In what represents a major step toward modernizing the foundation of the U.S. grid, GE Research and Prolec GE have teamed with Cooperative Energy to develop and install the world’s first flexible large power transformer at the utility’s major substation in Columbia, Mississippi. This substation is part of a service network that delivers power to nearly a half million homes and businesses across Mississippi.
The transformer, rated at 165kV, 60/80/100 MVA and developed as part of an ongoing project funded through the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Electricity, has begun six months of field validation to assess its performance and understand how this new technology could transform grid management in the future.
Transformers are part of the backbone of electricity grids, regulating the flow of power from generation plants, where electricity is produced, through transmission and distribution power lines to be delivered to people’s homes and businesses. Historically, the existing infrastructure has performed reliably well. But as higher percentages of renewables like wind and solar power come online, new transformers, with much greater flexibility in impedance, will be required to support the grid in voltage regulation, stability, fault management, and transmission lines restoration and resiliency. This new large flexible transformer technology is poised to help meet this need.
“The Department of Energy’s US$2.4 million investment to develop this first-of-its-kind flexible transformer will help make the grid more resilient to severe weather events, more secure from cyberattacks, and handle more clean energy sources to power the places we live and work,” said Jennifer M. Granholm, secretary of energy. “It’s yet another example of the innovation that’s possible when the public and private sectors collaborate to build new technologies here at home that improve the well-being of the American people.”
“Strengthening our grid and facilitating the transition to a more renewable-intensive energy portfolio will require a more flexible infrastructure, including transformers, to manage the wider range of voltage and frequency oscillation that utility operators will see,” said Ibrahima Ndiaye, Technology Manager at GE Research Center and project leader. “Our flexible large power transformer, a world- first, will deliver unprecedented flexibility to not only manage more dynamic grids, but do so in a way that could revolutionize the resiliency of the grid in fault management, spare coverage and adaptability for grid restoration.”
“Cooperative Energy, as a member-focused electric cooperative, is continually working to update and maintain our transmission system, thus ensuring its resilience and reliability,” said Jeff C. Bowman, president and CEO of Cooperative Energy. “Advanced hardware and grid components such as the flexible large power transformer will help us meet many of the challenges our industry faces, now and in the future, and ensure reliable service. It is an exciting opportunity for Cooperative Energy to aid in advancing the modernization of the nation’s electric grid.”
“After all the research, development and thorough testing, the new flexible transformer technology has begun a field validation to authenticate its performance and demonstrate how this technology could lead to a major grid management change, said Pedro Puente, R&D director at Prolec GE. “It is exciting for us to participate in the transformation of the nation’s electric grid, identifying the challenges and the opportunities that led us to create one of the next-generation technologies for the efficient, resilient, and reliable delivery of electricity. The innovative flexible impedance technology has been successfully patented.”
Ndiaye noted that the introduction of new transformer technologies is coming at a pivotal time for the nation’s grid infrastructure. Today, more than 70% of the U.S installed large transformer base (>60MVA) is 25-years or older, with around 15% exceeding the average life expectancy of 40 years. Gradual replacement of the existing fleet with more flexible power transformer solutions would greatly expand the grid capacity and accommodate more renewable resources and highly variable loads.
GE Research has been working closely with the Prolec GE team to develop the flexible transformer technology and partner with Cooperative Energy on the field demonstration.