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DOE finalizes energy efficiency standards for distribution transformers

The US Department of Energy (DOE) finalized Congressionally-mandated energy efficiency standards for distribution transformers—including liquid-immersed, low-voltage dry-type, and medium-voltage dry-type equipment—to increase the resiliency and efficiency of America’s power grid.

Following the release of the proposed rule last year, DOE adjusted the final standards based on extensive stakeholder engagement to ensure continued growth opportunities for domestic steel production and provide the longer compliance timeframe of five years.

The updated final standards can primarily be met with grain-oriented electrical steel (GOES) (earlier post), the majority of which will be manufactured in the United States. A small segment of the market will be met with amorphous alloy, also expected to be manufactured in the United States.

While the initial proposal would likely have represented about a 95% market shift to amorphous alloy, under the final rule about 75% of the market will be able to achieve the standards with GOES. The final rule also extends the compliance timeline from three years to five years.

DOE said that the changes are responsive to significant stakeholder concerns about the feasibility challenges presented by the originally proposed efficiency levels, including the magnitude of anticipated workforce reskilling. The final rule gives manufacturers more flexibility to meet modest efficiency increases as distribution manufacturers prepare existing and develop new manufacturing lines to increase the nation’s total distribution transformer manufacturing capacity.

Distribution transformers convert high-voltage electricity from power generation sources to levels safe enough to be utilized by homes and businesses. More than 60 million distribution transformers are mounted on utility poles and pads across the nation, operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and remaining in use for many decades. Improvements to their efficiency will reduce wasted energy on the power grid and provide significant energy savings.

These standards are expected to protect existing domestic supply of core materials used in distribution transformers, increasing resiliency in the distribution transformer supply chain, while preserving steel union manufacturing jobs in Pennsylvania and Ohio. The GOES production at these same locations will also benefit from DOE’s recent $75-million grant for furnace upgrades to slash carbon emissions, which are expected to make US domestic GOES amongst the lowest emission GOES in the world.

Transformers are crucial components in grid modernization and are increasingly needed for stepping down power for electric vehicle chargers. A recent study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) projects a tripling of distribution transformer installations by 2050. These adopted standards balance the supply chain concerns of installation increases, while making strides in efficiency gains of these units.

The efficiency standards being adopted for distribution transformersconsider feedback from a diverse set of stakeholders, including manufacturers, the manufacturing trade association, union workers, energy and environmental advocacy groups, state officials, and utility organizations and companies.

In response to the DOE final rule on distribution transformer efficiency, National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) ePresident and CEO Debra Phillips said:

DOE’s initial proposed energy efficiency rule for distribution transformers was burdensome and unnecessary, exacerbating an already strained electrical grid and slowing planned grid resiliency, construction and e-mobility projects across the country.

NEMA has thoroughly reviewed DOE’s final rule through the multiple lenses of grid reliability, supply chain certainty, and energy efficiency. We appreciate that the Biden Administration and DOE have worked constructively with stakeholders in recognizing the critical role that distribution transformers play in our nation’s ability to deliver electricity to all Americans.

We are pleased that DOE has recognized our concerns that the proposed rule would have triggered needless supply chain disruptions. In response, the Department has provided a better compliance timeframe, and in some instances, flexibility to provisions that would have required transformer manufacturers to switch from using industry-standard grain oriented electrical steel (GOES) to amorphous steel.

However, some provisions in the rule remain problematic. Certain types of transformers will now be required to be manufactured with amorphous steel, for which there is neither a reliable domestic supply nor a proven efficiency gain. We are also concerned that a five-year compliance timeline will challenge the industry’s ability to retool a critical supply chain, further delaying transformer deliveries.



With the falling cost of renewables, the next challenge is the grid, and upping that enough has both technical and institutional barriers.
Here is the US, although the problems are elsewhere including in Europe too:

In my view in many places in the US in addition to the possibility in off grid locations of storing renewables as hydrogen, storage overnight mainly of solar in compressed CO2 as developed by Energy Dome is likely to be perfectly practical.

The first full size 200MWh/20MW is due to be completed before the end of the year, so we will be able to arrive at a more definitive assessment before long, and they are easy to produce in volume as it is all industry standard components

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