This article was originally published by The Hill on December 9, 2022.
In early December, 45,000 residents in North Carolina went without power after unknown saboteurs fired on critical electric transformers. Due to our current transformer shortage, it will take days to fully restore power and replacements will likely cost millions of dollars. This attack clearly demonstrates the vulnerabilities faced by the electric grid and the urgent need for Congress to allocate funds toward solving the present national deficit of electrical transformers. Supporting a resilient supply chain and emergency response is critical to ensuring a functioning grid that can withstand such crises.
Electrical transformers are the core components and unsung heroes of our nation’s 65,000 electricity substations. They are the equipment that enables our grid to move power efficiently and reliably over long distances and then bring it into our homes at safe levels. Their necessity makes the severe shortage we face so alarming, which is why swift federal action is needed.
Offshoring, supply chain delays, COVID-related energy load fluctuations, and a rise in extreme weather have all contributed to this worrisome scarcity. Transformers are now more expensive to purchase, take longer to order, and are more frequently produced abroad. This, in turn, threatens grid resiliency, national security, and our prospects for a clean energy future.
To fully grasp their widespread significance, it is helpful to understand the differences between the two primary types of transformers. First, we have large power transformers. These are 600,000+ lbs. behemoths that take bulk power sent from a generator and step down the voltage at regional substations to allow for local delivery.
Pool top transformers—the ubiquitous gray cylinders that sit atop our streets’ utility pole—may be familiar to the average American. These convert power to a safe level we can use for everyday tasks.Transformers are the backbone of the grid, the often overlooked but integral intermediaries that enable the system to move power efficiently and safely.