Are the benefits of digital integrated power transformers worth it? Smart transformers with exciting new technologies like Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI) are among the next generation of energy equipment hitting the market today. Many organizations are considering switching to these cutting-edge transformers, but are unsure about the pros and cons.
What are the benefits and drawbacks of adopting digital integrated power transformers? Which organizations should make the switch?
Benefits of Digital Integrated Power Transformers
Digital integrated power transformers offer several impressive benefits that can save time, reduce expenses, and improve performance. Thanks to the technology on board, digital integrated transformers are smarter than their conventional counterparts. As a result, they have some unique capabilities worth taking a look at.
Advanced Real-Time Monitoring and Control. One of the top benefits of digital integrated transformers is the ability to monitor and control the transformer remotely in real time. IoT sensors continuously report performance data any time the transformer is in operation. Therefore, facility managers can always see exactly how their transformers are performing, view maintenance alerts, and see data on factors like energy efficiency.
The ability to check in on a transformer’s performance remotely can save a significant amount of time and resources. For instance, a manager could deliver an operations update from anywhere around a large power plant or even from off site. This allows small teams to manage large networks of power infrastructure more effectively.
Predictive Maintenance and Outage Prevention. Real-time monitoring with IoT sensors allows facility managers to utilize a powerful feature on digital integrated power transformers—predictive maintenance. Research shows predictive maintenance can reduce downtime by up to 45% and eliminate up to 75% of breakdowns. It also reduces maintenance expenses, resulting in a high return on investment (ROI) over time.
With predictive maintenance, facility managers can ensure their smart transformers stay in top operating condition at all times. Monitoring and predictive maintenance combined also help prevent outages.
On one hand, predictive maintenance prevents breakdowns that result in lengthy, expensive downtime. Continuous monitoring also means facility managers can build up a large database of transformer performance. This information can reveal trends that show red flags for outages and potential risk factors.
Digital integrated power transformers’ predictive analytics capabilities are even more powerful with the help of AI. Facility managers can use AI to analyze performance data and deliver more accurate, detailed predictions for possible maintenance issues and outage risks.
Automated Energy Optimization. One unique feature of digital integrated power transformers is automated energy usage optimization. With AI analytics, smart transformers can adjust their behavior in real time.
Conventional transformers need manual intervention to adjust their power consumption. In contrast, smart transformers can do this autonomously. This means the transformer will always be optimized for efficient energy consumption, even if voltage fluctuates throughout the day.
Of course, one of the main functions of industrial transformers is ensuring balanced energy transmission throughout a plant, job site, or other facility. Smart transformers are effectively self-regulating, eliminating the need for employees to ensure the transformer is doing its job. As a result, organizations save money on excess energy consumption and save time manually controlling the transformer.
Improved Cybersecurity. Cybersecurity might not be the first function that comes to mind for an industrial transformer, but it is a vital part of modern energy infrastructure. Digital integrated power transformers are equipped with cutting-edge technologies like IoT and AI, which can help strengthen cybersecurity. This is part of a growing trend toward smart, resilient energy equipment.
Hackers know energy infrastructure is critical and vulnerable, making it a high-risk target. Recent high-profile cyberattacks are also increasing the risks facing energy infrastructure, such as the 2021 Colonial Pipeline attack. One of the top strategies for preventing cyber incidents is continuous threat monitoring for energy equipment.
Smart transformers already have the features to enable this. IoT and AI technology can monitor transformers for virtual threats as well as everyday metrics like performance or efficiency. For instance, if an unauthorized user attempts to power down a smart transformer, it can autonomously block the command using threat detection or report it to maintenance personnel.
Smart transformers are ideal for ensuring everyday energy security, as well. Their monitoring and predictive-maintenance capabilities minimize the risk of outages, so energy availability is more reliable.
Potential Drawbacks of Making the Switch
Are there any drawbacks to switching to digital integrated power transformers? They have several valuable benefits but may not be for everyone. There are a couple of important drawbacks worth considering.
Significant Initial Investment. The first and most obvious drawback is the initial investment required to switch to smart transformers. Buying a new transformer today is more expensive than ever due to ongoing supply chain issues.
Research shows the cost of a large transformer has increased 50% since 2020. The price of a smart transformer is also higher than a conventional one. Even after purchase, customers wait a year or more to receive their orders due to delays throughout the supply chain.
These factors make investing in new digital integrated power transformers quite expensive. For large organizations, the cost may be worth it. However, many organizations need more resources to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on a new transformer. They also need to factor in installation costs and necessary downtime, further increasing the initial investment. For these businesses, waiting a year or two and seeing if prices go down may be worth it.
Time and Resources to Train Employees. Employee training is another important factor to consider. All the technology in smart transformers is highly useful, but most employees will need to learn how to use it at first.
As a result, workers will need training and guidance for some time to gain confidence with the new equipment. This requires time and resources, and may result in lower productivity at first. Some organizations may not be able to spare the employees or hours required to implement an effective training program.
However, it is worth noting that nearly every industry is experiencing some level of digital transformation today. It will inevitably be necessary to train staff to use new technologies sooner or later. It may be worth it to get a head start by adopting a digital integrated power transformer and learning to create efficient employee training programs. This may only be feasible for some companies, but it is worth considering either way.
Should You Switch to Digital Integrated Power Transformers?
Knowing the potential pros and cons, should organizations switch to smart transformers? For most organizations, the answer is yes, assuming they have the necessary resources to invest in new equipment. The benefits of adopting smart transformers will pay off significantly in the short and long term.
Supply chain issues do create some notable cost drawbacks to switching to digital integrated power transformers. For organizations that are on the fence, it may be worth waiting to see if shortages and delays cool down over the next year or so.
—Emily Newton is an industrial journalist who regularly covers stories for the utilities and energy sectors. She is also Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized.