Transformation in efficiency

11 December 2018

Dr Alex Mardapittas, CEO of Powerstar, a provider of smart energy solutions, highlights the importance of distribution transformers for industrial facilities and discusses requirements for smarter solutions.

Distribution transformers are often underappreciated despite being an essential part of the energy infrastructure as they enable energy supplied by the grid to be used by businesses. Due to this vital function, distribution transformers are energised 24 hours a day and 7 days a week in most cases, even when they do not carry an electrical load. In the case of large, industrial businesses in sectors such as manufacturing and engineering, many companies own multiple distribution transformers due to site requirements.

Given their significance, it is surprising that distribution transformers have been left behind as technology has developed, often not being upgraded or integrated with modern technology but instead left isolated and offline with no indication of performance aside from annual maintenance inspections.

Recently however, the market has welcomed a step-change in HV infrastructure equipment, hailed as a smart distribution transformer. Such products, such as Powerstar SO-LO, are now available and are slowly changing the face of the industry. These transformers have been designed Industry 4.0 ready and can therefore report on condition and operation in real-time alongside having the ability to be integrated with other facility monitoring solutions for a holistic view of a site’s energy performance.

Smart transformers provide similar benefits to other connected solutions due to the remote monitoring capabilities which are often built-in. This remote monitoring functionality can provide top-level information displaying useful grid information, conditional performance and energy efficiency reports. This data can be crucial in identifying where further efficiencies can be delivered to ensure the best return on investment in addition to ensuring that the condition of the transformer can be constantly reported on and preventative maintenance can be carried out as necessary, enabling a more cost-effective approach to running distribution transformers. This is of particular importance to energy intensive sectors as they face the task of reducing energy and costs as sustainability pressures intensify.

At the core of the solution

A further issue with traditional transformers is that the technology at the core of the solution has not been optimised to support potential energy savings. The most common form of distribution transformers are manufactured using cold rolled grain oriented silicon steel (CRGO) laminations. However, leading-edge solutions use different technology at their core to maximise sustainability, such as amorphous alloy. 

Amorphous alloy has a flexible atom structure, in contrast to the rigid cores in traditional CRGO transformers, which enables a quicker rate of magnetisation and demagnetisation to occur. This quicker rate of switching magnetisation results in improved efficiencies and consequently reduces load losses and CO2 emissions.

Due to being a mature technology which has been widely tested in a variety of applications, studies have definitively proved the effectiveness of amorphous core transformers. This is particularly evident as when compared with ageing CRGO transformers, amorphous core transformers can generally deliver up to 75% lower core electricity losses.

With the latest leading distribution transformers combining remote monitoring capabilities with an amorphous core it seems that finally, distribution transformers are being brought into the 21st century.