Fail Safe: Utilities invest in smart transformer technologies

Utilities invest in smart transformer technologies

Asset management refers to a strategic and systematic approach to managing physical assets by utilities. It focuses on business and engineering processes for resource allocation and utilisation, with the objective of better decision-making based on quality information and well-defined objectives. Asset management comprises a set of actions that will achieve and sustain a desired state of good repair over the life cycle of the asset at a minimum practicable cost. It helps utilities to achieve a required level of service in the most effective manner through the management of assets for present and future customers. The asset management approaches of transmission and distribution utilities have been evolving, from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance. Growing digitalisation and the implementation of internet of things (IoT) have enabled utilities to monitor their assets, including transformers, in real time and take corrective action before failure occurs, thereby preventing potential grid disturbances and blackouts.

Intelligent transformers

There is increasing utility focus on smart transformers, which are an integral part of digital substations. These transformers have inbuilt sensors to enable remote monitoring and intelligent asset management. Smart transformers independently regulate voltage and maintain contact with smart grids in order to enable remote administration and real-time feedback on power supply parameters. This allows grid operators to determine the health of their assets and perform maintenance as and when required, thereby maximising the lifetime value of equipment, optimising technician time and delivering a better customer experience. It also enhances reliability and enables higher utilisation of grid assets and power networks by avoiding transformer failures and the resultant blackouts. Utilities can, moreover, avoid expenditure on scheduled maintenance practices that may or may not be needed. For manufacturers, this has resulted in a new “asset-as-a-service” model, wherein asset delivery is not the sole objective.

Smart asset management strategies

Apart from introducing digital assets in their networks, utilities are moving towards intelligent asset management practices. For instance, Power Grid Corporation of India Limited (Powergrid) has set up the National Transmission Asset Monitoring Centre (NTAMC) in Manesar, Haryana. As of March 2019, its 210 substations had been connected to the NTAMC for remote operations. These substations are integrated with the central location through a robust fibre optic communication system. Along with the NTAMC, there are nine regional transmission asset monitoring centres and a backup control centre in Bengaluru. The system gives experts at different locations access to intelligent electronic devices for fault analysis and speedy decision-making, including for assets located in remote areas. The system has a facility for automatic fault analysis, enabling the operator to sort out issues expeditiously.

Similarly, Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Prasaran Nigam Limited (RRVPNL) has embarked on a Rs 1.5 billion grid modernisation project. The project is a part of the Smart Transmission Network and Asset Management System (STNAMS), RRVPNL’s state-of-the-art power transmission plan, designed to integrate large-scale renewable energy and support existing and future power networks. Under STNAMS, 535 substations will be remotely connected to three control centres – a main control centre in Jaipur, a backup control centre in Jodhpur and a regional centre in Ajmer – which will enable remote visualisation of power flow and asset health. The project will also include the NTAMC’s software features and unified real-time dynamic state measurement. It will facilitate real-time data acquisition and include a decision support system that will help in visualisation and situational awareness of the transmission grid. The data displayed at RRVPNL’s smart grid command and control centre will help in monitoring the health of critical assets.


With the increasing penetration of renewable energy, distributed generation and electric vehicles (EVs)/charging infrastructure, the power supply and consumption profile is changing rapidly. For instance, renewable power plants, operated by a large number of small local energy producers, change the flow of power in the distribution network at the consumer end of the grid. The growing uptake of EVs and the charging of these in residential areas introduce significant changes in consumption patterns. High local charging activity can overload distribution transformers. Therefore, investing in smart transformer technologies along with remote monitoring and intelligent asset management techniques will be among the top priorities for utilities to ensure a stable grid.

Load fluctuations, predictable as well as unexpected, generate high temperatures that reduce transformer life. In some cases, sudden failures may occur, causing havoc in the network and leading to financial and other penalties. Utilities are therefore keen to control and monitor the status and condition of their transformer fleet so that they can intervene before a failure or malfunction occurs. Smart transformers enabled with digital capabilities will allow remote monitoring and data analytics of vital parameters in real time. This will enhance reliability and allow higher utilisation of grid assets and power networks.