Transforming transformers

12 July 2023

Digitalised transformers will have an important role to play in the future electricity grid.

Above: One of the new ‘smart’ transformers being installed by UK Power Networks

As a further step in creating an “ecosystem for transformer digitalisation”, Hitachi Energy has launched “next generation” TXpert Hub, which facilitates the monitoring of transformers by aggregating, storing, and analysing information received from a transformer’s digital sensors.

The new offering is said to be “built on the solid foundation of Hitachi Energy’s journey of pioneering innovation in this field for more than 30 years and is conceived to simplify digitalisation for any transformer, with enhanced connectivity and cybersecurity.”

“Electricity will be the backbone of the entire energy system driven by the energy transition” and digitalisation is the only way to manage the increased complexity that will entail, as it can deliver “the necessary visibility and agility to enable fast data-driven decision-making,” said Bruno Melles, Managing Director of the Transformers Business at Hitachi Energy. “Digitalisation is becoming crucial to transformers due to their pivotal role in enabling efficient, reliable and safe electricity networks, managing power quality and flow control to fit the needs of today and tomorrow.”

The next generation TXpert Hub, powered by Hitachi’s CoreTec transformer condition monitoring technology, has been built from the ground up to facilitate transformer digitalisation, says Hitachi Energy, promising “digitalisation for every transformer”, with a focus on: incorporating the operating experience of users of earlier versions of the system; applying the latest communications and cyber security technologies; and readiness for off-the-shelf retrofits.

According to Hitachi Energy, TXpert Hub delivers “tangible impact”, makes “digital real” and as well as making digitalisation of transformers easier, renders it more effective and secure. And “whatever the type of transformer it may be – old, new, dry, or liquid-filled, transmission or distribution – the TXpert ecosystem is applicable to it.”

Based on the experience of manufacturing and servicing thousands of transformers, the “manufacturer-agnostic” TXpert ecosystem, “delivers actionable, data-driven insights with a real impact on reducing costs, optimising operations, and extending life expectancy.”

As well as the TXpert Hub monitoring system, the TXpert ecosystem includes TXpert-ready digital sensors, eg, for temperature, DGA (dissolved gas analysis), bushings, etc, from an extensive list of proven TXpert-ready third-party sensors, asset performance management software, which uses the data to provide “actionable insights” and TXpert advanced services, providing further expert insights.

Overall, says Hitachi Energy, the actionable intelligence delivered by TXpert leads to a quantifiable return on investment via optimisation, prediction, planning (of asset utilisation and maintenance management) and preventive maintenance (condition-based rather than time-based).

ABB’s recent investment in Danish start-up OKTO GRID also reflects the potential it sees in the continuing development of transformer digitalisation.

“OKTO GRID is on a mission to digitalise transformers to handle new energy sources and rising energy consumption,” said Golam Sadeghnia, its CEO. “Our solution, which works independently of transformer type, make, and age of the transformer, is mounted without downtime or any tooling required. To the best of our knowledge, we are unique in the market with this combination. Partnering with ABB will be key to accelerating market adoption, given ABB’s global footprint, technology leadership and domain expertise.”

OKTO GRID says its technology digitalises electrical infrastructure “to enable real-time, remote condition and performance monitoring to prolong working life by another 40 years.”

“I am confident that ABB’s investment in OKTO GRID, when combined with our technology and in-depth industry insights, will help industry leapfrog the much-needed upgrade to aging electrical grids to meet the demands for higher power performance, reliability and availability,” said Stuart Thompson, Electrification Service Division President, ABB.

OKTO GRID describes itself as a “company specialised in the digitalisation of electricity assets to boost the predictive maintenance of infrastructure.”

In 2019 it started developing an IoT device that captures four different data types non-invasively from electrical infrastructure assets, with a primary focus on transformers. The data is then analysed using OKTO GRID’s proprietary algorithms for detecting anomalies and certain events related to the assets’ operation. “The combination of a physical device, data capture, and analysis methods has given rise to several patent applications”, says the company, which “currently has customers in five European countries using the solution in a demonstration phase.”

Meanwhile, in the UK, at the distribution level, what is described as a “world-first smart transformer trial” will shortly be underway.

UK Power Network’s Project Stratus will see “smart electricity transformers” installed within existing substations at Uckfield and New Romney in East Sussex, UK, which, if successful, will “provide live data on electricity usage and demand on a scale never-before achieved”, helping the company “increase network resilience and lay the groundwork for a low carbon future.”

Using state-of-the-art power electronic technologies, the smart transformers can flexibly adapt to “make sure power is directed when and where it is needed, balancing load on the network, and protecting against multiple kinds of potential faults”, says UK Power Networks.

“In a world of electric vehicles and decarbonised heating, this enhanced visibility and control of our network will allow us to efficiently manage the existing network infrastructure which was never designed for this increased load”, said Ian Cameron, director of customer service and innovation at UK Power Networks.

With greater visibility of the low voltage network, UK Power Networks says it will be able to release more energy into the network during times of peak electricity demand. It also notes that the Stratus optimisation algorithm can “seamlessly meet the changing needs of customers at different points of the day, without disrupting their energy supply.”

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