Transformers. The term can mean two vastly different things, but I am here to argue that there are similarities between Transformers and transformers. First, you have Transformers, which spawned from toy mogul Hasbro into a moolah-magnet merchandising/movie empire. Then you have transformers, an electrical device found throughout the power grid. In addition to obvious physical differences between the two, you certainly have a difference in popularity for the two main uses of the term. However, there is a common thread, and that is both are, as the Transformers original slogan put it, “more than meets the eye.”
With transformers, they will most likely never reach the coolness and popularity of Transformers. They aren’t even that cool in the utility industry—particularly with smart grid, at least, until recently. In the upcoming November/December issue of Intelligent Utility magazine, we pulled together a collection of articles on transformers and the smart grid, but it was frankly hard to get content. No utility we spoke with had made a really made a strong connection with transformers and the smart grid. Transformers have pretty much gotten lost in the smart grid hype. That’s when I experienced great joy upon seeing the U.S. Department of Energy award about $10.7 million of its Smart Grid Demonstration Grant funding to Waukesha Electric Systems Inc., which will use the funds for the demonstration of a superconducting transformer. The proposed transformer will occupy about 50 percent of the physical size and weight of a conventional transformer, lower power consumption through reduction of losses and increase the reliability of the grid. Smart grid and transformers—together at last.
But then I realized the award wasn’t just about a “smart” transformer—like a transformers equipped with some super cool chip or artificial intelligence. This is where the transformers help demonstrate the “more than meets the eye” part—at least in terms of smart grid (I know some of you out there were hoping to hear that a company had developed transformers that were in fact Transformers that could turn into super cool robots. Sorry to disappoint you). Smart grid is usually talked about in terms of “smart” devices and digital technologies. But here we are talking about how to improve the efficiency and reliability of traditional grid assets by investing in some of the more non-digital aspects of assets, too. This transformer investment—along with a lot of investments in storage technologies—help demonstrate that there is definitely more than the often talked about digital side of a smarter grid. I am glad to see that the transformer craze is catching on in a smarter grid—perhaps this calls for some action figures to go along with it.
Thanks for reading!
H. Christine Richards is vice president of Energy Central’s Intelligent Utility division and editor-in-chief of Intelligent Utility magazine. Start your complimentary subscription to Intelligent Utility magazine by going to www.intelligentutility.com/subscribe.