The distribution of renewable energy throughout the electric grid requires a new take on transformers, and the solution is here. How can eco-friendly versions improve our clean energy efforts?

How Are Eco-Friendly Transformers Improving Renewable Energy?
How Are Eco-Friendly Transformers Improving Renewable Energy?

Megan Ray Nichols | Schooled by Science

Although most of our power still comes from fossil fuels, solar and wind are among the two fastest-growing sources of electricity in the United States. It’s easy to see why — the power of the sun and wind won’t be remotely exhausted in our lifetimes.

The “fuel” used in solar- and wind-based electricity generation may be free, accessible, renewable and sustainable, but the manufacturing processes behind the equipment itself can be problematic. When it comes to individual components like transformers, renewable energy can’t just replace the source of power — it needs to redesign the entire distribution apparatus.

The distribution of renewable energy throughout the electric grid requires a new take on transformers, and the solution is here. How can eco-friendly versions improve our clean energy efforts?


What Are Eco-Friendly Transformers?

This may not be a widely used term yet, but it soon will be. Eco-friendly transformers are created from the ground up for sustainability through each part of the equipment lifecycle. The design mission for eco-friendly transformers is generally as follows:

  • Greener manufacturing process: Assembled from less problematic materials for a reduced impact on natural resource availability.

  • More sustainable operation: Eco-friendly transformers are designed for lower maintenance costs over time, as well as more energy-efficient operation with lower rates of power loss.

  • Lifecycle and retiring EOL products: Eco-friendly transformers last longer. When they do reach their end-of-life date, they’re generally easier to recycle than traditional transformers.

These transformers bear several design hallmarks, such as eco-friendly materials used in the construction or serving as lubricants and coolants. Each design choice serves these core objectives with the aim of delivering several benefits.


What Are the Benefits of Eco-Friendly Transformers?

This is not a complete list, but some of the sustainability benefits of eco-friendly transformers include the following.


1. Cleaner Manufacturing and Lifecycle

Eco-friendly transformers are designed from the ground up for a greener product lifecycle. They’re manufactured using ester oil — derived from vegetables — rather than more conventional and environmentally harmful mineral oil.

Ester oil as a coolant and insulating agent is nontoxic and biodegradable. This makes it a good choice for reducing pollution during manufacturing, installation and after the product has been retired from service.


2. Quieter Operation

Noise reduction is another benefit that premium build materials can bring. Transformers fabricated using synthetic ester oils operate more quietly than traditional models. They are suitable for use in schools, densely populated communities and areas where the human or ecological impact from noise pollution is a concern.

As an example, biologists have grown increasingly concerned about the impact on human-generated noise pollution on the foraging, migratory and reproductive behaviors of a wide range of land and marine animals. In addition, potential digestive and general health issues may follow. These and other new technologies may lessen the impact of our most critical infrastructure.


3. Safer Energy Distribution

Our energy distribution infrastructure must become cleaner and more sustainable if human civilization continues in its current form. As we find ways to realize this vision and meet a tightening climate change deadline, we’ll inevitably find ways to make our power grids safer, as well. Call it a two-for-one.

One of the ways eco-friendly transformers improve safety in the energy sector is through their flame-retardant qualities. With ester oil derivatives as the base material, sustainable transformers offer a much higher fire point than incumbent materials, at about 680 F. 

This gives eco-friendly transformers a far lower chance of catching and spreading fire. As recent news has shown, infrastructure design and management can both play a key role in exacerbating or containing wildfires. Fire management extends to the choice of transformer, as well. A dry type transformer minimizes the chance of fire since it doesn’t contain flammable liquids. 

Every detail is important if utility companies want to reduce the threat of climate change-related wildfires and other disasters destabilizing our electric grids in the future.


4. Longer Equipment Lifecycle

Helping keep transformers and other equipment functioning out in the field for as long as possible is great for cost management.

It’s also vital for achieving eco-friendliness throughout the nation’s electric grids. Getting the most out of infrastructure investments delivers the bonus of prolonging the amount of time it takes the materials and chemicals in this equipment to reach landfills.

Using greener materials in power generation and electricity distribution equipment keeps these assets running reliably for longer. For instance, the winding insulation within green transformers may last up to five to eight times longer than that of standard transformers. That means a substantially greater return on investment and far less material waste over time.


5. Helps Make Clean Energy More Competitive

An appealing side effect of making solar and wind energy more affordable to maintain over time is that it brings down costs for clean energy technology in general. The energy sector will be in transition for some time as the world comes to grips with climate change. This is a significant moment for eco-friendly transformers and similar technologies to step to the fore.

Bringing down operational costs using eco-friendly transformers and other measures serves to make solar and wind more competitive with incumbent fossil fuels, now and into the future.

Making operational expenses more manageable should also help quicken the adoption of other key energy sector technologies, like the smart grid.


Eco-Friendly Transformers: A Vital Part of Smart Grids

Transformers built with the future’s challenges in mind are an ideal accompaniment to the smart grid. As utilities work to transition to green transformers, adding smart functionality at the same time will further improve the capabilities and resilience of the network.

Smart grids are networks of smart transformers and digital substations that dynamically regulate their own voltage. This real-time adaptability means fewer power outages during disruptive events, more feedback for operators, and diagnostic and data-gathering tools as a useful bonus.

The future of energy generation and distribution is here, and eco-friendly transformers play a key role. They’re a timely reminder that every component or variable can have an outsized difference when it comes to meeting a challenge — like powering our world sustainably.

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AltEnergyMag

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