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Title-Wind as alternative energy source
  More about Generators
  Synchronous Generators 3-Phase Generator (or Motor) Principles

Two pole synchronous motorAll 3-phase generators (or motors) use a rotating magnetic field.

In the picture to the left we have installed three electromagnets around a circle. Each of the three magnets is connected to its own phase in the three phase electrical grid.

As you can see, each of the three electromagnets alternate between producing a South pole and a North pole towards the centre. The letters are shown in black when the magnetism is strong, and in light grey when the magnetism is weak. The fluctuation in magnetism corresponds exactly to the fluctuation in voltage of each phase. When one phase is at its peak, the other two have the current running in the opposite direction, at half the voltage. Since the timing of current in the three magnets is one third of a cycle apart, the magnetic field will make one complete revolution per cycle.

    Synchronous Motor Operation

The compass needle (with the North pole painted red) will follow the magnetic field exactly, and make one revolution per cycle. With a 50 Hz grid, the needle will make 50 revolutions per second, i.e. 50 times 60 = 3000 rpm (revolutions per minute).

In the picture above, we have in fact managed to build what is called a 2-pole permanent magnet synchronous motor. The reason why it is called a synchronous motor, is that the magnet in the centre will rotate at a constant speed which is synchronous with (running exactly like the cycle in) the rotation of the magnetic field.

The reason why it is called a 2-pole motor is that it has one North and one South pole. It may look like three poles to you, but in fact the compass needle feels the pull from the sum of the magnetic fields around its own magnetic field. So, if the magnet at the top is a strong South pole, the two magnets at the bottom will add up to a strong North pole.

The reason why it is called a permanent magnet motor is that the compass needle in the centre is a permanent magnet, not an electromagnet. (You could make a real motor by replacing the compass needle by a powerful permanent magnet, or an electromagnet which maintains its magnetism through a coil (wound around an iron core) which is fed with direct current).

The setup with the three electromagnets is called the stator in the motor, because this part of the motor remains static (in the same place). The compass needle in the centre is called the rotor, obviously because it rotates.

    Synchronous Generator Operation

If you start forcing the magnet around (instead of letting the current from the grid move it), you will discover that it works like a generator, sending alternating current back into the grid. (You should have a more powerful magnet to produce much electricity). The more force (torque) you apply, the more electricity you generate, but the generator will still run at the same speed dictated by the frequency of the electrical grid.

You may disconnect the generator completely from the grid, and start your own private 3-phase electricity grid, hooking your lamps up to the three coils around the electromagnets. If you disconnect the generator from the main grid, however, you will have to crank it at a constant rotational speed in order to produce alternating current with a constant frequency. Consequently, with this type of generator you will normally want to use an indirect grid connection of the generator.

In practice, permanent magnet synchronous generators are not used very much. There are several reasons for this. One reason is that permanent magnets tend to become demagnetised by working in the powerful magnetic fields inside a generator. Another reason is that powerful magnets (made of rare earth metals, e.g. Neodynium) are quite expensive, even if prices have dropped lately.

    Wind Turbines With Synchronous Generators
    Wind turbines which use synchronous generators normally use electromagnets in the rotor which are fed by direct current from the electrical grid. Since the grid supplies alternating current, they first have to convert alternating current to direct current before sending it into the coil windings around the electromagnets in the rotor. The rotor electromagnets are connected to the current by using brushes and slip rings on the axle (shaft) of the generator.
    Asynchronous (Induction) Generators

Most wind turbines in the world use a so-called three phase asynchronous (cage wound) generator, also called an induction generator to generate alternating current. This type of generator is not widely used outside the wind turbine industry, and in small hydropower units, but the world has a lot of experience in dealing with it anyway:

The curious thing about this type of generator is that it was really originally designed as an electric motor. In fact, one third of the world's electricity consumption is used for running induction motors driving machinery in factories, pumps, fans, compressors, elevators, and other applications where you need to convert electrical energy to mechanical energy.

One reason for choosing this type of generator is that it is very reliable, and tends to be comparatively inexpensive. The generator also has some mechanical properties which are useful for wind turbines. (Generator slip , and a certain overload capability).

    The Cage Rotor

Cage rotor

The key component of the asynchronous generator is the cage rotor. (It used to be called a squirrel cage rotor but after it became politically incorrect to exercise your domestic rodents in a treadmill, we only have this less captivating name).

It is the rotor that makes the asynchronous generator different from the synchronous generator. The rotor consists of a number of copper or aluminium bars which are connected electrically by aluminium end rings.

