Transformers are critical in designing many large solar PV systems, whether stepping up the voltage to connect to a transmission grid or stepping it down for on-site use. However, they typically have the longest lead times for the delivery of any component in the system; thus, extra consideration must be given to your sourcing strategy.
Electrical utilities across the country and around the world are experiencing unprecedented supply chain issues for a wide range of electric distribution equipment, particularly distribution transformers. Supply chain disruptions are associated with global material demand, shortages driven by the pandemic, labor restrictions, transportation problems, and even the unrest in Ukraine. Large orders for pad-mounted transformers, which generally took between 6 and 12 weeks to complete in 2020, now have lead times ranging from 52 to 86 weeks.
Factors Behind Transformer Lead Times
Several booming industries are driving demand for both power and distribution transformers. Meta-Power Solutions observes substantial ongoing demand from established industries like oil & gas and utilities as well as newly developing, energy-intensive sectors like bitcoin mining. Many manufacturers have contracts with utilities, so production is prioritized for them and their large order volume. As a result of this growth, solar companies that require a single transformer for a project are often pushed to the bottom of the list.
Strong worldwide demand is another contributing factor; most utility-scale power transformers in the US are sourced from China, which also supplies stock to the Asia Pacific region. Over the next five years, APAC is expected to be the fastest-growing market for transformers, which will further constrain supply from outside the US.
Transformer Characteristics That Increase Lead Times
Buyers are increasingly requesting transformers with FR3, an environmentally friendly fluid with a high flash point. This is especially common when engineers design solar farms nearby water sources, where concerns over oil spills are high. This raises the cost of the transformer by around 20% while reducing environmental risk and typically resulting in a higher power factor.
Another common feature of transformers employed at solar power plants is electrostatic shielding. These models shield high and low-voltage coils to reduce voltage distortion and improve power quality.
From a service standpoint, several customers are demanding pad-mounted designs that move specific controls from the primary cabinet into a secondary, lockable compartment. This comprises the load break switch, bayonet fusing, thermometers, pressure gauges, liquid level gauges, and liquid drains. It is considerably safe to have these controls outside of the main cabinet for field technicians maintaining the units.
Are You Thinking Ahead?
There is a considerable lead time when it comes to finding the right site, securing permits, and designing the project. It is essential to consider transformer requirements from the early stages of development to ensure success.
One important factor is timeliness. Developers with projects in the planning stages can easily prearrange an order with a manufacturer like MPS to reserve manufacturing slots for a very low upfront cost. This allows the manufacturer to manage varying time constraints and adjust production as necessary according to their schedule. Keeping the conversation open with the manufacturer makes the design and delivery of equipment easier.
Furthermore, early engagement allows the developer to determine whether a transformer is appropriately designed, tested, and suitable for the specific solar project requirements. If the customer buys equipment only on the basis of the price at the last minute, they run the risk of receiving the product late and possibly getting a transformer that won’t function at its best over the system’s lifespan. Additionally, it’s imperative to plan for delivery logistics and impromptu design modifications.
Engaging with equipment manufacturers such as MPS early on makes installation easier, faster, and less costly during the project’s life span. To manufacture transformers that suit the inverter’s characteristics, MPS closely collaborates with manufacturers to better understand the load’s characteristics. This determines both fundamental design elements like the number of windings involved and more intricate ones like how to pair inverters in a pad-mount or substation-type architecture.
Furthermore, pads can be embedded into the transformer, shipped, and then placed on gravel beds. This can save a lot of installation hassle if a developer is short on time and can’t wait to pour concrete. All of these problems can be quickly resolved when planning the project and reaching out to manufacturers. They can mean the difference between one week and three weeks of installation time.
A transformer’s actual production may take several months. The extended lead times result from design and technical review with the client. If the developer engages with the manufacturer early in the process, a lot of the hard work can be accomplished well in advance.
Have You Considered the Entire Development Cycle?
Planning ahead of time and collaborating with manufacturers will also aid in the installation and commissioning process.
Solar energy is an elegant technology. However, ensuring a seamless installation and operation still requires a complicated combination of components and logistics. The equipment manufacturer needs to be well-versed in all stages of the development cycle.
By designing every component of a transformer to suit a specific application, MPS provides the developer with a more sustainable solution, not just a lower first price. Over the past few years, MPS has developed the components required to bundle a comprehensive package and provide clients with a turnkey service for solar project developers.
In addition to the design, logistics are equally essential. If a developer constructs a solar power plant in an area with severe weather, parts left around the construction site for an extended period of time may get damaged. MPS can guarantee that products arrive on site when required by optimizing every step of the equipment design and delivery process. This is another rationale for considering equipment procurement early in the development cycle.
We are aware of the market’s dynamics and the constraints that solar project developers experience. We can assist them in resolving problems at an early stage for a very minimal service cost to ensure timely delivery.
No matter what size or type of solar power plant you are planning. Our experience in transformer manufacturing proves high quality standards for all kinds of applications. Contact us for further information and consulting for your project.