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AF Nnachi1, K.C Dekenah1, J. Pretorius1
Department of Electrical Engineering, Tshwane University of Technology (South Africa)
nnachiaf@tut.ac.za, dekenahk@tut.ac.za, pretoriusjc@tut.ac.za

Laboratory and practical classes coupled with theoretical work play a major role in the field of
engineering education. This paper presents a fully adjustable three-phase synchronous generator
developed in the department of electrical Engineering of Tshwane University of Technology South
Africa. This experimental module consists of a three-phase motor with variable frequency drive,
operating as prime mover. This is mechanically coupled to drive three single phase alternators
arranged geometrically to obtain a phase shift of 120 degree electrical. Due to the flexibility of the
coupling, this equipment can be adjusted to a balanced or unbalanced three-phase supply via its
variable phase angle, phase amplitude and frequency. With these unique features, topics in electrical
engineering studied in textbooks such as balanced system, unbalanced system, stability,
synchronization, power import and export, effects of excitation etc. can easily be performed by
students in the laboratory. Following the introduction of this equipment in the laboratory, several
number of students have benefited significantly. Student attitude improved greatly, their understanding
concerning unbalance system and related phenomenon grew significantly. Moreover the average
marks and pass rates in courses like electrical engineering II, III and electrical machines II and III
increased tremendously. Presented in this paper are the architecture of the machine, laboratory tests
and results.

Keywords: Synchronous generator, laboratory equipment, teaching, synchronization unbalance,


In the field of engineering education, theoretical work followed immediately with laboratory and
practical classes play a major role in improving students’ technical knowhow. The extra skills learned
in practical sessions are an integral part of engineering as a discipline. From the engineering
educators’ point of view, it’s reported in [1]-[2] that the goals for a practical session are much wider
than just the promotion of deep learning, and include the following additional aims: Gaining practical
skills and experience of practical pieces of equipment; making links between theory and practice;
gathering, manipulating, and interpreting data; forming and testing hypotheses; developing problem-
solving techniques; motivating and exciting students. Recent surveys in [3] and [4] verified that
engineering students overwhelmingly prefer an experimental approach to teaching. However, the
study of three-phase generators with respect to topics like balanced system, unbalanced system,
symmetrical components, stability, synchronization, power import and export, effects of excitation etc
as part of undergraduate course seems to lack significant practical work to some extent. This is as a
result of the conventional three-phase machine without proper features especially phase shifting to
obtain balanced or unbalanced supply and also the unpredictable balance of the grid supply.
This fully adjustable three phase synchronous generator is designed and constructed to act as a
source of a stable, perfectly balanced or an unbalanced three phase supply, where the unbalance may
be either in amplitude of the voltages or in the phase angles between them or in both. Here a single
phase machine mechanically coupled to drive three single phase alternators arranged geometrically
with variable phase shift. Due to the flexibility of the coupling, the phase angle, voltage amplitude and
frequency can be varied to obtain desired kind of source of balance or unbalance for symmetrical
components, stability, synchronization studies etc.
Many industrial supplies are unbalanced owing to unbalance in loads but do not remain predictable or
stable in unbalance long enough to study the phenomenon properly and reach steady measurements
therefore obtaining consistent results. In contrast, this generator can be connected to any sort of load
and the results of balance or unbalance studies accurately measured.
The module is also fitted with a variable frequency drive to its driving motor and so can be used to
demonstrate many other frequency related phenomena, including synchronizing of alternators.
Following the introduction of this equipment in the laboratory, a number of students have benefited
significantly. Firstly students’ attitude improved greatly, secondly, their understanding concerning
unbalance system and related phenomenon grew significantly – aided by the fact that students now
had time to discuss experimental results with the laboratory technician while the experiment was
taking place. Thirdly the average mark and pass rates in courses like electrical engineering II, III and
machines II and III increased tremendously.

