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Ships electrical plant and distribution system for the A.C. generators


How alternating current is produced onboard ?

A coil of wire rotating in a magnetic field produces a current. The current can be brought out to two slip rings which are insulated from the shaft. Carbon bushes rest on these rings as they rotate and collect the current for use in an external circuit. Current collected in this way will be alternating, that is, changing in direction and rising and falling in value. To increase the current produced, additional sets of poles may be introduced.

The magnetic field is provided by electromagnets so arranged that adjacent poles have opposite polarity. These 'field coils', as they are called, are connected in series to an external source or the machine output.

Three-phase alternator output

Fig: Three-phase alternator output

If separate coils or conductors are used then several outputs can be obtained. Three outputs are usually arranged with a phase separation of 120°, to produce a three-phase supply. The supply phasing is shown in fig . The three-phase system is more efficient in that for the same mechanical power a greater total electrical output is obtained. Each of the three outputs may be used in single-phase supplies or in conjunction for a three-phase supply. The separate supplies are connected in either star or delta formation . 

The star formation is most commonly used and requires four sliprings on the alternator. The three conductors are joined at a common slipring and also have their individual siipring. The central or neutral line is common to each phase. The delta arrangement has two phases joined at each of the three sliprings on the alternator. A single-phase supply can be taken from any two sliprings.

Star and delta three-phase connections

Fig: Star and delta three-phase connections

So far, alternator construction has considered the armature rotating and the field coils stationary. The same electricity generating effect is produced if the reverse occurs, that is, the field coils rotate and the armature is stationary. This is in fact the arrangement adopted for large, heavy duty alternators.

The field current supply in older machines comes from a low-voltage direct current generator or exciter on the same shaft as the alternator. Modern machines, however, are either statically excited or of the high-speed brushless type. The exciter is required to operate to counter the effects of power factor for a given load. 

The power factor is a measure of the phase difference between voltage and current and is expressed as the cosine of the phase angle. With a purely resistance load the voltage and current are in phase, giving a power factor of one. The power consumed is therefore the product of voltage and current. Inductive or capacitive loads, combined with resistance loads, produce lagging or leading power factors which have a value less than one. The power consumed is the product of current, voltage and power factor.

The alternating current generator supplying a load has a voltage drop resulting from the load. When the load has a lagging power factor this voltage drop is considerable. Therefore the exciter, in maintaining the alternator voltage, must vary with the load current and also the power factor. The speed change of the prime mover must also be taken into account.

Hand control of excitation is difficult so use is made of an automatic voltage regulator (AVR). The AVR consists basically of a circuit fed from the alternator output voltage which detects small changes in voltage and feeds a signal to an amplifier which changes the excitation to correct the voltage. Stabilising features are also incorporated in the circuits to avoid 'hunting' (constant voltage fluctuations) or overcorrecting. Various designs of AVR are in use which can be broadly divided into classes such as carbon pile types, magnetic amplifiers, electronic types, etc,

The statically excited alternator has a static excitation system instead of a d.c. exciter. This type of alternator will more readily accept the sudden loading by direct on-line starting of large squirrel cage motors. The static excitation system uses transformers and rectifiers to provide series and shunt components for the alternator field, that is, it is compounded. Brushes and sliprings are used to transfer the current to the field coils which are mounted on the rotor.

The terminal voltage from the alternator thus gives the no-load voltage arid the load current provides the extra excitation to give a steady voltage under any load condition. The careful matching of components provides a system which functions as a self regulator of voltage. Certain practical electrical problems and the compensation necessary for speed variation require that a voltage regulator is also built into the system.

The brushless high speed alternator was also developed to eliminate d.c. exciters with their associated commutators and brushgear. The alternator and exciter rotors are on a common shaft, which also carries the rectifiers. The exciter output is fed to the rectifiers and then through conductors in the hollow shaft to the alternator field coils. An automatic voltage regulator is used with this type of alternator.

Alternator construction

Fig: Alternator construction

The construction of an alternator can be seen in Figure above. The rotor houses the poles which provide the field current, and these are usually of the salient or projecting-pole type. Slip rings and a fan are also mounted on the rotor shaft, which is driven by the auxiliary engine. The stator core surrounds the rotor and supports the three separate phase windings. Heat is produced in the various windings and must be removed by cooling. The shaft fan drives air over a water-cooled heat exchanger. Electric heaters are used to prevent condensation on the windings when the alternator is not in use.

