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Virginia Transformer Utilizes Cost-Optimization to Enhance Viability of Alternative Energy


  • 03 2011 16
    Roanoke, VAThe primary obstacle for renewable energy to overcome is cost. At present, the vast majority of renewable energy projects are simply not competitive in price with traditional energy sources. Without subsidies or tax credits, renewable energy is not generally a cost-efficient means of providing power, and even with them it struggles to compete on price. Therefore, the viability of renewable sources depends on the industry successfully finding ways to reduce costs and create more efficient operations."First, to do the best job of meeting our customers            At Virginia Transformer, we are already aware of this fact, and are already creating solutions to the problem.  Virginia Transformer has been involved in providing transformers for renewable energy projects for almost two decades, and so we’re familiar with the specific challenges that renewable energy presents.  Our extensive experience in this market has led us to conclude that the three most important factors for enhancing the viability of renewable energy projects are as follows:

    1 – Cost-efficient designs

    2 -  Flexibility

    3 -  Reliability through Innovation

    Cost-Efficient Designs

                Renewable energy projects do not look like, nor operate like, traditional energy projects.  Efficient power collection, transmission, and distribution for a wind or solar farm is different than it is for a coal mine or an oil rig.  Therefore, when designing these projects, when designing equipment for these projects, including power transformers, each specific project has its own specific requirements.  Our unparalleled experience in custom transformer design is one of the main reasons that a number of major renewable energy companies, like Juhl Wind and BP, have chosen Virginia Transformer to supply all the various kinds of transformers needed for their projects.  We custom design and build every transformer we make.  We don’t produce any “cookie cutter” models.  The reason for that is because you can’t just pull a standard power transformer off a shelf and stick it in a wind tower.  It won’t fit, it will be too heavy, and it certainly won’t be the most cost-efficient possible design.  For each transformer that we manufacture, before the plans ever get to the shop, we first run our own, in-house, cost-optimization program on the design.  This program enables us to look at a variety of designs, all of which meet the project’s specifications, but which offer various advantages in terms of cost, operational efficiency, load losses, etc.  We look at not just what the initial cost will be, but also at the ongoing operating cost, because you’re usually looking at calculating equipment operating costs over a 20 or 30 year span of time.  This cost-optimization calculation done during the design phase is aimed at providing the project developer with two things – One, the most cost-efficient power transformer for the specific job, and two, choices.  Flexibility.



                Flexibility, in terms of overall project design, and in terms of equipment and materials, is the second major component that can significantly reduce costs.  For example, as an alternative to the popular biodegradable FR3 fluid for liquid-filled transformers, we offer our customers a less expensive alternative – Beta fluid, which, in addition to being less expensive, also happens to be fractionally more readily biodegradable than FR3.  The mindset at Virginia Transformer, and the mindset that we feel is critical to the success of renewable energy projects, is one of continually exploring alternatives – Looking at, “Is there a better way to do this?  Is there an easier way?  A less expensive way?  A way that produces more long-term reliability?”  Again, this attitude flows naturally from our orientation as a custom design manufacturer.  We aren’t afraid to experiment, because we thoroughly test every design through a variety of computer simulation programs before it ever approaches the manufacturing phase.  Our goal is, quite simply, for every transformer we build to be better than the one built just before it.  To that end, we are continually adopting and adapting computer-guided design and manufacturing programs, streamlined quality control processes, new equipment, new materials, new training programs for our employees, and new means of communicating more efficiently with our customers (through things like providing 3-D design drawings that help them more easily visualize exactly what their transformer will look like when finished).

                Flexibility and the ability to adapt to changing market needs pertain to every aspect of the production and transmission of electric power.  For instance, solar power projects commonly use transformers that are significantly larger than those regularly utilized by public utility companies – 50-60 MVA rather than 15-20MVA.  Specifically to meet this need, we have steadily expanded the handling capabilities at two of our three North American manufacturing facilities to enable us to easily produce these larger transformers.


    Reliability through Innovation

                Renewable energy itself is an innovation in the production of electric power, and to provide these alternative energy sources in a cost-efficient manner requires innovation at all levels of design and manufacturing.  For Virginia Transformer, this has been an easier transition to make because of our history and expertise in custom design.  We’ve been innovating, every step of the way, in our 40 year history as a company.  By custom designing each and every unit to produce, transmit, or distribute power in the most efficient way possible – by trying, testing, and perfecting the best materials and processes – by having a history of over 12,000 designs and tests to draw on, we’re able to produce transformers that exactly match the needs of a specific project.  This reduces initial costs, installation costs, and operating costs.

                We encourage innovation in-house.  A number of the design programs we use are not programs we bought off a shelf at a computer store, but programs created by our own staff of highly-trained engineers.  All of the employees who perform the critical transformer windings are specially trained to do specific types of windings.  This kind of training in and of itself is an innovative, cost-saving measure.  Because every winding is done by someone who is an expert in that specific type of winding, they can complete the windings in less time, and with higher quality.

                This kind of innovation is really as simple as making a commitment, and at Virginia Transformer, we’ve made that commitment.  Not just verbally, but practically, by doing things like continually reviewing company processes in every department – Sales, Engineering, Manufacturing, and Field Service – to see how they can be improved and streamlined.  Since taking over in 1982, our company president, Prab Jain, has stressed a two-pronged approach, “First, to do the best job of meeting our customers’ needs now, and secondly, to look ahead and plan for meeting the energy market needs for ten years from now.”

                In conclusion, the way to move renewable energy from “the power source of tomorrow” to “the power source of today” is through a relentless focus on reducing cost - at the design level of each project, and through innovative thinking and the flexibility to adapt to specific needs and to try new materials and processes.  Virginia Transformer has been involved in meeting this challenge for many years now.  We understand these challenges, and we work with our customers to provide innovative, cost-saving solutions. Sursa: renewableenergyworld.com