The complete system developed is shown in the block diagram of Fig.1. On the front of this structure
are mounted three, single-phase, four pole, 2kVA, 230V alternators with individual voltage adjustments
via 10A variable auto-transformers or ‘Variacs’. The alternator outputs are internally permanently wired
to individual termination boxes containing a voltmeter, a circuit breaker and pair of 4mm ‘banana plug’
output sockets each. All of the above equipment is colour-coded to correspond to the normal phase
colours of ‘Red’ ‘Yellow’ and ‘Blue’.The three alternators are mechanically coupled together by a
‘toothed-belt’ drive system which holds the alternators ‘in-step’ with each other all the time. The
mechanical drive power is provided by a 2kW, three phase cage induction motor, via a ‘vee’ belt drive
to the Red phase alternator. Two belt tension idlers are also provided to remove slack in the system
and to avoid the toothed-belt jumping sprocket teeth.
The main three-phase power connection enters into an orange painted connection box (mounted
between the Yellow and the Blue phase alternators on the front panel) into which are mounted three
phase-indication warning lights, a three-phase safety isolator, an ‘on-off’ toggle switch and a
potentiometer. The ‘on-off’ switch and potentiometer are for the adjustment of the drive motor
frequency and therefore the motor speed and the alternator frequency.


Figure 1. Module Block diagram (a) Main Driving Motor (b) Phase Alternators: (One for each phase
The stator of the Red phase alternator is permanently fixed and functions as the reference phase,
whilst those of the Yellow and Blue phase alternators are not fixed and can be rotated through a small
angle so that the phase angle of these two phases can be varied with respect to the reference phase.
The exact -120o and +120o positions of the Yellow and Blue phases respectively are marked on the
alternators. These markings can be used to adjust the alternator casings either way, away from their
normal three-phase balanced positions by an exact amount. On the upper part of the module is
mounted the ‘bus-bar’ system which is split by a multi-function meter to an output end and sockets.
The top deck is fitted with 230V supplies for instruments such as oscilloscopes.


The basic framework has been constructed using ‘Unistrut’ CS 1000/3000 together with several of the
appropriate fittings bolted together with 10mm bolts and special clamping nuts. This framework has
three panels of 7-ply industrial plywood of various sizes rigidly mounted on it to carry the heavy
masses of the three alternators plus that of the driving motor. A cable tray is used as a top deck onto
which instruments such as oscilloscopes can be mounted. The whole structure is fitted with industrial
castors to allow the module to be easily moved. Fig. 2 shows the picture of the module.

(a) (b)

Figure 2 Fully adjustable three-phase synchronous machines. a). Front b). Rear

The alternators are ‘GENPOWER’ LINZ 2,5 kVA ETC 10S, 2 bearing, foot mounted, self exciting,
single phase, four pole, 230V synchronous machines. The alternators are fitted with 160mm dia.
toothed sprockets secured to the shafts by appropriately sized taper-lock bushes and keys. The three
alternators are coupled together mechanically by a toothed timing belt so as to hold these always in
step with each other. The red phase alternator is also fitted with a 100mm Vee pulley also secured by
a Taper-lock device which matches the pulley fitted to the driving motor shaft and is mechanically
coupled via a properly sized Vee belt. The Red phase alternator is firmly bolted to the framework
whilst the White and Blue phase alternators are mounted in such a manner as to enable their casings
to be rotated through an angle up to about 60o.The permanent wiring is laid in 16x16 mm or 32x16 mm
PVC trunking fitted with covers. All wiring has been done using 2,5mm 2 house wiring using the
appropriate colour where necessary. The bus-bars are of perforated copper earth strap in 16mm
The ‘Multi-Function Meter’ joins the two sections of the bus-bar system and is connected to read the
bus-bar voltages and frequency, and the phase currents as well as power factor, True power in Watts,
Apparent power in kVA and Reactive power in kVAr of any loads connected to the output side of the
bus-bars. The instrument can be configured to read individual phase parameters, and either star or
delta values, by means of the button in the top right corner of the instrument.
This experiment depicts a synchronous machine being used as a generator (as might be found in a
hydro-electric power station for example). For practical reasons the prime mover for the machine is
provided by a electric motor rather than water driven turbines however. The objectives of this
experiment are to provide a “hands-on” experience in the practicalities of connecting a generator to the
national grid and maintaining it once synchronized. Connection switches, power adjustment control via
variable speed drive (VSD) of the prime mover and three phase lamps provide the tangible aid for
synchronization to the grid. The following are some demonstrations carried out with the experimental

