The Internet of Energy is on its way: Just like the networked systems and machinery in the industrial sector – known as the Internet of Things (IoT) – more and more elements in the energy industry are being equipped with new, digital functions. Siemens is pioneering this development: The Energy Management (EM) Division recently introduced the world's first digital transformer. From local grid transformers to high-performance power transformers, Siemens will deliver all future models equipped per default with intelligence and connectivity. This will optimize the operation of electricity grids, allowing utilization to be planned ahead and opening up new servicing and maintenance models, which in future will be implemented via apps and data transfer to the cloud.
Innovation boost in the Energy Industry
According to Siemens experts in the energy sector, Sensformer – as the digital transformer is called – will trigger an innovation boost similar to the replacement of the mobile phone with the smartphone. Whereas transformers are still used exclusively to regulate voltage and current between different power supply units, Sensformers deliver additional data about their operating status to the cloud, where it is analyzed by apps.
"Externally, the Sensformer has not changed very much in comparison to traditional transformers," explains Puneet Harminder Singh, application manager in the Energy Management (EM) Division. In principle, Sensformer with sensors and connectivity device represent a new product class of transformer. “Our domain know-how has made it possible for us to expand the existing physics with information to make it ready for the digital age." The Sensformer comes pre-equipped with sensors that measure the oil level, oil temperature and the winding current on the low-voltage side in real time. A GPS transmitter determines the exact position of the Sensformer. Singh explains: “In our opinion these are the basic signals that are sufficient to get a compelling, high level overview of the operating status of the unit on your mobile device – in real-time.” All the data generated by the sensors are transmitted to the cloud via the Sensformer connectivity device. Data is transferred using the GSM communications standard or via the Ethernet, if the Sensformer can be connected by cable in a substation environment. The choice for GSM was made because it is the most secure and robust means of communication available today.
Sensformer will trigger an innovation boost similar to the replacement of the mobile phone with the smartphone.
Information Hubs for Power Grid Operators
In addition to their primary task of transforming voltage, Sensformers will then also be able to act as information hubs for the power grid operators, who are in need of new solutions to fuel the three D's of energy supply: decarbonization, decentralization and digitalization. The power industry is currently undergoing an epochal change: The ambitious goal of drastically reducing carbon dioxide emissions to counteract climate change can only be achieved by significantly increasing the production of electricity from renewable energy sources. This goes hand in hand with the decentralization of power generation. Germany is a good example for this development: In the 1990s, the country's electricity was generated by approximately 1,000 large-scale power stations. Today, some 1.7 million generators feed power into the grid. As before, these power generators are still large-scale coal, gas and nuclear power stations, but now also high-capacity wind farms, individual wind turbines, solar farms, photovoltaic systems on residential buildings, biomass plants in agricultural operations, hydroelectric plants and others. And more and more participants will be joining them: In the near future, buildings and electric cars will not only consume electricity but also serve as temporary storage facilities.
To allow the network operators and energy producers to manage this new electricity landscape automatically, a digital layer is gradually being superimposed over the physical infrastructure. Sensformers play a key role in this process. “Once Siemens had decided to build the digital transformer, we also wanted to be the first on the market. We succeeded in developing the new product within just over six months,” comments Singh. Another requirement was to build the Sensformer as simply and cost-effectively as possible. The developers were successful in this regard, too: “Customers can easily implement the Sensformer into their existing infrastructures, and pay no extra price for the newly added intelligence and functionality," says Singh.
Lower Risk of Blackouts
The strongly fluctuating loads associated with the unpredictable generation of renewable energy influence the loads on the transformers and - if the loads are heavy - the transformers can overheat. The Sensformer can now communicate this status by measuring the oil temperature and winding current and sending the results to the cloud. Improved load distribution will help prevent damage, including blackouts. Even if a Sensformer were to break down, its location can be quickly identified. This is especially important in remote areas so that the service technicians can be immediately dispatched to carry out repairs, thereby minimizing the risk of a blackout.
According to product manager Singh, the data collected and analyzed by the Sensformer can help tailor future devices more accurately to the respective requirements. “So far, we don’t even know whether a transformer is perhaps completely oversized for certain sections of the grid and a much simpler design might be sufficient," he explains. He is certain that new insights obtained during the service life of the Sensformer will lead to improvements in all areas: From design and asset management to material sciences – the digital metamorphosis of the traditional transformer has only just begun.
“Transformers have so far been a black box in power supply systems," says Singh. By equipping them with intelligence and connecting them with the digital layer, Siemens is transforming them into an indispensable source of information. Easy to implement and use, they will support power system operators and energy companies on the road to digitalization
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