Energy Department Poised to Zap Nation’s Electrical Transformers, Which are Already in Short Supply

2024-03-12 16:00:10

Professor Jacobson recently reviewed the alarming state of the nation’s electric grid. Large portions of this country are at risk of running short of power as electricity-hungry data centers and clean-technology factories proliferate around the country.

The situation is not helped by eco-activists throughout the country shuttering energy-efficient nuclear power plants and destroying hydroelectric dams to save fish species. Weather-dependent, energy-inefficient wind and solar power cannot take up the slack caused by closing coal plants.

It must be noted that fuel is just one part of the energy equation. Equipment and materials necessary to distribute the energy are another consideration. For example, distribution transformers are critical to the steady flow of electricity along the power grid by changing high-voltage electricity from transmission lines into low-voltage electricity before it reaches consumers.

Unfortunately, there are concerns arising about the shortage of transformers. National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) researchers recently produced a report, Major Drivers of Long-Term Distribution Transformer Demand, that looked at this issue.

“Distribution transformers are a bedrock component of our energy infrastructure,” National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) researcher Killian McKenna said. “But utilities needing to add or replace them are currently facing high prices and long wait times due to supply chain shortages. This has the potential to affect energy accessibility, reliability, affordability—everything.”

Reasons given for the shortages and price spikes include increased raw material demand, pandemic-related shortages and backlogs, labor constraints, shipping issues, and geopolitical tensions. In some parts of the world, the shortages are acute.

Now, the Biden Department of Energy has decided to issue new regulations on manufacturing transformers that will likely exacerbate the shortage. Earlier this year, the DOE agreed to dictate how transformers were made in the quest for the utopia of “net zero” and with promises to protect the electric grid.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has proposed new energy efficiency standards for distribution transformers. Almost all transformers produced under the new standard would feature amorphous steel cores that are, according to the DOE, significantly more energy efficient than those made of traditional, grain-oriented electrical steel.

The aim of the DOEs proposal is to improve grid resiliency, lower utility bills and reduce domestic carbon-dioxide emissions. If adopted within DOE’s proposed timeframe, the new rule will come into effect in 2027.

There were a significant number of public comments blasting the attempt to transform transformers. Portland General Electric has two critical points in its response to the delusional DOE.

First, Mandating a complete overhaul of transformer production during a severe shortage is basically insane.

The proposal for new energy efficiency standards cannot be viewed in a vacuum. Rather, it must be viewed against the backdrop of the current supply chain crisis. DOE is required to consider specific information when prescribing new or amended standards under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA). The availability of covered products, as well as the practicability of manufacturing, installing and servicing them, is to be included in this consideration. Each of these raises significant concerns. Requiring manufacturers to shift to a new type of transformer that currently has minimal production, at a time when supplies are already severely constrained, creates a serious risk to the electric grid and the transition to clean energy.

Second, the amorphous core transformers are significantly larger, leading to a host of technical issues that would jack up energy costs even more.

The larger profile of the amorphous core and windings compared to a grain-oriented steel core will also require a larger tank, more winding copper/aluminum wire, more oil, and more labor to produce, resulting in higher up-front procurement costs. We estimate an average of approximately 15%-20% more than grain-oriented steel core. An example for size comparison is that a 25KVA pole mounted amorphous core transformer is roughly the size of a 50KVA steel core transformer. This illustrates how much larger the new amorphous core transformers would need to be.

…This triggers a host of related issues that utilities would need to address. It is anticipated that these heavier transformers would require a replacement of the wood poles that hold them as well as other infrastructure that supports the transformers. This exacerbates our challenges with implementing these requirements, as there is already a supply chain issue with wood poles, as well as other related infrastructure. The required change is also expected to trigger a need for different equipment, which utilities would all need to procure. Additionally, the heavier weight of the transformers triggers transportation considerations and challenges. They would likely require flatbed trucks and cranes to install. Weight and access restrictions for roads and certain areas, especially in rural places, may create further challenges for replacements of transformers.

There is only one Grain-Oriented Electrical Steel (GOES) core maker in the United States (Butler Works, owned by Cleveland-Cliffs). That plant says that the rule is placing its operation in jeopardy.

Given the complete incompetence in setting up the charging stations necessary for electric vehicles, and now with this fiasco, perhaps it is time to reign in regulators on exactly how much control they have on how and what gets made in this country.




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Energy Department Poised to Zap Nation’s Electrical Transformers, Which are Already in Short Supply

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