The emerging need for clean energy transition focuses largely on the best practices of sustainability and digitalization for managing product lifecycle. The moment quite pivotal for distribution network operator (DNO), distribution system operator (DSO) or stakeholders.
Predictably, existing sustainability initiatives in the transformer industry are restricted to new materials, evolving technology, regulatory advancements, and standardization. Whereas, explorations on the AI-enabled data-driven decision making in achieving sustainability goals are far from industrial implementation due to lack of awareness and education.
So, the obvious question is, “are we aware of the real power of artificial intelligence (AI) in solving sustainability challenges and hitting Environment Sustainability Governance (ESG) goals in future ?”.
Smart grid management
According to a media report, the global investment in smart grid infracture by the end of 2021 is nearly 19 billion US dollars. In fact, the European distribution operator systems (DSOs) are predicting higher investment needs in modernizing the smart grid infrastructure to accomodate integrated energy management (IEM) and distributed energy resources (DER). This not only requires double investments but also calls for adopting more efficient solutions, particularly using AI.
AI enables smarter and more efficient grid management by real-time data analysis from sensors, meters, and other sources to monitor grid conditions, detect faults, and optimize grid performance. This leads to improved grid reliability, reduced power outages, and better response to fluctuations in supply and demand. Take a look at some of the aspects that are currently regulating sustainability demands in the industry.
Digitization and IoT
Despite being labelled as a conservative sector, the power transformer industry is slowly embracing digitization and the Internet of Things (IoT). A power transformer is critical component of the energy supply chain that requires meticulous monitoring over its lifespan for optimal performance and availability. Nowadays, transformers are equipped with sensors, communication modules, and other advanced monitoring systems to enable remote condition monitoring, predictive maintenance, and data-driven decision-making. This enhances operational efficiency, reduce downtime, and improve asset management.
Sustainability and Energy Efficiency
Environmental concerns and energy efficiency goals will reshape the future of power transformers. There are ongoing efforts on reducing losses, improving insulation materials, and minimizing the use of environmentally harmful substances like sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). The industry is witnessing a shift towards eco-friendly and sustainable transformer designs, incorporating recyclable materials and exploring alternative cooling methods. All centered towards improving product lifecycle and optimizing costs.
Grid Resilience and Flexibility
With the increasing occurrence of extreme weather events and the integration of DERs, we need grid resilience and flexibility. This includes improved fault tolerance, voltage regulation capabilities, and the ability to handle bidirectional power flow to accommodate distributed generation, energy storage, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
Compact and Modular Designs
Power transformer designs are also evolving to accomodate space constraints of urban environments and facilitate easier transportation, installation, and maintenance. Modular designs are flexibile in capacity upgrades and grid expansion, reducing costs and improving overall system reliability. However, this process is far from automation and still quite exhaustive. Besides, rapid testing of transformer efficiency due to design changes by simulations is more of a consultancy practice.
Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Techniques
There is a great interest in capitalizing transformers by focusing on advanced, alteranate, eco-friendly, and cost-efficient materials and manufacturing techniques. The development of advanced materials and manufacturing techniques will revolutionize transformer design and production. Nanocomposites, superconducting materials, and advanced insulation systems will enhance performance, reduce losses, and increase power density. Additive manufacturing technologies may also be employed to create complex transformer components with improved efficiency.
The ongoing global energy transition towards decarbonization and renewable energy sources will significantly impact the power transformer industry. There will be a growing demand for transformers capable of integrating large-scale renewable energy projects, such as offshore wind farms and solar power plants, into the grid, as well as supporting emerging technologies like hydrogen-based energy systems.
AI can facilitate integration of energy resources, optimize energy consumption, supply chain, and waste management models so that organizations and societies can make informed decisions, optimize resource usage, and drive sustainable practices across various domains, contributing to a more environmentally friendly and resilient future.
Overall, the future of the power transformer industry will be characterized by digitalization, sustainability, adaptability, and resilience. The industry will continue to innovate to meet the evolving energy landscape, ensuring efficient and reliable power transmission and distribution while contributing to a greener and more sustainable future. However, it is only by leveraging the power of data, can we actually achieve the said goals.