4.1 Synchronization
Before synchronizing to the grid, a conventional open circuit test (plotting output voltaje V oc vs DC field
current If) and a short circuit test (plotting output current Isc vs DC field current If) were performed.
Figure 3 and 4 show plots of the tests. From these two graphs the synchronous reactance can be
calculated [5] using equation 1.
From the open circuit curve in fig. 3, it can be seen that the curve starts to satúrate when the field is
about 0.7A. The straight part shows the unsaturated part of the open circuit saturation curve.
From the short circuit curve shown in fig. 4, the synchronous reactance Xs can be determined from the
Xs = (1)
I sc
Vr= rated generator output voltage (line to neutral)
ISC = generator output current from the short circuit curve corresponding to the value of If which will
yield rated output voltage on the open circuit curve.
After the above tests, the machine is then synchronised onto the 400V mains. This is achieved by
driving it up to its synchronous speed (1500 rpm), adjusting the DC field current until the output
voltage reaches 230V phase voltage, and using the “three lamps” method to determine when to close
the switch connecting the output of the generator to the mains (grid).

4.2 Steady State behaviour

Here the behaviour of the machine under steady state conditions is investigated. The machine is firstly
synchronised onto the mains, and then two tests are performed, resulting in a family of “V” curves and
another family of “ P − ∂ ” curves. The so-called “V” curves are a plot of line current vs DC field
current. At the point of synchronisation, the line current flowing is minimum (in fact in a perfect system
it would be zero as there is no power transfer between the machine and the mains bus). If the field
current is increased from this point, the line current increases and the power factor becomes leading
(ie the system becomes capacitive). This forms the right hand arm of the “V”. If the current is
decreased from the synchronisation point, the line current also increases and this forms the left hand
arm of the “V” as shown in figure 6 – however in this case the power factor becomes lagging (i.e. the
system becomes inductive) as can be seen in table 1.
The so-called “ P − ∂ ” curves are a plot of power transfer vs load angle (∂) . The load angle is the
difference in phase between the mains and the generator. Again at the point of synchronisation, the
power and load angle should both be zero. The power transfer is then increased by increasing the
power supplied by the alternator prime mover. At this stage the machine is generating (i.e. supplying
power to the national grid) as can be seen in table. As this occurs, ∂ becomes positive. Once ∂
reaches 90° the machine will “pole-slip” as it loses synchronisation and jumps one cycle ahead of the
mains. If the power supplied by the alternator prime mover is decreased from the point of
synchronisation, the machine begins motoring (i.e. drawing power from the national grid). ∂ becomes
negative and once it reaches -90° the machine will again “pole-slip”, this time as it falls one cycle
behind the mains.
4.3 Swing Curve
The machine is firstly synchronised. The power supplied to the prime mover is then increased so that
the machine begins generating and ∂ becomes positive. The alternator prime mover is then switched
off altogether, suddenly forcing the machine into motoring mode and causing ∂ to swing negative.
The prime mover is then switched on again causing ∂ to swing positive back to its initial value. When
the sudden changes occur, ∂of course does not immediately settle on a new value but overshoots
the mark, and then oscillates around the new value, the oscillations gradually dying out over time. The
“Swing” curve is generated by plotting ∂ vs. time as the prime mover is switched off and then on
again [6]. Though the swing curve is not plotted in this paper due to not having the right instrument for
it, but the oscillation was only observed as the experiment was going on.