In the picture at the top of the page you see how the rotor is provided with an "iron" core, using a stack of thin insulated steel laminations, with holes punched for the conducting aluminium bars. The rotor is placed in the middle of the stator, which in this case, once again, is a 4-pole stator which is directly connected to the three phases of the electrical grid.

    Motor Operation

When the current is connected, the machine will start turning like a motor at a speed which is just slightly below the synchronous Rotor seen from topspeed of the rotating magnetic field from the stator. Now, what is happening?

If we look at the rotor bars from above (in the picture to the right) we have a magnetic field which moves relative to the rotor. This induces a very strong current in the rotor bars which offer very little resistance to the current, since they are short circuited by the end rings.

The rotor then develops its own magnetic poles, which in turn become dragged along by the electromagnetic force from the rotating magnetic field in the stator.

    Generator Operation

Now, what happens if we manually crank this rotor around at exactly the synchronous speed of the generator, e.g. 1500 rpm (revolutions per minute)? The answer is: Nothing. Since the magnetic field rotates at exactly the same speed as the rotor, we see no induction phenomena in the rotor, and it will not interact with the stator.

But what if we increase speed above 1500 rpm? In that case the rotor moves faster than the rotating magnetic field from the stator, which means that once again the stator induces a strong current in the rotor. The harder you crank the rotor, the more power will be transferred as an electromagnetic force to the stator, and in turn converted to electricity which is fed into the electrical grid.

    Generator Slip
    The speed of the asynchronous generator will vary with the turning force (moment, or torque) applied to it. In practice, the difference between the rotational speed at peak power and at idle is very small, about 1 per cent. This difference in per cent of the synchronous speed , is called the generator's slip. Thus a 4-pole generator will run idle at 1500 rpm if it is attached to a grid with a 50 Hz current. If the generator is producing at its maximum power, it will be running at 1515 rpm. It is a very useful mechanical property that the generator will increase or decrease its speed slightly if the torque varies. This means that there will be less tear and wear on the gearbox. (Lower peak torque). This is one of the most important reasons for using an asynchronous generator rather than a synchronous generator on a wind turbine which is directly connected to the electrical grid.
    Automatic Pole Adjustment of the Rotor
    Did you notice that we did not specify the number of poles in the stator when we described the rotor? The clever thing about the cage rotor is that it adapts itself to the number of poles in the stator automatically. The same rotor can therefore be used with a wide variety of pole numbers
    Grid Connection Required

On the upper part of this page we showed that it could run as a generator without connection to the public grid.

An asynchronous generator is different, because it requires the stator to be magnetised from the grid before it works.

You can run an asynchronous generator in a stand alone system, however, if it is provided with capacitors which supply the necessary magnetisation current. It also requires that there be some remanence in the rotor iron, i.e. some leftover magnetism when you start the turbine. Otherwise you will need a battery and power electronics, or a small diesel generator to start the system).

    Changing Generator Rotational Speed
    A Four Pole Generator

4-pole generator The speed of a generator (or motor) which is directly connected to a three-phase grid is constant, and dictated by the frequency of the grid.

If you double the number of magnets in the stator , however, you can ensure that the magnetic field rotates at half the speed.

In the picture to the left, you see how the magnetic field now moves clockwise for half a revolution before it reaches the same magnetic pole as before. We have simply connected the six magnets to the three phases in a clockwise order.

This generator (or motor) has four poles at all times, two South and two North. Since a four pole generator will only take half a revolution per cycle, it will obviously make 25 revolutions per second on a 50 Hz grid, or 1500 revolutions per minute (rpm).

When we double the number of poles in the stator of a synchronous generator we will have to double the number of magnets in the rotor , as you see on the picture. Otherwise the poles will not match. (We could use to two bent "horseshoe" magnets in this case).

    Other Numbers of Poles
    Obviously, we could repeat what we just did, and introduce another pair of poles, by adding 3 more electromagnets to the stator. With 9 magnets we get a 6 pole machine, which will run at 1000 rpm on a 50 Hz grid. The general result is the following:
    Synchronous Generator Speeds (rpm)
Pole number 50 Hz 60 Hz
2 3000 3600
4 1500 1800
6 1000 1200
8 750 900
10 600 720
12 500 600
The term "synchronous generator speed" thus refers to the speed of the generator when it is running synchronously with the grid frequency. It applies to all sorts of generators, however: In the case of asynchronous (induction) generators it is equivalent to the idle speed of the generator.
    High or Low Speed Generators?
    Most wind turbines use generators with four or six poles. The reasons for using these relatively high-speed generators are savings on size and cost. The maximum force (torque) a generator can handle depends on the rotor volume. For a given power output you then have the choice between a slow-moving, large (expensive) generator, or a high-speed (cheaper) smaller generator.