ABB representatives testified before Congress at a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee hearing and met with policymakers this week regarding minimizing grid vulnerabilities.
The United States is more dependent than ever on reliable electric power for residential, commercial and industrial use as well as strategic security. However, a natural disaster or terrorist attack on the grid could result in widespread power outages and significant economic losses for the nation.
In its latest edition of the “Large Power Transformers and the U.S. Electric Grid” report, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) addressed issues around how the loss of large power transformers (LPTs) could result in exposure to the grid leading to the consequences mentioned above.
The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) also recently issued a first draft of a reliability standard for physical security measures (CIP-014-1). These standards mandate that all electric utilities identify and protect critical substations within their system, directly addressing critical equipment security such as these LPTs. The nation’s ability to maintain a strategic reserve of LPTs was therefore one of the topics on the meeting’s agenda.
“Large power transformers carry almost 70 percent of the nation’s electric power. They are essential to maintaining grid reliability,” said Emily Heitman, Vice President and General Manager of Commercial Operations for Medium and Large Power Transformers in North America. “Replacement of these LPTs can take anywhere from 12 to 24 months. This could be especially disruptive during a widespread outage where multiple transformers need replacement. Quick access to spare LPTs would dramatically reduce the risk of a prolonged outage.”
To further support electrical utilities and address the DOE’s concerns, ABB is launching a "Transformer and Grid Resiliency and Recovery" initiative. ABB’s capabilities can play a crucial role in restoring the power grid after a disaster. The new initiative will cover at least five key strategic elements:
- Assessment – Ability to launch multiple on-site assessments for utilities to determine accurate scope of the electrical grid damage
- Hardening – Provide hardened transformers and grid equipment that can withstand extreme conditions or attacks
- Monitoring – Onsite monitoring for utilities to determine power disruptions in real time on a local, regional and national scale
- Rapid Repair – Quickly restore large power transformers and critical substation equipment following a major manmade or natural event
- Rapid Replacement – When repairs cannot be performed, rapid replacement greatly decreases the amount of time required to replace LPTs and restore power to the grid.
In recent years, ABB has partnered with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Electric Power Research Institute and Houston-based transmission and distribution utility CenterPoint Energy to develop a tested prototype rapid recovery transformer known as “RecX.”
The “RecX” spare transformer could conceptually be transported and installed to replace a failed large power transformer in about a week as opposed to several months. The next generation of this concept includes higher ratings and the “hardened” designs of the resiliency initiative, allowing utilities the availability of the most reliable innovations for LPTs that are easily transportable.
“The possibility of rapid recovery transformers, coupled with wider access to spare large power transformers, will better prepare our power grid for an emergency situation,” said Craig Stiegemeier, Transformer Technology Director for ABB in North America.