In addition to auxiliary-engine-driven alternators a ship may have a shaft-driven alternator. In this arrangement a drive is taken from the main engine or the propeller shaft and used to rotate the alternator. The various operating conditions of the engine will inevitably result in variations of the alternator driving speed. A hydraulic pump and gearbox arrangement may be used to provide a constant-speed drive, or the alternator output may be fed to a static frequency converter. In the static frequency converter the a.c. output is first rectified into a variable d.c. voltage and then inverted back into a three-phase a.c. voltage. A feedback system in the oscillator inverter produces a constant-output a.c, voltage and frequency.

A.C. distribution system

Fig: A.C. distribution system

Distribution system

An a.c. distribution system is provided from the main switchboard which is itself supplied by the alternators (Figure above). The voltage at the switchboard is usually 440 volts, but on some large installations it may be as high as 3300 volts. Power is supplied through circuit breakers to larger auxiliaries at the high voltage. Smaller equipment may be supplied via fuses or miniature circuit breakers. Lower voltage supplies used, for instance, for lighting at 220 volts, are supplied by step down transformers in the distribution network.

The distribution system will be three-wire with insulated or earthed neutral. The insulated neutral has largely been favoured, but earthed neutral systems have occasionally been installed. The insulated neutral system can suffer from surges of high voltage as a result of switching or system faults which could damage machinery. Use of the earthed system could result in the loss of an essential service such as the steering gear as a result of an earth fault. An earth fault on the insulated system would not, however, break the supply and would be detected in the earth lamp display. Insulated systems have therefore been given preference since earth faults are a common occurrence on ships and a loss of supply in such situations cannot be accepted.

In the distribution system there will be circuit breakers and fuses, as mentioned previously for d.c. distribution systems. Equipment for a.c. systems is smaller and lighter because of the higher voltage and therefore lower currents. Miniature circuit breakers are used for currents up to about 100 A and act as a fuse and a circuit breaker. The device will open on overload and also in the event of a short circuit. Unlike a fuse, the circuit can be quickly remade by simply closing the switch. A large version of this device is known as the 'moulded-case circuit breaker' and can handle currents in excess of 1000 A. Preferential tripping and earth fault indication will also be a part of the a.c. distribution system. These two items have been mentioned previously for d.c. distribution systems.

Alternating current supply

Three-phase alternators arranged for parallel operation require a considerable amount of instrumentation. This will include ammeters, wattmeter, voltmeter, frequency meter and a synchronising device. Most of these instruments will use transformers to reduce the actual values taken to the instrument. This also enables switching, for instance, between phases or an incoming machine and the bus-bars, so that one instrument can display one of a number of values. The wattmeter measures the power being used in a circuit, which, because of the power factor aspect of alternating current load, will be less than the product of the volts and amps. Reverse power protection is provided to alternators since reverse current protection cannot be used. Alternatively various trips may be provided in the event of prime mover failure to ensure that the alternator does not act as a motor.

The operation of paralleling two alternators requires the voltages to be equal and also in phase. The alternating current output of any machine is always changing, so for two machines to operate together their voltages must be changing at the same rate or frequency and be reaching their maximum (or any other value) together. They are then said to be 'in phase'. Use is nowadays made of a synchroscope when paralleling two a.c. machines. The synchroscope has two windings which are connected one to each side of the paralleling switch. A pointer is free to rotate and is moved by the magnetic effect of the two windings. When the two voltage supplies are in phase the pointer is stationary in the 12 o'clock position. If the pointer is rotating then a frequency difference exists and the dial is marked for clockwise rotation FAST and anti-clockwise rotation SLOW, the reference being to the incoming machine frequency.

To parallel an incoming machine to a running machine therefore it is necessary to ensure firstly that both voltages are equal Voltmeters are provided for this purpose. Secondly the frequencies must be brought into phase. In practice the synchroscope usually moves slowly in the FAST direction and the paralleling switch is closed as the pointer reaches the 11 o'clock position. This results in the incoming machine immediately accepting a small amount of load.
A set of three lamps may also be provided to enable synchronising. The sequence method of lamp connection has a key lamp connected across one phase with the two other lamps cross connected over the other two phases. If the frequencies of the machines are different the lamps will brighten and darken in rotation, depending upon the incoming frequency being FAST or SLOW. The correct moment for synchronising is when the key lamp is dark and the other two are equally bright.
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