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ASIAN JOURNAL OF ENGINEERING, SCIENCES & TECHNOLOGY, VOL.2, ISSUE 2.

SEPTEMBER 2012

A Low Cost Generator Auto Transfer Switch


(ATS) Controller for 2-3 KVA Household
Generators
Abdul Afram, Abdul Atisam Farooq

I. INTRODUCTION

AbstractDue to the power crisis in Pakistan there is a


growing market of small household generators ranging from 2-3
KVA which can handle the load of a small house comprising of a
few fans, lights, a computer and a TV. These generators are cheap
and come equipped with a self-start mechanism built into the
generator. On the push of a button, the user can start the
generator easily. In the cities, normally these generators are used
for a short period of time when the power from the grid is not
available. When the power from the grid is not available the user
starts the generator and connects the load to the generator
manually. When the power from the grid becomes available, the
user disconnects the generator from the load, turns off the
generator and connects the load to the grid manually. Normally
this function is performed manually and requires the engagement
of the user for turning the generator on and off and shifting the
load between the generator and the grid. In this paper we propose
a controller which performs these tasks automatically. The
controller monitors the grid voltage and when there is no voltage,
the controller disconnects the load from the grid, starts the
generator and shifts the load to the generator. The controller
keeps on monitoring the grid voltage and when it comes back on
the system turns off the generator and transfers the load to the
grid. This system is very useful in the high rate of power failure
crisis occurring in Pakistan and relieves the user from the tedious
task of attending to the generator regularly for continuous
availability of power. There are some commercially available
systems in the market which cost even more than the price of a
household generator and hence are not economical for the users
of household generators. In this paper we propose a very low cost
system which can be built using the commonly available
components such as relays, timers, transformers, diodes and
capacitors. This controller does not require any programmable
components such as microcontroller, FPGA, DSP etc. to perform
its function. The number of components is kept to minimum to
increase the reliability of the system.

HIS section describes the manual operation of the


generator and builds the background for implementing the
automatic controller.
A. Generator Manual On/Off Panel
First of all it is necessary to understand the functionality of
the manual generator self-start mechanism to implement the
automatic controller. The manual on/off panel pre-installed on
the generator is shown in the Fig. 1.

(a)
Generator ON/STOP
ON

AC ON/OFF Switch Self Start Switch


ON

Power Outlet

Voltmeter

STOP

OFF

(Spring Loaded)

(b)
Fig. 1. (a) Photograph of Manual ON/OFF Panel for a typical household
generator (b) Block Diagram of the manual front Panel and Identification of
Components

Index Terms Generator ATS, Generator ON/OFF controller,


Grid power monitoring, Load shifting.

The panel comprises of generator ON/STOP switch, AC


ON/OFF switch, a spring loaded self-start push button, power
outlet, and a voltmeter for monitoring the output voltage of the
generator.
B. Turning on the Generator Manually
In order to turn the generator on, the user moves the
generator ON/STOP switch to ON position, AC ON/OFF
switch to OFF position and pushes the self-start button
momentarily for 2-3 seconds.

Abdul Afram is with the Ryerson University, Toronto, ON M5B 2K3


Canada (phone: +1-416-979-5000 ext. 7089; Fax: +1-416-979-5265; e-mail:
abdul.afram@ryerson.ca).
Abdul Atisam Farooq, Lecturer, was with Electrical Engineering
Department, HITEC University, Taxila, Pakistan. He is now with the Lingua
Nova AG, Kasinostr. 32, 5000 Aarau, Switzerland (phone: +41-79-622-2749;
e-mail: atisamnajm@yahoo.com).

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ASIAN JOURNAL OF ENGINEERING, SCIENCES & TECHNOLOGY, VOL.2, ISSUE 2.

