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Energy efficiency is all about making the right decisions, now

A world of efficient transformers in the electricity infrastructure could have a big impact on mitigating carbon emissions

As climate change talks take place in Bonn, there is an agreed consensus about the important role of the energy efficiency in the mitigation of climate change. The Paris Agreement acknowledges that energy efficiency is critical to keeping global temperature rise ‘below 2 degrees’, along with renewable generation.

Energy efficiency is about decoupling global economic growth and energy use – in other words, stop wasting energy and do more with less. During the coming two decades, energy efficiency has the potential to contribute twice as much as it does today to reduce greenhouse emissions. It can help reduce fossil fuel generation and act as a catalyst for increasing the relative share of the renewables in the energy mix.

Electricity infrastructure around the world has tens of millions of transformers across the power value chain from generation through to transmission and distribution. These transformers enable the safe and efficient transmission and distribution of electrical power with optimised voltage level. The increased use of electricity and the need to connect distributed generation facilities to the grid means that the need for transformers is increasing. These transformers are among the biggest consumers of power as there so many.  In fact, the total amount of energy lost in the operation of transformers all over the world is close to the electricity consumption of the entire African continent.

Even relatively small improvements can significantly contribute to reducing energy consumption, due to the large number of transformers used in distribution systems and the large amount of energy passing through them. Today’s technologies and materials can make transformers a lot more efficient: individual transformers can provide energy savings of up to 60 percent.

But the shift to energy efficient transformers is not just about products but requires real government policy actions, not least because the electricity sector is heavily regulated in most countries. Energy efficiency policies that set minimum efficiency performance standards and encourage investment in energy efficiency are needed.

Some countries have started to take concrete actions to ensure reduction of energy losses by setting new regulations and standards defining the minimum allowed energy performance of transformers. The USA, European Union, China and Japan have minimum requirements on transformer energy performance. For instance, the European Commission is currently reviewing the existing first level of the European transformer energy efficiency regulation, which is in application since 2015. The next more ambitious regulation is set to come into force in 2021.

However, the majority of the countries do not have any kind of standards or regulations on transformer efficiency. In other cases, the ambition is just too low or the scope too limited. New requirements for improved energy performance can be a strong innovation driver for the industry and the whole value chain. This is leading some governments to revise existing regulations and local standards so that they are more ambitious.

Product choice is also important. Some transformer customers are already going beyond these minimal levels with even more efficient and environmental friendly products. ABB also offers transformers that use organic compounds, like ester insulation fluids based on synthetic or vegetable oil.  These are biodegradable, non-toxic and offer greater fire resistance than traditional mineral oils.

ABB is also working to move the sector towards more efficient transformers. It is also a key player in United for Efficiency (U4E), a public-private partnership led by the United Nations Environment Program and other major UN agencies. As the global market and technology leader in transformers, ABB offers U4E technology and unparalleled domain knowledge based on a global installed base second to none. Overall, the program aims for more than 10 percent combined savings of the electricity the world currently consumes.

A concrete outcome of the program, to date, is a guideline document that helps governments and policy makers promote efficient transformers in their local markets and offers insights into making a sustainable transformation. This will also support countries where the growth of electricity need and use is expected to be among the highest in the coming decades.  These emerging markets could potentially leapfrog from older technologies to more efficient and economical alternatives.

The move towards a low-carbon society requires collaboration and innovation. As the world’s largest provider of transformers, ABB is committed to make a difference.

Related links:

Web page: Energy efficiency in transformers 

This content is part of a series on sustainability topics that ABB is producing for the COP 23climate conference. ABB is proud to support global efforts to address climate change. Visit our special COP23 / sustainability website for  more information. 

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