An emergency spare transformer program is a key part of the preparation for and rapid recovery from a high-impact, low-frequency (HILF) event, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said this week in announcing its long awaited report, Considerations for a Power Transformer Emergency Spare Strategy for the Electric Utility Industry.
Prepared for DHS by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the report stated that, “Various agencies have emphasized, and recent events have demonstrated, the critical nature of power transformers in the face of possible HILF event,” DHS stated, emphasizing that, “This report represents the culmination of six years of collaboration between DHS and EPRI on the Recovery Transformer” that’s “intended to encourage industry discussion.”
A significantly disrupting HILF event can include intentional malicious events (e.g., physical attacks, cyber attacks, coordinated attacks, electromagnetic pulse weapons, and others), natural disasters (e.g., hurricanes, earthquakes, severe geomagnetic disturbances, etc.), and non-intentional or accidental events such as nuclear power plant accidents.
A rogue state or terrorists’ use of an electromagnetic pulse weapon, or EMP, has been of particular concern to government officials for many years as the technology to create an EMP without detonation of a nuclear bomb to create an EMP has been developed.
In March, Iran endorsed a nuclear EMP attack on United States.
A Heritage Foundation report said, "An EMP attack has the potential to decimate America’s electrical and technological infrastructure, effectively sending the US back to the 19th Century. As society grows more reliant on electronic devices, so its vulnerability to an EMP attack."
But an unprecedented coronal mass ejection (CME) from the sun could be just as damaging as an EMP attack. A CME is a massive burst of gas and magnetic field arising from the solar corona and being released into the solar wind.
The US Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack — established by Congress — has produced multiple reports and briefings including an Executive Report and a Critical National Infrastructures Report.
For over a decade, Homeland Security Today reported last week, national security and energy experts have warned America’s power grid has grown increasingly vulnerable to natural and subversive action. With power outages 285 percent more likely to occur today than in 1984, it is critical that the nation ensure its electric power system is reliable, according to a recent study by Johns Hopkins University (JHU).
Published in the Journal, Risk Analysis, the study, Who’s Making Sure the Power Stays On? said the nation’s electric power distribution systems are so haphazardly regulated for reliability that it’s nearly impossible for customers to know their true risk of losing service in a major storm. The study, which was designed to analyze how reliability is measured, led the researchers to propose new regulatory measures to accurately identify weaknesses within the system.
Because of the growing risks to the nation’s electric grid, DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) finally completed its Recovery Transformer (RecX) program, and published a final report that contains lessons learned, evaluations and considerations for a spare transformer strategy to support our nation’s electric grid in the event of an EMP attack, CME or some other natural or manmade disaster that severely disrupts the nation’s power grid.
According to DHS S&T, “RecX is a mobile spare extra high voltage (EHV) transformer designed to be rapidly deployed in the event of a transformer failure. Development of the prototype RecX was completed in 2011by the manufacturer ABB and the Electric Power Research Institute. The RecX was successfully field tested in CenterPoint Energy’s grid in March 2012. The field test demonstrated RecX’s rapid deployment speed by reducing the time needed to transport, install and energize from the typical 8-12 weeks to less than six days.
The DHS/EPRI Recovery Transformer is an example of one key component to a successful emergency spares program.
“This landmark program has resulted in the successful design, manufacture, factory testing, transportation, installation, energization and field testing of the world’s first set of rapid deployment high-powered 345-kV emergency spare transformers,” the report stated, noting that, “This program was conducted at a single US utility. However, recovery from HILF events calls for broader implementation of prudent measures related to emergency spare transformers. The first needed step is an assessment of recommended practices and guidance for all utilities when implementing enhanced emergency spare transformer programs.”
DHS S&T stated that, “In April 2015, the Department of Energy (DOE) released their Quadrennial Energy Review (QER), which highlights the significant risks associated with EHV transformers. The QER recommends that ‘DOE should lead—in coordination with DHS and other federal agencies, states and industry—an initiative to mitigate the risks associated with the loss of transformers,’ including ‘development of one or more transformer reserves through a staged process.’ Part of this development process requires assessing ‘technical specifications for reserve transformers’ and how reserve transformers should be stored and deployed.”
DHS S&T’s work through the RecX program specifically addresses these issues. The RecX final report is “an assessment of recommended practices and guidance …when implementing enhanced emergency spare transformer programs,” and discusses functional specifications for recovery transformers, evaluation of existing spare transformer strategies, and considerations for developing new ones.
“By transitioning S&T’s RecX program, DOE can leverage DHS S&T’s findings and recommendations as the initial foundation of a national spare transformer strategy,” DHS said.
The 52-page report concluded and recommended that, “Over the long-term, as new transformers are designed and manufactured to replace the aging population now in service, there is an opportunity to plot a parallel beneficial path forward. If the new ‘conventional transformers that are installed can be designed for more broad applicability across substations in a utility service territory, they can better ameliorate HILF threats along with serving their current purpose (e.g., replacement of transformers that fail in normal service).”
“In other words,” the report stated, “a more broadly applicable transformer design has benefits for both HILF events that disable transformers, as well as ‘blue sky’ events such as equipment failures in normal service. Over time, most installed transformers and their spares would be more broadly applicable by design (i.e., a single design would meet transformer needs at multiple substations of similar rating in a utility service territory).”
“Extending this vision of a future conventional design beyond broader applicability to also include rapid construction, transportation, and installation requires an analysis to determine the relative costs and benefits of such an approach,” report stated.
The report said that, “To begin the path towards realizing this long-term strategy, the industry” recommended the following:
- Industry stakeholders can work together to enhance the probabilistic analysis of spares by incorporating hazard function information on HILF threats, beginning with physical security attacks. These analyses can then be run at host utilities in the independent system operator (ISO)/regional transmission organization (RTO) service areas. This work will further strengthen the business case for incorporating emergency spares, including flexible spares, at utilities by providing a methodology for calculating return on investment. This work will also serve to solidify future expanded involvement of ISOs/RTOs in this process.
- Industry stakeholders can work with various transformer original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to define standardized agreements with OEMs for first more broadly applicable spares, and eventually, more broadly applicable conventional transformers.
- Industry stakeholders can work with transformer OEMs to refine functional specifications for more broadly applicable spares, with an eye towards migrating these design features into “conventional transormers” that are installed as existing units are retired; and ultimately standardizing these designs first within utility service territories, and then within regions where possible.
- Effective collaboration of government (DHS, DOE and others), EPRI, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), utilities, private enterprise (OEMs and others), the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) and regulators is critical for success over the long term. Due to the critical nature of this work, EPRI recommends a forum for exchange of information on this topic between representatives of these stakeholders.
- Communication of the results of the current report, the forum and subsequent work in various forms to all stakeholders is crucial to success.