The excitation system fulfills two main functions:

1. It produces DC voltage (and power) to force current to flow in the field windings of the generator. There is a direct relationship between the generator terminal voltage and the quantity of current flowing in the field windings.

2. It provides a means for regulating the terminal voltage of the generator to match a desired set point and to provide damping for power system oscillations.

Prior to the 1960s, generators were generally provided with rotating exciters that fed the generator field through a slip ring arrangement, a rotating pilot exciter feeding the main exciter field, and a regulator controlling the pilot exciter output.

Since the 1960s, the most common arrangement is thyristor bridge rectifiers fed from a transformer connected to the generator terminals, referred to as a “potential source controlled rectifier high initial response exciter” or “bus-fed static exciter” (IEEE, 421.1-1986; 421.2-1990; 421.4-1990; 421.5-1992).

Another system used for smaller high-speed units is a brushless exciter with a rotating AC generator and rotating rectifiers.

Modern static exciters have the advantage of providing extremely fast response times and high field ceiling voltages for forcing rapid changes in the generator terminal voltage during system faults. This is necessary to overcome the inherent large time constant in the response between terminal voltage and field voltage (referred to as T do , typically in the range of 5 to 10 sec).

Rapid terminal voltage forcing is necessary to maintain transient stability of the power system during and immediately after system faults.

Power system stabilizers are also applied to static exciters to cause the generator terminal voltage to vary in phase with the speed deviations of the machine, for damping power system dynamic oscillations.

Various auxiliary devices are applied to the static exciter to allow remote setting of the generator voltage and to limit the field current within rotor thermal and under excited limits. Field flashing equipment is provided to build up generator terminal voltage during starting to the point at which the thyristors can begin gating. Power  for field flashing is provided either from the station battery or alternating current station service.

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