4.4 Symmetrical Components

Various three phase unbalanced loads with the star point disconnected from the system ground (i.e it
is left to float) are applied to the balanced supply. These loads can be made up of any combination of
resistors, inductors and capacitors selected by the student. After applying the load, the acquired
phasor current and voltage data is used to draw the phasor triangle, thus demonstrating how the star
point is displaced from the centre of the triangle by the load. For purely resistive loads, the power
factor remains at zero and the star point is displaced in phase with one of the three phasors (i.e. it will
move only along the red, yellow or blue phasors). With inductive and/or capacitive loads applied, the
star point is driven in any direction and even forced outside the original balanced triangle.
Fault conditions such as line to ground and line to line are also investigated. The star point of the load
is fixed to the system ground and then various short circuits are applied to the output. The output data
obtained are resolved into voltage sequence components and current sequence components and
sums them graphically.

Figure 3. Open circuit (plot of Voc vs. If)

Figure 4. short circuit (plot of Isc vs If)

(a) (b) (c)

Figure 5. a). Half-cycle of generator output voltage before synchronization b). Half-cycle voltage of the
grid before synchronization (c) a and b synchronized

Table 1. Decreasing field current from the point of synchronization

Field Line Power Load Active power Reactive
current current factor p.f angle transfer (W) power (Var)
1.3 0.18 0 90 1 43
1.2 0.48 0.04 87.7 0 113
1 1.25 0 90 5 294
0.8 2.07 0.03 88.3 20 489
0.6 2.96 0.05 87.1 38 698
0.4 4.05 0.05 87.1 47 960
Figure 6 Left hand side of the “V” curve

line power Load angle Active power Reactive power
current factor exported (W) (Var)
0.2 -0.38 67.7 -22 40
0.7 -0.9 25.8 -144 65
1 0.92 23.1 -220 93
1.3 -0.92 23.1 -280 121
1.5 -0.92 23.1 -331 151
1.8 -0.92 23.1 -391 180
2 -0.92 23.1 -448 214
2.5 -0.9 25.8 -534 262
2.75 -0.9 25.8 -570 293

This paper has presented the system architecture, experimental demonstration and results of a fully
adjustable three-phase synchronous machine constructed at Tshwane University of Technology. This
fully adjustable three phase synchronous generator is designed and constructed to act as a source of
a stable, perfectly balanced or an unbalanced three phase supply, where the unbalance may be either
in amplitude of the voltages or in the phase angles between them or in both. Besides the conventional
open circuit and short circuit test, synchronization to the national grid, steady state behaviour of the
machine, machine swing reported in this paper, numerous experiments can also be performed with
this machine such as:
 Unbalanced supply system conditions with various types of load
 Balanced and unbalanced three-phase supply system conditions with various types of load,
balanced and unbalanced
 Effect of unbalanced supply systems on performance of three phase induction motors
 Effects of frequency variation on power factor especially when close to unity and when
resonance can occur
 Individual and collective excitation of alternators and effect on output wave shape and PF
 Effect of load type on output wave shape of alternators and creation of harmonics by loads
 Synchronizing of three phase supplies when balanced and unbalanced
 Effects of impedance of the synchronizing connectors during synchronization
 Effects of varying excitation in synchronized paralleled supplies
 A concept of balancing the system when supplying an unbalanced load by properly adjusting
the phase angles of the supply voltage.

[1] S. A. Shirsavar, B. A. Potter and I. Ridge, Three-Phase Machines and DrivesEquipment for

[2] H. Fry, S. Ketteridge, and S. Marshall, A Handbook for Teaching & Learning in Higher Education:
Enhancing Academic Practice, 2nd ed. London, U.K.: Kogan Page, 2003

[3] B. A. Potter, S. A. Shirsavar, and I. Ridge, Purpose built teaching equipment for a laboratory
based course in three phase machines and drives, presented at the IEEE Int. Conf. Mechatronics,
Istanbul, Turkey, 2004.

[4] S. A. Shirsavar, Teaching practical design of switch-mode power supplies, IEEE Trans. Educ., vol.
47, no. 4, pp. 467473, Nov. 2004.

[5] T. J. Roberts, "The Synchronous Machine Experiment", Department of Electrical and Electronic
Engineering, University of Auckland, 1990.

[6] T J Roberts The Virtual Machines Laboratory, Australasian Journal Of Engineering Education
Online Publication 2004-01