Transformers - Transformer transformations


John Clarke, of Zucchini EdM Transformers, discusses the environmental and cost-saving effects of cast-resin transformers

A transformer is a device that transfers electrical energy from one circuit to another through a shared magnetic field. A key application is to ‘tap off' 11,000 volts (11 kv) of electrical power from the national grid and step it down to 415 volts, which is the normal 3-phase electrical power system used in the UK for commercial, institutional or industrial applications. A transformer therefore makes raw electricity ‘usable', as well as allowing it to travel through cables. In fact, most of the world's electrical power has passed through transformers by the time it reaches the consumer.

Large, high-power transformers, in particular, need to have a built-in cooling facility to transport heat from the interior. Thus, one of the numerous ways of classifying transformers is according to cooling type. For example, for power transformers rated up to a nominal kVA, natural convective air-cooling, often fan-assisted, is adequate. Traditionally, oil transformers relied on highly refined mineral oil as a cooling medium, while the latest generation cast-resin transformers, the transformer core is insulated by a thin coating of inorganic material.

Over the last decade, remarkable advances in materials technology and manufacturing methods have fostered the popularity of cast resin transformers, particularly in fire-sensitive locations such as high-rise structures, hospitals, and public buildings where the transformer is located indoors and a fire outbreak would be particularly hazardous because of the high density of people.

Safety is high on the list of benefits provided by cast resin transformers. The advanced epoxy mixture used in EdM transformers is a non-hazardous material, which is both fire-resistant and self-extinguishing. Even when the material is exposed to arcing, no toxic gases are produced, and the transformer can be safely situated close to the load, saving on cabling, civil works and transmission loss.

Another key benefit is the fact that cast resin transformers require no maintenance during their lifetime.

Compare all these benefits with the disadvantages of traditional oil transformers with their relatively low fire point, pollution potential, higher installation costs (due in part to the fire-protection and containment measures often needing to be installed along with the installation), and a high maintenance requirement.

Oil-cooled transformers are not, it has to be said, a favourite with insurance companies. Oil, of course, is a non-renewable resource, while EdM transformers are insulated in a sustainable material, which has been developed and refined over 15-years to comply fully with European Union and national directives on the protection of the environment. Indeed, they do not pollute the environment where they are installed and are therefore recommended for all ISO locations, a standard that helps organizations minimise the negative effects of their operations on the environment.

As well as protecting the environment, the high quality epoxy resin filled with silica and trihydrate alumina, that have developed to encapsulate transformers, stops moisture  ingress, thus preventing electrical breakdown under load, as well as inward pollution from the environment. This not only makes the transformers ideal for damp or dirty conditions, but extends the life of the transformer's working parts and eliminates maintenance. EdM transformers are also coated in high-vacuum chambers to reduce air and other gases in the resin that could produce partial earth discharges. In effect, they thermetically seal the transformer's core. As a result, consultants and specifiers looking for standard transformers with power outputs in the range of 100 to 3,500 kVA (and up to 16,000 kVA for specific projects), get complete peace of mind.

Another point is cast resin transformers do not have the noise and vibration problems associated with oil-based machines.

Cast resin transformers are now available in different specifications to meet the needs of the climate or hazardous and unforgiving environments, exceptionally cold ambient temperatures and environments with high fire risk.

One of the most gratifying outcomes of installing environmentally friendly technology in recent years has been the realisation by individuals and companies that saving the environment  - can also save money! As well as being favourably priced, cast resin transformers are exceptionally energy-efficient, producing a high transformation yield and thus consuming less input energy.

At Zucchini EdM, we have developed ‘mathematical models' highlighting the savings that can be made by the user of a given electrical item on a case-by-case basis. For example, a 1,000 kVA energy-efficient transformer can produce savings of  €30,000 over a 20-year period, the equivalent of 20 MWh per year. The European Commission has assessed if equipment such as this were brought into general use, emissions of 11 million tonnes of carbon dioxide - equivalent to the electrical power used by 5 million homes - would be avoided.

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