Why is the self-start button spring loaded? The answer to


this question is that it is important to engage the self-start
button only momentarily as it turns the self-start motor which
instantaneously draws a large amount of current from the
battery to turn the engine. If the engine does not start and the
self-start motor is powered for a long time, the battery will
discharge to a critically low voltage. It is also possible to
damage the battery due to large amount of current being drawn
from the battery for a long period of time. The self-start motor
can also be damaged due to the excessive heat produced by the
sustained large amount of current through the motor winding.
Once the engine has started, the self-start motor is
disconnected from the engine automatically. If the self-start
button is pressed when the motor is disconnected from the
engine, the motor runs under no load conditions at a very high
rpm and creates an annoying sound. Therefore once the engine
has started, the self-start motor should be turned off by
releasing the spring-loaded self-start button. So it is very
important to engage the self-start motor for a short period of
time when the engine is not running and keep it disengaged
when it is running.

C. Connecting the Load to the Generator Manually


When the generator starts, the user waits a couple of
seconds for the generator prime mover to stabilize to a
constant rpm. When the voltage stabilizes, the user moves the
AC ON/OFF switch to the ON position to connect the load to
the generator. It normally takes 2-3 seconds for the output of
the generator to stabilize.
D. Transferring the Load Manually between the Generator and
Grid
If there are two power sources such as a grid and the
generator, the load has to be shifted between them. When the
grid power is available, the load is connected to the grid.
Otherwise, the user starts the generator manually and connects
the load to the generator. If the load has to be connected or
disconnected from the grid and transferred to generator and
back, the user needs a double pole double throw (DPDT)
switch which disconnects the one power source and connects
the other power source to the load. This is shown in Fig. 2.

Generator

1
2

II. IMPLEMENTING THE AUTOMATIC CONTROLLER

Load

Grid

SEPTEMBER 2012

As evident from the above discussion, the process of


manually shifting the load on a backup power source such as a
generator and back is a cumbersome process and requires the
continuous attention of the user and creates a lot of discomfort
as well. A simple controller can handle this tedious task
automatically. The controller implements the following
functions
Senses the grid voltage
Automatically starts the generator when grid power fails
Automatically stops the generator when grid power resumes
Automatically transfers the load between the generator and
the grid
The block diagram of the automatic controller is shown in
the Fig. 3. The function of each block and their
implementation is explained below.

5
6
DPDT Switch

220VAC LED

Fig. 2. Manual Load Transfer Switch

E. Monitoring the Grid Power Manually


In order to monitor the grid power, the user installs an
indicator light directly on the grid voltage before the load
switching circuitry as shown in Fig. 2 and keeps monitoring
the indicator from time to time to find out that the power has
resumed and then returns the load to the grid by changing the
position of the DPDT switch.

220V AC from
Grid

F. Turning Generator Off Manually


The generator is turned off by switching the generator
ON/STOP button to STOP position.

Grid
Grid Voltage
Voltage
Sensing
Sensing

Battery 12V DC

G. Understanding the functions of Manual Switches


To implement the controller, it was found after investigation
that:
a. Generator ON/STOP switch open circuits the two wires
connected to it when in ON position and short circuits
these wires when in STOP position
b. Self-Start switch short circuits the two wires connected to
it when pressed and open circuits these wires when
released

220V AC from
Generator

Generator
Generator
ON/STOP
ON/STOP
Relay
Relay

To Generator
ON/STOP Button

Auto
Auto Start
Start
Circuit
Circuit

To Generator
Self-Start Switch

Auto
Auto Transfer
Transfer
Switch
Switch

220V AC to Load

Fig. 3. Block Diagram of the Automatic Controller

A. Sensing the Grid Voltage


The grid voltage can be sensed by down converting the
220V AC to 12V DC using the step down transformer, bridge

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ASIAN JOURNAL OF ENGINEERING, SCIENCES & TECHNOLOGY, VOL.2, ISSUE 2.


rectifier and filter. The block diagram for the voltage sensing
circuitry is shown in Fig. 4.
Step
Step Down
Down
Transformer
Transformer

220V AC Grid

Bridge
Bridge
Rectifier
Rectifier

Filter
Filter

SEPTEMBER 2012

circuited allowing the generator to be started by the generator


start circuit as explained below. The timing for the circuit of
Fig. 6 is shown in Fig. 7.

12V DC Grid
12V DC Grid

Fig. 4. Block Diagram of Voltage sensing circuit

Relay Contacts

The schematic of voltage sensing circuit is shown in Fig. 5.

