy by the power generator head.

These are the parts in a portable generator:

  • Internal combustion engine
  • Alternator
  • Starter
  • Fuel tank
  • Electrical outlets

Put simply, the more powerful the internal combustion engine is, the more electricity a portable generator can produce. And the engine requires a constant supply of gas to run, which is why it pumps the gas from the fuel tank and to the engine.

That’s another reason why it might be a great idea to stock on gas before you hit the road, especially if there are no gas stations nearby to where you are. The portable generator engines may run on different types of gas, though: most use gasoline, although we can also find liquid propane engines, as well as natural gas and diesel engines.

How it Works

A portable generator needs to be started manually. This turns on the engine, which will run on one of the types of fuel we discussed earlier. This engine is usually a 4-cycle engine. It supplies mechanical energy to the generator head, which is done by spinning the shaft. The speed of the spinning is regulated by a governor (speed regulator).

The generator head then transforms the mechanical energy into electrical energy. This energy is then transported into the electrical outlets, where we can connect the generator to gadgets and appliances via the outlet.

The more powerful the engine, the more electricity the generator can produce. But a more powerful engine might also mean a higher gas consumption and higher maintenance levels. Also, the engine will require a cooling system, and constant lubrication.

As the engine runs and makes the generator head spin, it will also heat up quite significantly. That’s why it needs to have a powerful cooling system, or systems, in place.

Watts, Amps, Volts

When you’re looking to buy a portable generator, you’re looking at a generator that can produce as much wattage as possible. Watts are a measure system that tell us how much power a generator engine can produce. And the higher the wattage is, the higher the amperage and voltage will be. That’s why a more powerful generator engine will produce more electricity, but will burn more fuel.

The basic formula of power is the following:
Watts = amps x volts.

There are two main types of wattage: running watts and starting watts. Running watts equal to the power required that will be needed to keep your engine running. Starting watts is the power that’s needed to start up the engine in the first place.

Tips On How to Maintain and Use Your Portable Generator

Alright, so we’ve been talking about how the generator works in more complex terms. The basic premise is that the portable generator uses an engine which will produce power to spin the generator head, which will produce electricity.

We know how a generator works by now, hopefully, but how about maintenance of the generator and how to use it? Here are a few useful tips that you should know.

  • Storing your portable generator. If you’re not using your portable generator constantly, then it’s best to store it properly and safely, and keep regular maintenance. It’s best to keep your generator stored somewhere in your garage or at least under a roof. Clean the debris and dust off the generator on a weekly basis. On the longer term, consider using a fuel stabilizer to keep your fuel from clogging up the generator.
  • Change the oil constantly. Firstly, you’ll need to make sure that your generator has enough oil in the first place before you use it. A generator should turn off on its own when it’s low on oil, but you can always check the levels manually by looking at the dipstick. If they are low, make sure to add oil to the engine. Also make sure the oil type is right for your engine. If you haven’t used your generator for a while, it might be best to change the oil.
  • Regularly check the generator parts. Check out your generator parts on a regular basis, and make sure everything runs smoothly. If you don’t know how to, then it might be best to trust this to a professional.
  • A generator must be placed outside when it’s used. That’s due to high levels of carbon monoxide emissions, which can be harmful to your health and at high emissions, even deadly. Make sure you know a thing or two about the generator before you start using it.

Wrapping Up

A portable generator can be an essential part of camping gear. It allows you to have a source of electricity when you’re on the go, and when you have no other sources of electricity nearby. Hopefully, you now know how it works and how to use it for maximum efficiency.

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