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In electricity generation, a generator is a device that converts motive power (mechanical energy) into electrical power for use in an external circuit. Sources of mechanical energy include steam turbines, gas turbines, water turbines, internal combustion engines and even hand cranks. The first electromagnetic generator, the Faraday disk, was built in 1831 by British scientist Michael Faraday. Generators provide nearly all of the power for electric power grids.

The reverse conversion of electrical energy into mechanical energy is done by an electric motor, and motors and generators have many similarities. Many motors can be mechanically driven to generate electricity and frequently make acceptable manual generators.

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