Grid Power Off

Grid Power On

Generator On

Generator Stop

12V
0V
Close
Open

Fig. 7. Timing Diagram for Generator On/Stop Relay

Capacitor
1000uF

12V DC Grid

C. Starting the Generator Automatically


The generator is started automatically when the grid power
fails and the voltage sensing circuit provides the 0V at its
output. Starting the generator requires open circuiting the
wires connected to Generator ON/STOP switch which is done
by the circuit in Fig. 6 and short circuiting the wires connected
to self-start switch momentarily done by the circuit shown in
Fig. 8.

220V AC Grid

Capacitor
0.1uF

12 V Step Down Transf ormer

Filter

Bridge Rectif ier

Fig. 5. Schematic of Voltage Sensing Circuit

When the grid power is active, the voltage sensing circuit


provides 12V DC and when the grid power fails, the voltage
sensing circuit gives 0V at its output.

To Terminal 1

Wires Connected
Parallel to the
Self-Start Switch

B. Controlling the Generator ON/STOP Switch Automatically


The generator ON/STOP switch open circuits the two wires
connected to it when the generator needs to be started and
short circuits them when the generator needs to be turned off.
A relay can be connected in parallel to this switch. The circuit
is shown in the Fig. 6.
A single pole double throw (SPDT) relay has three contact
terminals and two coil terminals as shown in Fig. 6. The
contact terminals are called common (C), normally open (NO)
and normally close (NC). When the relay coil is de-energized,
the NC terminal is connected to C terminal. When the relay
coil is energized, the NO terminal is connected to C terminal.

12V DC Grid

NO
NC

Relay 1

Timer Relay (Adjustable 0-10 sec)

To Terminal 2

NC

NC

12V DC Grid

NC
Path is Closed
w hen Grid
Pow er Fails

Battery
12V DC

NC
Relay 2 f or Timer Coil
+

12V DC Grid

Fig. 8. Schematic of Auto Start Circuit Connected in Series with the Self
Start Switch

To Terminal 1

Path is Open Circuit w hen Grid Pow er is Av ailable


Manual Disable Switch

This circuit needs to be placed in parallel with the self-start


switch which is normally open circuited. The circuit also
provides a path which is normally open in the presence of grid
voltage. The path has to be short circuited for a short period of
time to engage the self momentarily. This is implemented by
using two relays and a timer. The whole circuit is controlled by
the 12V DC Grid voltage. When the voltage is present, the
path in series with the self-start switch is open circuit. When
the grid power fails the path is short circuited for a couple of
seconds. When the grid power fails, the coil of Relay1 is deenergized and the path is short circuited engaging the self-start
motor. Simultaneously, the coil of Relay2 is also de-energized,
closing the path to the timer coil and energizing it through a
12V DC battery. The timer relay used in this circuit changes
the state of its contacts after a time delay. The timer has
adjustable time duration from 0-10 second that can be changed
with the help of the timer knob. Normally the timer is set at 23 seconds. After the set time, the timer open circuits the path
again thus disengaging the self-start motor. The timing

Wires Connected Parallel


to the Generator
Start/Stop Switch
To Terminal 2

SPDT Relay

Fig. 6. Schematic of Relay Connected parallel to Generator ON/STOP Switch

The relay coil is energized by 12V DC Grid voltage coming


from the sensing circuit. When the voltage is available, the
relay coil will be energized. Since when the voltage is
available, we want to keep the generator off so we want to
keep the wires connected to the generator ON/STOP switch
short circuited. Therefore the wires connected to generator
ON/STOP switch are connected to NO and C terminals on the
relay which are short circuited when the 12V DC Grid voltage
is available. When the power failure occurs, the NO terminal is
disconnected from the C terminal and the wires are open

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ASIAN JOURNAL OF ENGINEERING, SCIENCES & TECHNOLOGY, VOL.2, ISSUE 2.

