PacB Group // A Brief History of Generators


A Brief History of Generators

The history of generators has its roots in mankind’s attempts to understand the nature of electricity.  Considered initially to be an act of the gods, the phenomenon would have been noted first in the power of the lightning bolt. Later, according to texts dating back almost five millennia, that same power was considered by the Ancient Egyptians to be in some way responsible for the jolts produced by fish, such as electric eels, rays, and some types of catfish. By about 600 BC, it was known among cultures around the Mediterranean that something similar to magnetism could be produced by rubbing cat fur with an amber rod, an effect we now know to be the result of static electricity.

Though not proven, the earliest man-made generators would appear to have been developed in Iraq at some stage between 150 BC and 223 AD, when some scientists believe a simple galvanic cell, composed of iron and copper rods placed in a pottery jar, might have been used in the region for electroplating or perhaps as some primitive form of electrotherapy. Whether this was fact or mere speculation, it was not until the early years of the 17th century that the term electricity was coined. Derived from “elektron”, the Greek word for amber, it was used to describe amber’s power of attraction when rubbed.

The effect of friction between materials was later applied to create simple generators of static electricity, which led later to more sophisticated devices, such as the Wimshurst machine, a popular inclusion in high school physics lessons. While machines, such as this, revealed much about the nature of electricity, it was only following the development of the battery in 1800 that more practical uses began to emerge.

To produce electricity, however, batteries must make use of chemical reactions and cease to function when the reactants are exhausted. Consequently, they have only limited value as electrical generators. It was Faraday who first discovered the behaviour known as electromagnetic induction. This type of activity relies not on a chemical energy source, but a mechanical one, and it has become the basis for the production of the vast majority of the electrical power we consume in our homes, offices, and factories today.

When a coil of copper wire is exposed to a moving magnetic field, a flow of electrons is induced in the wire, resulting in a potential difference. Employing an engine to provide a rotating magnetic field, results in the continuous output of current by the generators used by the nation’s power stations, by its factories and businesses, and even by many of South Africa’s private citizens, in the wake of Eskom’s escalating programme of load shedding.

A major benefit of these machines is that they are highly scalable. They range from the massive installations operated by the national service provider and driven variously by coal, gas, hydrostatic force, wind power, and nuclear fission, to the small petroleum-driven models now used to provide emergency power in many of the country’s homes.

Even if mains power was 100% reliable, the need for generators would remain in regions not served by the national grid, as well as in installations that frequently require more power than is available from the grid at times of peak loading. That said, environmental concerns are forcing us to seek more sustainable ways to produce our electricity and, the most promising of these is the solar panel. Consisting of two types, one leverages the infrared energy of the sun directly to heat water, whilst the other relies on its ultraviolet radiation to trigger a photovoltaic reaction, producing an electric current, which can then be utilised for any purpose.

However they produce power, South Africans seem certain to remain reliant on generators, at least for the foreseeable future, and on innovative power generation solutions from local industry leader, PacB Group, to design, install, and maintain them.

Our qualified technicians offer support and advice in the selection of the right power solution for your needs by calculating your power requirements.

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