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Specialist Materials for Industry and Science

Why we should be talking about ageing transformer fleets

Why we should be talking about ageing transformer fleets


urban energy transformer safety

It takes a lot to keep the lights on. Fuelled by global population growth, energy demand is on the up, and so is the world’s appetite for an uninterrupted power supply.

In the US and Europe, an industrial growth boom from the 1950s to 1980s led to significant investments in critical infrastructure, particularly in electrical power grids. But while demand for power has continued to rise, those investments have failed to keep pace. Skyrocketing costs have been a major contributing factor; the average transformer cost has risen by 5.5% annually for around 20 years, equivalent to a 100% increase in the cost of a large transformer every 20 years.

An ageing population

Deterred by these costs, investors have embarked on a risky strategy. Rather than upgrading the transformer fleets, they are ever more reliant on the existing assets to do a job that becomes more demanding with each passing year.

But an ageing population cannot be neglected. As they move through their life cycles, transformers require costly utility component replacements and safety system upgrades, while the very real threat of failure grows ever stronger.

Growing with this risk of transformer failure is the threat of transformer fire. The impact of such a blaze can go far beyond asset failure and loss – with power outages, evacuations of the surrounding areas and even risk to life in urban areas.

A fluid solution

A change in transformer fluids will be key to protecting against this growing fire risk and extending the life of transformers.

For many years, mineral oil has been used both for cooling and electrical insulation in transformers.

It has been largely effective, but rising electrical loads in power transmission equipment have exposed the shortcomings of this fluid.

Where performance used to stand as the primary goal, safety has now joined it at the forefront of the transformer agenda, and with it the demand for fire-safe transformer fluids is growing.

An alternative to mineral oil, synthetic and natural ester fluids can meet both the performance and safety demands of the ageing transformer fleets.

Ester fluids are fire-safe, and can minimise or even eliminate the risk of transformer fire.  With a high moisture tolerance, they can absorb greater amounts of water than mineral oil, and even allow transformers to run at higher temperatures.

In addition to addressing this fire risk, ester fluids will extend the life-cycle of transformers, easing the challenge of costly infrastructure upgrades and ensuring that the lights don’t go out.

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