Efficient Distribution Transformers Save Energy






Distribution transformers are the second largest loss-making component in electricity networks.Transformers are relatively simple to replace and their efficiency can easily be classified, standardized and labelled. Moreover, modern and demonstrated technology exists to reduce losses by up to 80%. The saving potential is estimated to be 200 TWh per year, equivalent to 130 million tonnes of CO2 emissions globally. Australia, China, Europe, Japan, India, Canada and the USA have already taken varying levels of action to improve the efficiency of transformers. Setting minimum efficiency performance standards and voluntary schemes to define premium levels of efficiency are examples of possible measures.


The idea: 

Replacing all distribution transformers with energy efficient models could save 200 TWh a year, equivalent to 130 million tonnes of CO2 emissions globally. High efficiency transformers are a mature technology with their economic and environmental benefits clearly demonstrated. Their higher initial cost can be recovered several times by reduced running costs, and yet, many distribution transformers are still chosen on the basis of the lowest purchasing price.

The purchasing situation is where utilities can prioritize energy efficiency, but they lack sufficient incentives to make economically and ecologically optimum long term decisions. Energy efficiency levels are low since the cost of energy losses can be passed on to their customers, and price regulations make it difficult for utilities to earn a return on investing in high energy efficiency transformers.

In the industrial transformer market high efficiency transformers would seem to be more attractive since the company has to pay for the energy losses itself. However, transformers in industry are usually purchased by contractors or third parties, who often evaluate the equipment on the basis of the purchasing cost, and who are seldom asked to focus on energy efficiency by their industrial clients.

The principle of Total Cost of Ownership will, in most cases, lead to the selection of high efficiency transformers. The steps to promote this principle depend largely on existing local practices and policies. While there are some successful cases of voluntary programs promoting transformer efficiency, regulation is usually required to realise the economic and environmental benefits available. Particularly the Australian and Japanese programs, which are strongly linked to achieving the goals of the Kyoto protocol, merit attention.

The following recommendations for policy makers can be made:

1. Set minimum efficiency performance standards in order to achieve a global objective of removing the worst products from the market.

2. Identify and implement a worldwide benchmark on efficiency standards that can help to define adequate performance levels and raise all countries to a similar level. A periodic review process into the development of regulations should be considered.

3. Set up a voluntary scheme to define state of the art levels of efficiency, preferably in the context of a broader programme for energy conservation. If such programmes already exist, then include distribution transformers in it.

4. Whatever program is chosen, ensure it contains a clear product labelling requirement.

5. Design regulatory schemes to ensure that investment can be made at minimum life-cycle cost.