PacB Group // The Changing Face of Industrial Generators


The Changing Face of Industrial Generators

The ability to generate a steady current of electricity by mechanical means can be attributed to the English scientist Michael Faraday who, in 1831, discovered the phenomenon known as electromagnetic induction. However, the first dependable industrial generators did not appear until more than 60 years later when, in 1892, a German refrigeration engineer named Rudolph Diesel developed the powerful internal combustion engine that still bears his surname. The result of coupling his engine to a more refined version of Faraday’s rudimentary alternator was that electric power became available to anyone who was prepared to buy his invention.

Technically, of course, an alternator can be driven by any kind of engine and the fact was quickly capitalised upon by utility companies who variously employed steam, water and wind to drive the turbines that also served as a type of engine. In the case of early industrial generators, however, the choice was between the petrol and the diesel engine. While the former may have been a bit quieter, it could not equal the thermal efficiency of the latter which, in simple terms, meant it was able to produce more power despite burning less fuel.

It is this quality that has ensured that diesel-driven gensets have remained the most popular choice of key industries, such as mining, construction, and oil and gas, to this day. In addition, advances in their design have meant that many of the models on sale today actually produce no more noise than a domestic refrigerator.

The current difficulties experienced by Eskom have fuelled an increased demand for industrial generators, as many of those companies who once relied totally on the parastatal for mains electricity have been forced to accept they that they can no longer do so. Regular brownouts and scheduled rolling blackouts threaten to wreak havoc with their production levels and subsequent profitability.

At the very least, they have had to purchase a unit to serve as an emergency power source during a mains power outage or, perhaps, a backup machine to ensure continuity when one of their other industrial generators may need to be taken offline for routine maintenance or repairs. In practice, because of the robust nature of the diesel engine, its service requirements are fairly minimal and following the manufacturer’s recommendations for preventative maintenance should be sufficient to ensure many years of perfect performance.

Eskom’s ailing network is not the only problem facing South Africa’s industrialists today. They are also coming under fire from conservationists who, driven by the undeniable evidence of climate change, are demanding to see a significant reduction in the nation’s dependence upon fossil fuels. One option is to abandon the use of diesel and, instead, to install industrial generators powered by cleaner-burning fuels, such as natural gas. While they are equally tough, they tend to cost a little more. Also, because they are less efficient, it may be necessary to upsize in order to match the performance of a diesel genset.

That said, advances in technology have reduced emissions from diesel engines, while the use of biodiesel blends is also proving to be helpful. In the long run, however, while the use of natural gas and biodiesel may be a step in the right direction, they fall far short of the sought-after target of zero emission. There may, in fact, be one way to provide industrial generators with the ability to attain that elusive goal.

The solution could be solar power. *As of December 2016, of all the rooftop solar installations completed in India, 34% were for use by industrial establishments, many of which now derive 30% of their electricity requirements from the sun. Given that sunshine is seldom in short supply in South Africa, there is a distinct possibility that solar panels could replace diesel and natural gas, in many cases, to become the industrial generators of the future.

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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