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What are Gensets?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 17, 2024
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Gensets are fossil-fuel powered generators used to run electrical devices or to charge batteries. Gensets are often portable and may be used to power an electric vehicle, serve as a camping aid, charge battery arrays, or run virtually any device that needs electrical power on demand. Gensets are also often referred to as engine-generators, because they are essentially generators with an engine tacked on to them. While some generators operate by harnessing wind power, solar power, water power, or a differential in pressure or heat, gensets are distinguished by their use of gasoline or diesel to drive a turbine and generate electrical current. Gensets usually include a fuel tank, an engine, some sort of speed regulator, the generator itself, and a voltage regulator for the generator.

Many gensets also include a type of automatic starting and stopping circuit. These gensets are usually intended to act as a backup power source, either to an off-grid device running on battery power or as a backup in case grid power is lost. These gensets detect whether power has been lost, and if it has, their engines kick in and they take over the load until power has been restored. In the past, this sort of genset was found primarily in critical-need applications, such as hospitals or airports, but now, gensets are often found in private residences in areas where power outages are not infrequent.

Gensets have also seen a surge in popularity among recreational campers, who want to bring their own power supply to run electrical devices and need more power than a standard battery array can offer. This type of genset usually contains a small diesel engine and may be attached to a car trailer for easy transportation. Gensets like this can be used to run portable water heaters, radios, lighting systems, heaters, and other devices recreational campers may choose to take with them.

In the developing world, and in rural areas of the United States, mid-sized gensets are popular as a steady source of power in the midst of an unreliable power grid. Where power infrastructure is still developing, or in areas where fallen trees and high wind frequently take out power lines, gensets can prove extremely useful in ensuring continuity of electrical power.

Gensets range widely in the amount of power they can produce and in the amount of fuel they consume. Some gensets are optimized for running quietly, while others are intended for maximum power output, no matter how loud they might run. Some gensets use a minimum of fuel and produce just enough electricity for a single light or other small device, and others may be found that burn through huge amounts of fuel and can run even the most robust of industrial machinery and tools. No matter what one’s needs might be, it is very likely a genset can be found to meet them perfectly.

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Discussion Comments

By mnumair — On Oct 10, 2010

I have bought a marble cutting machine which requires 400 volts to operate. Now, I want to buy an electric generator for the machine. If the generator output is 320 volts, can it be adjusted to 400 volts?

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