Column: Market review
Soft market issues
The growths and declines of transformer market through the decades have been driven by grid expansions, global economic crises and in recent years by emerging distributed generation, energy efficiency initiatives, and sophisticated control through smart grid and FACT systems. Every aspect of transformer design and use has evolved and will continue to evolve over the coming decades. Due to price pressure and competition, transformers are nowadays built more compactly with reduced usage of materials which consequently gives rise to quality issues. Sophisticated network management complicates the definition of requirements placed on the transformer and the definition based solely on the lowest price is no longer sufficient.
Keywords: transformer market, efficiency standards, smart grids, product specification, duty requirements
Previous editions of this column have lead heavily on hard statistical data and market metrics covering production values, trade values and the resulting changes in markets that have been substantive in nature. In this edition we take a look at the softer issues that impact upon markets and market development.
Broadly these issues are:
- Price and competitive pressures
- Efficiency standards and requirements
- Product specification
- Manufacturing build quality
- Operational duty requirements
Since the global industry adopted an Alternating Current (AC) system rather than a Direct Current (DC) system for electricity transmission and distribution, transformers have been at the heart of the networks. In fact, one of the major reasons why George Westinghouse – proponent of AC systems – prevailed over Thomas Edison – proponent of the DC – in the 1880s was the fact that electricity can be easily transformed from one voltage level to another, and thus be transmitted over long distances at high voltage and low currents whilst keeping losses low.
The basic design concept of two sets of windings on an iron core, which held true in 1880, is just about the only thing that has remained unchanged since those times. The expectations of a transformer in a modern network, whether it be for generator step-up, transmission or distribution use, have resulted in technically advanced highly engineered products, operating at voltages and efficiency levels that would not have been dreamed of nearly 140 years ago.
Does that mean that we now have reached the pinnacle of transformer design – a product that is 100 % failsafe, efficient, reliable and cost effective? Even the most bullish of commentators would accept that this is far from the case. Designs are still evolving; improvements are being made and evermore things are being expected of the transformers.
Even the advent of HVDC systems, which would have given enormous pleasure to Thomas Edison, has resulted in an even greater demand for transformers and other wound products in the form of reactors, phase shifting transformers and other auxiliary and conditioning products.
So, in broad terms, transformers will continue to be at the very heart of the worlds’ transmission and distribution networks, but nearly every aspect of their design and use has evolved and will continue to evolve over the coming decades.