SEPTEMBER 2012

diagram of this circuit is shown in the Fig. 9. It is evident from


the timing diagram that the self-start motor is engaged only for
the time duration set at the timer relay and is disengaged when
the timer expires.
Grid Power Off
12V DC Grid
Relay 1 Contacts

Grid Power On

12V
0V
Close

Open
Relay 2 Contacts Close
Open
Timer Contacts

Close
0-10 Sec

Open
Close
Self-Start Path
Open

Self-Start Motor
Engaged

Fig. 9. Timing Diagram for the generator Auto Start Circuit

This circuit also contains the manual disable switch which is


used to disable the auto start circuit from starting the generator
when not required. The user manually changes the position of
the disable switch to the open circuit position and the
generator does not start.
D. Automatically Transferring the Load
Auto load transfer circuit is shown in the Fig. 10. The
circuit comprises of a DPDT timer relay. The timer can be
adjusted by the user from 0-10 seconds. The time delay is
required to allow the generator output to stabilize and is set to
2-3 seconds. The circuit connects the generator output voltage
to the load after this time delay. When the generator is turned
off, the grid power is connected to the load. When the
generator turns on the timer relay coil is energized by the
generator voltage and the load is connected to the generator
voltage after a time delay set by the user.
220V AC from Grid
220V AC from Generator

Grid Wire 1
Grid Wire 2

Load Wire 1

Generator Wire 1
Generator Wire 2

220V AC from Generator

Fig. 11. Photograph of Automatic Controller being tested with Generator

220V AC to Load
Load Wire 2

~
~

DPDT Timer Relay (Adjustable 0-10A), 50A, 220V AC Coil

Fig. 10. Automatic Load Transfer Switch Circuit

III. RESULTS
The automatic controller was successfully implemented and
tested. The photograph of the implemented system is shown in
Fig. 11, 12 and 13.

Fig. 12. Photograph of Automatic Controller Installed on the Wall near


Generator showing the Timers, Relays and Manual Disable Switch

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ASIAN JOURNAL OF ENGINEERING, SCIENCES & TECHNOLOGY, VOL.2, ISSUE 2.

SEPTEMBER 2012

Abdul Atisam Farooq has received MS degree in electrical engineering from


HITEC University, Taxila, Pakistan, in 2011 and B.S. degree in electrical
engineering from Bahria University, Islamabad, Pakistan, in 2009 with an
honor of Gold Medal. In 2009, he has joined the Department of Electrical
Engineering at HITEC University, Taxila, Pakistan as a Lab Engineer and has
been promoted at the position of lecturer in 2011. In August 2012 he joined
Lingua Nova AG, Aarau, Switzerland to continue with his career. His major
research interests are in the area of Cryptography, wireless communication,
Instrumentation and Electromechanical systems.

Fig. 13. Photograph of Automatic Controller in Operation with Cover on it

IV. CONCLUSION
The manual start/stop and load transfer panel on the
generator can still be used after the addition of the automatic
controller. There is no feedback in the circuit to sense whether
the generator has started. It only engages the self-start motor
once at the start of the power failure and does not bother to
retry if the generator does not start in the first try. This is one
of the possible improvements in the controller. The total cost
of the controller is very low as no programmable component is
used. The reliability of the controller is also very high due to
the small number of components used in the circuit. The
controller also takes very small time to put together and install
on a household generator. The circuit is ideal for the countries
with high rate of grid power failures.

REFERENCES
This work is solely based on the technical knowledge of authors and involves
successful hardware implementation of an Auto Transfer Switch. The
software used for circuit designing is OrCAD.
Abdul Afram attained his degree of Bachelor of Mechatronics Engineering
from National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST), Pakistan with
Honors in 2003. He worked as a Design Engineer (Electronics) at RWR (Pvt.)
Ltd. Pakistan for 3 years. For his Masters in Mechatronics Engineering, he
joined Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology (GIST), Gwang-ju,
South Korea in 2007. In 2009 he joined the Department of Electrical
Engineering as a Lecturer at NUST School of Electrical Engineering and
Computer Science (SEECS), Islamabad, Pakistan. In 2012, he started PhD in
the Robotics, Mechatronics and Automation Lab (RMAL), Department of
Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, Ryerson University, Toronto,
Canada. His area of interest involves intelligent system design, Robotics,
electromechanical Systems and control systems.

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