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Beating Transformer Losses

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Julian Jackson's picture
writer and researcher BrightGreen PR

Julian Jackson is a writer whose interests encompass business and technology, cryptocurrencies, energy and the environment, as well as photography and film. His portfolio is here:...

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  • Jan 19, 2022
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Around three percent of all energy generated in Europe is lost by distribution transformers. That adds up to 93TWH of annual energy waste. Network losses in the UK alone are responsible for 1.5% of the country's greenhouse gas emissions.

This is an issue that needs a solution. The European Commission has introduced Ecodesign Regulations for transformer losses, so that improved models can be installed all over the UK and the rest of Europe. Tier 1 and Tier 2 of these regulations came into force in 2015 and 2021 respectively.

Losses in transformers come in two types. No-load loses (sometimes called core losses) which are basic losses, start from the moment the transformer is switched on. They will create losses and emissions for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The other type of loss is load losses or winding losses, which are a product of the load on the transformer.

Conventional transformers have stacks of laminate material in their cores. Usually made from silicon steel with a crystalline structure, they are responsible for most of the losses. New designs of transformer that use carefully-cooled molten alloy steel, do not allow the crystalline structures to form. These have the advantage of being more easily magnetized. During the magnetization process, less heat is produced and there are lower losses. This results in more efficient transformers.

Modern transformers are around 15% more energy-efficient that existing ones, so replacement can save energy. Given that the average age of a distribution transformer in the UK is 63 years old, upgrading would save a significant amount of costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 19, 2022

Modern transformers are around 15% more energy-efficient that existing ones, so replacement can save energy. 

That's a lot of energy and dollars lost-- but it of course comes down to the value of running existing equipment while it's viable vs. the cost to purchase and install the new transformer. Analyzing the costs/benefits is definitely key

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Jan 22, 2022

I'm not an authority in this area, but I've heard that one of the biggest national security issues for people who know about it is that the US has no domestic suppliers for really large high voltage transformers. They have to come from overseas, and are long-lead items. Long lead as in 6 months to a year or more.

The problem is that the transmission grid doesn't require all that many really big transformers, and those that exist hardly ever fail. So there's no market to keep them in regular production. But if a cyberattack, physical sabotage, or a really bad geomagnetic storm were to knock out a bunch of them at once, it could take years for the country to recover.

I find it hard to believe that things could really be that bad. I can think of several technological fixes for the vulnerability, if it exists. I assume that if I can think of them, others can too. Some of those others will be folks whose business it is to deal with such things. Ergo, the problem must not exist. Or if it once did, it's already been fixed. That's just hopeful speculation on my part, however. If there are any T&D experts out there who know more about this, I'd love to know what the score actually is.

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