Chapter Corner

Transformer Upgrades Are Good Business

Posted in: July 2014

transformer.gif“Turn off the lights.” “Shut the refrigerator.”

If you have kids, you’ve probably asked them to save energy more than once over the past week. As energy costs rise, we take measures to eliminate waste in our homes. Be more efficient using energy and you save.

Your commercial and industrial customers are most likely trying to save, too. They build more efficient buildings, and they upgrade lighting, motors, controls, HVAC, solar – whatever they believe saves energy and delivers a reasonable payback. But they’re overlooking significant savings from infrastructure that wastes energy every day – even when not in use: Transformers.

U.S. commercial and industrial locations are filled with old-technology transformers that are inefficient by today’s standards. These dinosaurs needlessly waste money – converting energy to waste heat even when there’s no load. Even worse, older transformers may be at or near the end of their design life. That puts them at greater risk for failure and the business consequences of an unplanned outage.

Every Facility Is a Prospective Upgrade

Nearly every building larger than a single-family home has at least one transformer. An elementary school may have five or six. Your local mall has at least 15. Factories, data centers, or hospital campuses could rely on as many as 100 to manage the power throughout their facilities. Every one of those transformers is wasting energy every minute of every day – regardless of the load.

With older transformers performing at about 95 percent efficiency and newer transformers at 99 percent efficiency or more, there is a huge savings opportunity. That means less wasted energy and reasonable payback.

The reasons for inefficiency are many. As an engineer, I could discuss winding resistance and core losses. I could tell you how higher efficiency transformers require good-quality steel for the core, and larger diameter wire, etc., until you fall asleep from details that really don’t matter to your customers. The important fact to remember is the evolution of transformers over the past decade. In 2007, a new Department of Energy (DOE) standard, called TP-1, took a significant step forward in improving transformer efficiency. Transformers manufactured before this new standard are the most inefficient. They are serious candidates for upgrades, regardless of their condition.

We’re preparing now for a changeover inTP-1 transformers about to become obsolete with a new DOE standard for ultra-efficient transformers slated to take effect January 1, 2016. These standards will be, for some models, more than 99 percent efficient. They upgrade transformer engineering and performance to deliver a payback in as little as three years compared to existing pre-TP-1models and a lifetime of savings. Plus, these ultra-efficient upgrades undertaken now help your customers stay on the leading edge of technology, efficiency, and environmentally positive performance.

Figuring the Savings Opportunity

Every facility is different. In addition to equipment configurations, load profiles based on building use greatly affect potential waste and savings. So it’s important to assess building load demand. Some types of losses are constant regardless of the load level – so even at nearly no-load levels, significant losses occur.

GE created a calculator to help you assess the savings potential for your customers. It gives you a good idea of the improvements you can expect from upgrading to ultra-efficient transformers compared toTP-1 and pre-2007 non-TP-1 units. The calculator uses building type (such as office building, school, medical center, or sports arena), installed transformers, and the local cost of energy to create a load profile and calculate savings.

You can access the calculator for an objective, targeted view of potential savings that can help you make a case for transformer upgrades.

More than Cost Savings

New transformers will save money in the long run. The savings calculator shows total savings over a 25-year product life and potential paybacks for ultra-efficient transformers in as little as three years. But there is more to the equation than dollars.

Older transformers are at risk of failure. That could mean lights out at a stadium or computers out at an office building or school until a replacement is sourced, transported, and installed. Those potential business costs are tremendous. Plus, the price premiums of emergency repairs are always higher than planned upgrades.

Transformer inefficiency also affects the environment. The wasted energy results in capacity demands on an already stressed energy infrastructure. So the less energy transformers waste, the better off we all are.

Transform with a C.O.R.E. Plan

Transformer upgrades can be a valuable new revenue stream. There are hundreds of opportunities within a few miles of your location. The key is planning calls on customers who are the most likely to be interested. For example, customers who have demonstrated an appetite for energy savings with lighting upgrades or other retrofits are good prospects. Facilities with high potential savings are also low-hanging fruit. Finally, environmentally conscious companies or organizations seeking LEED and other certifications are ripe for new transformers.

Here is a simple sales plan called C.O.R.E. for Consult, Observe, Review, and Efficiency to help make a case for upgrades. Here’s how it works.

Consult with your customer and ask straightforward questions. What are the ages of your transformers? Have load demands changed since installation?

What would an unplanned outage cost you? Do you have harmonics or an operating environment that can increase wear and tear on transformers?

Observe the transformers in use. Are there high noise levels or increased temperatures? Either could indicate a potential untimely end-of-life failure.

Review options. While upgrading to the current TP-1 standard will help some, even better ultra-efficient transformers that become the new DOE standard on January 1, 2016, will put you on a fast track to greater savings and compliance. Across the family of ultra-efficient offerings if your customer has high harmonics, consider harmonic-mitigating transformers, which reduce harmonic levels for even greater efficiencies, or K-factor models that have a higher tolerance to harmonics.

Efficiency sells. Use the simple calculator to demonstrate the savings and payback they can expect for their specific application and operating pattern.

It’s Good Business

Transformers just may be the most taken-for-granted element of your customers’ energy systems. You can change that with an informed strategy to transform their thinking – by demonstrating savings, performance, and reliability improvements of the latest ultra-efficient technology. It could also help transform your business.

Bill Forsythe is the Senior Product Manager for dry-type transformers for GE’s Industrial Solutions business, a GE heritage business, which is leading the future of electrification with advanced technologies that protect and control the distribution of electricity throughout a facility’s infrastructure. Leading the transformer product strategies and execution globally, Forsythe manages a portfolio of transformer products for commercial and industrial applications including TP-1, K-factor, ultra-efficient and harmonic mitigating dry-type transformers.