How to Use a Three Phase Induction Motor as a Generator

Written by pauline gill
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How to Use a Three Phase Induction Motor as a Generator
Reliable wind energy can sometimes feed the grid through a motor as a generator. (windmill generator image by Yali Shi from Fotolia.com)

Three-phase induction motors are plentiful and relatively inexpensive new or used because of their extensive implementation throughout industry. There are several methods for using them as generators, which vary greatly in complexity and advisability for the do-it-yourselfer. The best practical approach is to wire it as you would for a normal motor application, and then to overrun it while it is operating--with an engine, windmill, or turbine to reverse current flow and push power back into the grid. This practice effectively slows the demand meter.

Skill level:
Challenging

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Things you need

  • Three-phase induction-type electric motor, 2-to-5-horsepower
  • Horizontal shaft gasoline engine, 3-to-8-horsepower
  • Pulley-and belt-drive
  • Electric multimeter
  • Insulated electrician's tools

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Note the three-phase induction motor's nameplate information including voltage, horsepower rating, and rpm (revolutions per minute). This information will help you correctly match the motor to an external engine or power source that will allow the motor to operate as a generator.

    How to Use a Three Phase Induction Motor as a Generator
    Industrial three-phase motors can be used as generators. (motors image by Dusan Radivojevic from Fotolia.com)
  2. 2

    Connect the motor's L1, L2, and L3 (and the ground terminal leads) to the three 208-volt, three-phase power leads and ground, just as if it were a motor application. Use a hard-contact three-phase motor switch besides the main breaker that will allow you to disconnect the motor from the utility power if necessary.

  3. 3

    Divide the gasoline engine's normal speed in rpm by the motor's stated rpm. Most gasoline engines (power-equipment type) run at 3600rpm. If the induction motor turns at 3600rpm, the ratio is 1:1, so use the same pitch-diameter pulleys on both the gasoline engine and the three-phase motor to transmit the driving force to the motor. This will allow the gasoline engine to just slightly overdrive the motor to actually produce electricity. If the three-phase motor is rated at 1800rpm, you must halve the size of pulley on the engine, so that it can drive the slower motor within its 1800-rpm range.

  4. 4

    Mount the engine in-line with the motor on a solid base in the right direction so they rotate together according to the motor's required rotation direction. Also install an engagement-idler pulley to allow the engine and motor to be disengaged for start-up purposes.

  5. 5

    Start the gasoline engine. Turn on the three-phase induction motor at its start switch. After warm-up, adjust the gasoline engine to full speed, where its governor will hold 3600rpm. Engage the drive belt with the engagement idler-pulley lever. Slightly increase the gasoline engine to about 3650rpm, at which point the motor will produce electricity instead of consuming it. This will cause the demand power meter in the facility to slow down, as the three-phase power will actually flow to other motorised power users in the facility. The power company sees this situation as if less equipment is running in the facility.

    A bonus feature of the induction motor in this application is that it intrinsically stays precisely in phase with the 60-cycle-per-second cadence set by the power company.

Tips and warnings

  • Use the three-phase induction motor in the overdriven mode with velocity-controlled windmills or water turbines to generate extra power based on availability.
  • The alternate stand-alone method of generating AC power with three-phase induction motors requires running them outside their intended design and safety envelope, and making considerable modifications to their approved circuitry scheme for their use as motors. It should be attempted only by highly qualified professionals at their own risk.
  • The power produced by these motors when used as stand-alone generators is capable of causing serious injury or death in the hands of unqualified professionals.

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