Most people do not know what a generator automatic voltage regulator is unless they are a trained electrician or generator technician. The automatic voltage regulator is an essential component found in generator systems.

Understanding what the automatic voltage regulator does in a generator can help you better understand your generator. There are numerous components like the automatic voltage regulator that you will need to keep in mind if you plan on purchasing and owning a genset.

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Regulator specification

The output voltage can only be held constant within specified limits. The regulation is specified by two measurements:

  • Load regulation is the change in output voltage for a given change in load current (for example, "typically 15 mV, maximum 100 mV for load currents between 5 mA and 1.4 A, at some specified temperature and input voltage").
  • Line regulation or input regulation is the degree to which output voltage changes with input (supply) voltage changes—as a ratio of output to input change (for example, "typically 13 mV/V"), or the output voltage change over the entire specified input voltage range (for example, "plus or minus 2% for input voltages between 90 V and 260 V, 50–60 Hz").

Other important parameters are:

  • Temperature coefficient of the output voltage is the change with temperature (perhaps averaged over a given temperature range).
  • Initial accuracy of a voltage regulator (or simply "the voltage accuracy") reflects the error in output voltage for a fixed regulator without taking into account temperature or aging effects on output accuracy.
  • Dropout voltage is the minimum difference between input voltage and output voltage for which the regulator can still supply the specified current. The input-output differential at which the voltage regulator will no longer maintain regulation is the dropout voltage. Further reduction in input voltage will result in reduced output voltage. This value is dependent on load current and junction temperature.
  • Inrush current or input surge current or switch-on surge is the maximum, instantaneous input current drawn by an electrical device when first turned on. Inrush current usually lasts for half a second, or a few milliseconds, but it is often very high, which makes it dangerous because it can degrade and burn components gradually (over months or years), especially if there is no inrush current protection. Alternating current transformers or electric motors in automatic voltage regulators may draw and output several times their normal full-load current for a few cycles of the input waveform when first energized or switched on. Power converters also often have inrush currents much higher than their steady state currents, due to the charging current of the input capacitance.
  • Absolute maximum ratings are defined for regulator components, specifying the continuous and peak output currents that may be used (sometimes internally limited), the maximum input voltage, maximum power dissipation at a given temperature, etc.
  • Output noise (thermal white noise) and output dynamic impedance may be specified as graphs versus frequency, while output ripple noise (mains "hum" or switch-mode "hash" noise) may be given as peak-to-peak or RMS voltages, or in terms of their spectra.
  • Quiescent current in a regulator circuit is the current drawn internally, not available to the load, normally measured as the input current while no load is connected and hence a source of inefficiency (some linear regulators are, surprisingly, more efficient at very low current loads than switch-mode designs because of this).
  • Transient response is the reaction of a regulator when a (sudden) change of the load current (called the load transient) or input voltage (called the line transient) occurs. Some regulators will tend to oscillate or have a slow response time which in some cases might lead to undesired results. This value is different from the regulation parameters, as that is the stable situation definition. The transient response shows the behaviour of the regulator on a change. This data is usually provided in the technical documentation of a regulator and is also dependent on output capacitance.
  • Mirror-image insertion protection means that a regulator is designed for use when a voltage, usually not higher than the maximum input voltage of the regulator, is applied to its output pin while its input terminal is at a low voltage, volt-free or grounded. Some regulators can continuously withstand this situation. Others might only manage it for a limited time such as 60 seconds (usually specified in the data sheet). For instance, this situation can occur when a three terminal regulator is incorrectly mounted on a PCB, with the output terminal connected to the unregulated DC input and the input connected to the load. Mirror-image insertion protection is also important when a regulator circuit is used in battery charging circuits, when external power fails or is not turned on and the output terminal remains at battery voltage.


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