Gensets – a reliable and flexible power supply

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 electricity for a wide variety of facilities; either as the main power source or as a backup solution. This article describes the general structure of gensets, and some of their many areas of use.

A power generating set with great installation flexibility

The word genset is an abbreviation, meaning “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 known as a canopy. It can be placed in a boiler room, garage or basement, or as a separate unit – portable or stationary.

Volvo Penta Genset

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. Another term for standby gensets is emergency gensets. They primarily provide backup electricity for already existing power systems in hospitals, tunnels, power plants, radar stations, and even spaceports. The Guiana Space Center in French Guiana uses Volvo Penta gensets 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 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. When required, it will start topping up the power to meet the demand, hence “shaving/lopping off” that peak demand.

Gensets Desert

Maintaining rotation speed is crucial for genset efficacy

The engine must maintain its speed, regardless of the load. This in order to keep the electric frequency stable. Otherwise, the genset may not be able to produce and supply electricity as intended. 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; all of which require a greater deal of engineering and/or construction upon installation. Because of this, gensets have largely replaced other propulsion systems in many installations, such as in rubber tyred gantry cranes. Electric motors, with electricity from gensets, have largely replaced the cranes’ hydraulic drives.

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 requires regular inspections and cleaning, not least in dusty and demanding environments.

Gensets Crane

Modifying gensets in the face of changing environmental standards

As emission limits will become stricter in the future – particularly throughout the industrialized world – gensets too will undergo certain changes. Fine-tuning the engine will minimize its emissions. However, 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, will have to be installed along with the gensets. When vaporized, urea/adblue helps to reduce nitrogen oxide levels in exhaust emissions.

These additional components will take up more space than existing canopies currently allow for. Thus, in order to comply with upcoming standards, most canopy models will require redesigning.

New requirements (in Europe in particular) will force original equipment manufacturers to add the components mentioned above to their gensets in order to comply with emission regulations. Still, the market for traditional gensets remains strong, with a steady and growing demand in Africa and Asia, for example.

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 for the gensets to supply energy as expected. In addition, 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 Volvo Penta Professional Power Blog and feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

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