The importance of the distribution transformer should not be misunderstood – the technology plays a significant, but sometimes underestimated, role in the high voltage energy infrastructure of facilities across the country. Distribution transformers are energised 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Even when then don’t carry a load they ensure buildings receive the correct electricity supply that is safe for use and fit for requirements.
Despite being a critical part of infrastructure, distribution transformers have not kept pace with the dramatically changing face of technology. Modern practices are changing the way that facilities managers use energy and monitor electricity use across single or multiple sites. For example, annual manual inspection of distribution transformers is becoming an outdated and less convenient method in the current age of connectivity and access to remote systems.
There are other developments in transformer technology that beg the question why they’re not considered more closely with a view to making the increasingly challenging role of facilities managers that little bit easier.
For example, transformers are most commonly manufactured using cold rolled grain-oriented silicon steel (CRGO) laminations. However, a newer approach is the use of amorphous alloy core distribution transformers. In contrast to traditional CRGO ‘rigid’ cores, amorphous core technology has a flexible atom structure that allows for easy magnetisation and demagnetisation to take place throughout the system. The ability to switch magnetisation at a faster rate delivers lower losses, improving a distribution transformer’s efficiency therefore simultaneously reducing CO2 emissions.
The benefits of amorphous core technology are well-recognised, – with the maturity of the technology already providing the opportunity for it to be widely researched and tested across a number of applications. When compared with traditional CRGO distribution transformers, in some situations, the amorphous core has been proven to deliver up to 75% lower electricity losses.
Alongside lowering losses, there are further advantages to installing a bespoke amorphous core distribution transformer on a facility. When specified correctly to the unique requirements of a site, the technology can enhance site resilience and protect against issues in the grid supply voltage, such as fluctuations.
By providing voltage management through a facility’s distribution transformer, many sites will be able to alleviate the expensive and unnecessary overvoltage supplied to a site through the high voltage (HV) infrastructure, reducing the overvoltage before it reaches the low voltage (LV) infrastructure.
By implementing such measures, facilities managers can see energy consumption savings of up to 7%, providing the distribution transformer is specified and installed bespoke to site requirements.
It is not solely the energy saving properties of modern solutions that provide benefits for facilities managers, with many companies looking ahead to Industry 4.0, the term for developments such as the Internet of Things (IoT)-ready technology, which is transforming the smart use of energy.
With the digitisation of the facilities management sector, there is now a requirement for companies to deliver a connected solution that can be integrated and managed alongside other energy-saving, smart building control systems.
However, even though much of the energy industry has moved with the times, the role of distribution transformers has not changed. They have not been updated to a standard that is reflective of their importance, while other energy-saving technologies, such as lighting, are upgraded on a regular basis. Most distribution transformers are not online or connected to smart building systems, even though they are one of the most critical energy systems in a facilities manager’s portfolio.
As a result, many companies do not know the performance level of their distribution transformer, and it is often ignored until the annual manual inspections of antiquated gauges and meters. But this is an increasingly outdated method that is both inconvenient and ineffective.
Replacing an older system with a low-loss amorphous core distribution transformer with integrated smart remote monitoring software can provide a host of benefits for FMs.
The new equipment can provide easy-to-analyse information to the facilities team, providing top-level statistics including useful grid information, conditional performance, and energy efficiency reports. Such crucial data assists companies in understanding where savings can be made to ensure the best return on investment.
Operational performance can also be detailed, enabling issues to be identified before an electrical event occurs. With a smart distribution transformer, 24/7 visibility is provided, alerting and warning users via text or email if there is an issue, allowing facilities managers to log in to a protected interface system anywhere with an internet connection.
If further information is required, reports on oil analysis, voltage, amps, phase-to-phase metrics, real power, power factor, core temperature, harmonic distortion, system kVA, system kWh and GPS location for larger facilities can all be analysed.
From monitoring these levels, FMs can work closely with maintenance engineers to control, and fix, any potential issues, reducing downtime and the longer-term financial implications involved with distribution transformers that are out of use.
Part of the FM’s role is to find ways to save energy. One solution that is often overlooked is the distribution transformer, even though it plays a vital role in electricity supply. Therefore, it’s time for facilities managers to look towards a smarter future and consider updating their transformers.
Dr Alex Mardapittas is CEO of Powerstar