Column: Transformers and the energy system transition
Having spent most of my career in the engineering and asset management of transformers working for National Grid in the UK, I have taken the opportunity of moving into the academic world as a professor at the University of Manchester. National Grid gave me fantastic opportunities to work with transformer manufacturers and see many transformer factories around the world. As well as having to understand how transformers fit into the wider transmission system and substation infrastructure in particular, I had to play my part in ensuring they were reliable, safe and economic over their lifetimes. Through IEC (I had the great privilege of being chair of IEC TC14 2008-2017) and CIGRE, I was lucky enough to be able to work with colleagues from other utilities, academics and suppliers, to help the industry with standards and research, something I continue as well as taking the opportunity to develop a broader view.
You certainly don’t have to look too far to understand that the world faces an extreme challenge in reducing its net carbon emissions to zero in the next two decades or so to limit the effects of climate change. I am indebted to my colleagues at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research for bringing this issue into sharp focus for me. This means that we need to go further than the reduced carbon technologies already implemented in many countries such as the switch from coal to gas and improved energy efficiency, to embrace fully carbon emissions free energy in all areas including heating and transport. Nations and individual cities are stepping up to this challenge for example Manchester in the UK has recently published its strategy for becoming carbon neutral by 2038. There are of course many social, economic and engineering challenges to overcome to achieve this goal, but it is feasible. Fortunately, in the electricity transmission and distribution systems we already have an excellent and well-developed method of supplying energy irrespective of the means of generating it. Transformers will play a vital role in this energy system transition and be critical components in the backbone of our energy exchange system for many decades to come.