Generator Ratings: The Reason Behind kVA over kW

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Generator Ratings: The Reason Behind kVA over kW

Generators are essential components in providing electrical power in areas where the grid is unavailable, during power outages, or for applications requiring portable power. They convert mechanical energy into electrical energy, typically using diesel, gasoline, propane, or natural gas as fuel. The power output of generators is a critical factor in selecting the right generator for specific needs, and it's often measured in kilovolt-amperes (kVA) rather than kilowatts (kW). Understanding why generators are rated in kVA rather than kW requires a dive into the concepts of real power, apparent power, and power factor in electrical systems.

Real Power, Apparent Power, and Power Factor

  • Real Power (kW): This is the actual power that is used to perform work, such as running motors, lighting, heating, and other end-use equipment. It's measured in kilowatts (kW).
  • Reactive Power (kVAR): This power is required by some equipment (like motors and transformers) to generate magnetic fields for operation. It does not perform any actual work.
  • Apparent Power (kVA): This is the combination of real power and reactive power, representing the total power supplied by the generator. It's measured in kilovolt-amperes (kVA).

The relationship between these types of power is often represented by a right triangle, with real power as the adjacent side, reactive power as the opposite side, and apparent power as the hypotenuse. The power factor (PF) is the cosine of the angle between the apparent power and real power, indicating the efficiency with which the electrical power is converted into useful work output.

Why Generators are Rated in kVA

  1. Independence from Load Power Factor: The power factor of a load (which can vary widely among different types of equipment) directly affects how much real power (kW) a generator can supply. Since the generator manufacturer does not control the power factor of the load, rating generators in kVA provides a rating that is independent of load characteristics. It represents the maximum apparent power the generator can provide under any power factor scenario.

  2. Simplicity and Consistency: Rating generators in kVA simplifies comparisons and selections. It provides a consistent basis for comparison, as kVA is not affected by power factor variations. This helps in selecting a generator that can handle the apparent power needs of a given application without needing to adjust for specific power factor values.

  3. Safety and Efficiency Margins: By rating generators in kVA, manufacturers inherently provide a safety and efficiency margin for end-users. It ensures that the generator can handle both the real power and any additional reactive power required by the load without exceeding its capacity. This is crucial for preventing overloading and potential damage to the generator, especially in applications with highly variable or unknown power factor loads.

  4. International Standards and Regulations: The practice of rating generators in kVA aligns with international standards and regulations, facilitating global trade and compatibility. It helps in maintaining uniformity in generator ratings across different markets and manufacturers, simplifying the process for international procurement and comparison.

Practical Implications

For users, understanding that a generator is rated in kVAβ€”and not directly in kWβ€”requires them to consider the power factor of their load when selecting a generator. For instance, if a generator has a rating of 100 kVA and is intended to power equipment with a power factor of 0.8, the real power capability of the generator would be 80 kW (100 kVA Γ— 0.8 PF). This consideration is crucial for ensuring that the generator can adequately supply both the real and reactive power demands of the load without risk of overloading.


The convention of rating generators in kVA rather than kW is grounded in practical and technical reasons, primarily the need to account for the varying power factor of electrical loads. This rating method provides a universal, consistent, and safety-oriented way to specify and compare generators' capacity. For users, it underscores the importance of understanding both the apparent and real power requirements of their applications to select an appropriately sized generator that meets their needs without exceeding its operational limits.