ABB initiative to support power grid restoration after power outages

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ABB developed a new transformer and grid resiliency and recovery initiative to support utilities in the restoration of the bulk power system in the event of a physical attack or power disturbance.

The new initiative will allow utilities to assess, harden and monitor large power transformers (LPT) in preparation for a physical attack or natural disaster, as well as rapidly repair and replace transformers following a disruptive event.

“ABB has come up with a whole process for hardening transformers,” Craig Stiegemeier, technology director, ABB North American Transformer Remanufacturing and Engineering Services, told TransmissionHub on May 26. “We can perform an assessment of the physical layout of a substation to determine where it is vulnerable, and we will determine the most vulnerable elements and how we can make those elements harder to access.”

Craig said ABB also can add equipment to a LPT that is tuned to look for unusual events.

“Traditional transformer monitoring systems look at the load in the transformer, and anything that is expected to be normal,” he said. “We’ve developed algorithms that can look at those monitoring systems and determine if there’s something really unusual happening in order to avoid a catastrophic failure.”

That assessment, he added, allows the utility to isolate the damage, and if the damage is not recoverable, ABB can use its rapid recovery transformer (RecX) to replace a severely damaged LPT.

ABB in 2012 deployed its RecX prototype spare transformer in partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Electric Power Research Institute and CenterPoint Energy.

The RecX spare transformer is designed to be transported and installed in about a week.

Addressing a discussion draft bill on energy reliability and security during May 19 testimony before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, Emily Heitman, ABB vice president of commercial operations for medium and large power transformers, said that LPTs have production lead times of up to two years, while periodic material and component shortages can add to production delays.

The RecX units, she said, are considered interim power solutions pending the availability of permanent and customized replacement units.

“We believe the rapid recovery design concept is an important advance in our ability to restore power to the grid,” she said.

The Subcommittee on Energy and Power on May 7 released the discussion draft addressing energy reliability and security for consideration in the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s pending Architecture of Abundance energy legislation, which Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, unveiled during the 113th Congress.

In her May 19 testimony, Heitman said ABB supports a directive in the discussion draft that calls for the development of a national strategic transformer reserve. Section 1205 of the discussion draft would require the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), in consultation with NERC, to develop a plan for the strategic transformer reserve.

As proposed, DOE would submit a plan to Congress evaluating the feasibility of establishing a strategic transformer reserve for the storage, in strategically located facilities, of spare large power transformers in sufficient numbers to temporarily replace critically damaged large power transformers. The plan would include a description of the appropriate number of spare transformers and necessary total capacity in megawatts as well as potential locations for transformer storage and the ease and speed of transportation, installation and energization of spare transformers.

“It is important to recognize that even the new generally interoperable and rapidly deployable transformer only reduces the time it takes to transport and energize an LPT,” Heitman said in her testimony. “The manufacture of those units still takes months; should an event occur that requires a replacement transformer, if a replacement unit is not already built, utilities would still face a long delay.”

Heitman said that having appropriate reserves of LPTs, located at strategic points around the country, would fill a challenging gap in the timing of LPT repair and complement existing industry programs.

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