Whether you are at the airport, on a remote island off the Icelandic coast, or standing on a harbor loading platform, chances are you will not be too far from a genset. These generator systems provide a wide variety of businesses and public institutions with electricity, either as the main power source or as a backup solution. This article will describe the general structure of a genset, as well as some of the many areas in which gensets are used.
A power generating set with great installation flexibility
The word genset is an abbreviation of “generating set”. The set in question consists of a diesel engine with an electric generator attached to it, a metal frame (often equipped with an integrated diesel tank) and a cooling system. The genset is usually contained in a soundproof casing, often called a canopy, which in turn can be placed in a boiler room, garage or basement, or as a separate unit – portable or stationary.
Standby gensets and prime gensets have similar yet different purposes
Depending on their main purpose, gensets tend to fall into one of two categories: standby or prime. Standby gensets are sometimes referred to as emergency gensets, as they primarily provide backup electricity for already existing power systems in facilities such as hospitals, tunnels, power plants, radar stations, and even spaceports. The Guiana Space Center outside Kourou, French Guiana currently uses gensets developed by Volvo Penta in order to provide extra power during satellite launches.
Unlike standby gensets, which operate during exceptional events and circumstances only, prime gensets are set to run for long periods of time or even indefinitely. This is particularly useful in third world countries, where power outages are regular, or in remote areas located outside major power grids. If a power grid is unable to fully provide an industrial facility or residential area with the electricity it needs during peak hours, gensets can produce the additional power required. This is known as peak-shaving or peak-lopping. The genset monitors the main power supply (through a PLC/programmable logic controller) and will begin to top it up to meet the peak demand when required, hence “shaving/lopping off” that peak demand.
Maintaining rotation speed is crucial for genset efficacy
In order for the genset to produce and supply electricity as intended, it is crucial that the engine’s speed is maintained regardless of the load in order to keep the electric frequency stable. In the event of a sudden and major demand for electric power, such as when a large number of lights or machines are all switched on at once, the engine’s speed will tend to drop as the load increases. The engine’s regulator must then immediately provide more fuel in order for the engine to return to its set speed.
Easy installations and maintenance make for a flexible power system
Gensets are generally easier to install compared to gearboxes, driveshafts and hydraulic drives which all require a greater deal of engineering and/or construction upon installation. Because of this, gensets have replaced other propulsion systems in many machines and installations, such as in rubber tyred gantry cranes (RTG cranes). Their hydraulic drives have largely been replaced by electric motors, whose electricity is produced by gensets.
The generator itself requires very little maintenance, whereas the diesel engine needs to undergo certain standard maintenance procedures (having its oil and filters replaced on a regular basis, for example). The cooling system must also be inspected and cleaned regularly, not least in dusty and demanding environments.
Modifying gensets in the face of changing environmental standards
As emission limits are likely to become increasingly strict in the future – particularly throughout the industrialized world – gensets too will undergo certain changes. While the engine itself can still be fine-tuned to minimize its emissions, the large potential for decreasing emissions lies in developing better aftertreatment systems. This means that catalytic converters and particle filters, along with urea/adblue liquid tanks (when vaporized, urea/adblue helps to reduce nitrogen oxide levels in exhaust emissions), will have to be installed along with the gensets. These additional components will take up more space than existing canopies currently allow for, meaning that most canopy models will have to be redesigned to comply with upcoming standards.
In Europe, new requirements will be introduced as early as 2019, forcing original equipment manufacturers (over the course of an 18-month respite) to add the aforementioned components to their gensets in order to comply with emission regulations. That said, the market for traditional gensets is bound to remain strong, with a steady and growing demand mainly in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Volvo Penta offers diesel engines that can easily be applied in most gensets. Our engineers have optimized the capacity of our genset engines to not only drop less steeply when coming under pressure, but also to regain optimal speed as quickly as possible. This is essential not only for the gensets to supply energy as expected, but also since growing demands for electricity worldwide will require products and solutions that are efficient and reliable.
Want to know more about gensets, their areas of use and how Volvo Penta works with genset technology and services? Visit our website, stay up to date by reading our Professional Power blog and feel free to contact me if you have any questions.