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Understanding alternating current generators

Publication date: 
September 2003
George Stratton, G.E. Jones Electric Co., Inc.
Type of media: 

We take so much for granted. The alarm clock buzzes and we make our way to the bathroom and turn on the light. We reach over and turn the water on and it's there. We flip the switch on the electric razor. We really do take it all for granted. The energy that flows through the wires to the switch that you flip comes from a device called an alternator. Yes, somewhere close to where you live is a power plant where that energy that makes the world go around is created. Alternators come in all kinds of configurations. Your car or truck even has one. That's right. An alternator is needed to charge the battery and provide electric power for your vehicle. If you have a recreational vehicle (my wife's idea of really roughing it) you probably use a generator to power that air conditioner that would be tough to live without these days. This device is handy for watching TV, too. Simply stated, an alternator is a converter: It converts mechanical energy into alternating electrical current. It's a generator: It generates (creates) alternating electrical current out of mechanical energy. How's it doing that? It's magic! Nah, not at all. I'll show you.