Whether it is to keep the lights on or the refrigerator cold, large power transformers (LPTs) are instrumental to deliver safe and consistent flows of electricity across long distances to power our homes and businesses. As increasingly severe storms threaten our critical electric infrastructure across the nation, investing in transformer infrastructure upgrades are vital to improve the resilience of the grid.
More than 90 percent of consumed power passes through high-voltage transformers at some point along its journey. But aging infrastructure is putting this energy supply in jeopardy. Today, more than 70% of the country’s transformers are at least 25 years old and another 15% are more than 40 years, exceeding their expected life expectancy.
These older machines are still responsible for keeping up with an evolving generation mix and will need to be upgraded to efficiently handle the power provided by the renewable energy sources we need to decarbonize our grid. Renewable power supplies can be intermittent, and installing new, flexible LPTs will be necessary to help mitigate these challenges and increase resiliency.
To advance the creation of LPT technology, the Office of Electricity’s Transformer Resilience and Advanced Components (TRAC) program supports projects accelerating grid modernization by addressing challenges with LPTs and other critical grid hardware components, making them more flexible, modular, scalable, and adaptable.
With funding from the TRAC program, General Electric (GE) and Prolec GE recently partnered to install the world’s first flexible LPT as part of a six-month field validation at a Cooperative Energy substation in Columbia, Mississippi. The flexible transformer can adapt to a range of voltage ratios and impedance levels, which can cut down on manufacturing costs and time needed to build today’s transformers. Being able to quickly replace damaged transformers within days instead of months means flexible transformers can help protect American communities by boosting our grid’s resiliency during extreme weather events or cyber-attacks.
This project represents a significant step forward to accelerate the deployment of innovative LPTs and to evaluate the technology’s performance in real-world scenarios. Ultimately, this project will encourage industry investment in flexible power transformers, leading to a grid that is more adaptive, flexible, and resilient, delivering power to people when they need it most.