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Are Wind Turbine Step Up Transformers

s the Weak Link in the
Wind Energy Supply Chain
In the rush to cash-in on wind energy, developers are often trading low first costs for higher total costs of
ownership to be shouldered later by the wind farm owners and operators

Converting wind energy to electrical power is the fastest growing segment of the US energy sector.
Today, wind energy represents less than 5% of the US electrical generation and is targeted to reach 20%
in the foreseeable future. For this to happen, new sites need to be developed in spite of a down turning
economy.

Bolstered by available federal stimulus dollars, we are seeing a virtual modern day 'land-rush'. In the
words of one industry leader, 'if there is a site that has a viable wind profile, access to network
connections, and access for delivery of materials, and we don't develop it, some one else will.'

This head long rush to install more and more wind turbines has outstripped the usual developmental
learning curve, where new technologies mature by a process of trial and error, resulting in defining
equipment suited for the job at hand.

The added economic pressure of today's market has made an already competitive market even more
demanding. This has, in the view of many industry insiders, resulted in purchasing decisions for
equipment based largely on the lowest initial cost solutions and not solutions that will provide the best
choice in terms of total cost of ownership, network stability, less down time and lost revenue from high
maintenance issues. This is nowhere as apparent as in the case of Wind Turbine Generator (WTG)
transformers.

Historically this WTG transformer function has been handled by conventional, 'off the shelf' distribution
transformers, but the relatively large numbers of recent failures would strongly suggest that WTG
transformer designs need to be made substantially more robust. The practice of using conventional 'off
the shelf' distribution transformers as a low cost solution is folly. In some cases site operators are
maintaining a quantity of spare transformers to combat the frequent outages caused by standard
distribution transformers being used where they are not suitable.

The role of the Wind Turbine Generator (WTG) transformer in this process is critical and, as such, its
design needs to be carefully and thoughtfully analyzed and reevaluated.

Transformer Loading:

Wind turbine output voltages range from 480 volts to 690 volts. The turbine output is transformed, by the
WTG transformer, to a collector voltage of 13,800 to 46,000 volts. The turbines are highly dependant
upon local climatic conditions; and this can result in yearly average load factors as low as 35%. The
relatively light loading of WTG transformer has a favorable effect on insulation life but introduces two
unique and functionally significant problems.

The first problem is when lightly loaded or idle, the core losses become a more significant economic
factor while the coil or winding losses become less significant. Typically used price evaluation formula
do not apply to this scenario. NEMA TP1 and DOE efficiencies are not modeled for the operational
scenario where average loading is near 30-35% and, consequently, should be cautiously applied when
calculating the total cost of ownership for WTG transformers.

The second problem is that the WTG transformer is subjected to frequent thermal cycling as a function of
varying turbine loads. This causes repeated thermal stress on the winding, clamping structure, seals and
gaskets. Repeated thermal cycling causes nitrogen gas to be absorbed into the hot oil and then released
as the oil cools, forming bubbles within the oil which can migrate into the insulation and windings to create
hot spots and partial discharges which can damage insulation. The thermal cycling can also cause
accelerated aging of internal and external electrical connections.

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Harmonics and Non-Sinusoidal loads:
WTG transformers are switched with solid state controls to limit the inrush currents. While potentially
aiding in the initial energization, these same electronic controls contribute damaging harmonic voltages
that, when coupled with the non-sinusoidal wave forms from the turbines, cannot be ignored from a
heating point of view. When a rectifier/chopper system is used, the WTG transformer must be designed
for harmonics similar to rectifier transformers, taking the additional loading into consideration as well as
providing electrostatic shields to prevent the transfer of harmonic frequencies between the primary and
secondary windings.

Transformer sizing and voltage variation:
WTG transformers are designed such that the voltage is matched to the wind turbine's output voltage
exactly. There is no 'designed in' over-voltage capacity to overcome voltage fluctuations which are a
frequent problem with wind turbines. At the same time, the generator output current is monitored at
millisecond intervals and the operational limits allow up to 5% over-current for 10 seconds before it is
taken off the system. Therefore, the WTG transformer is designed to match the generator output with no
overload sizing, and the WTG transformer design must be uniquely robust to function without it.

Requirement to withstand Fault Currents:
Typically, conventional distribution transformers, power transformers, and other types of step-up
transformers will 'drop out' when subjected to a fault. Once the fault has cleared, the distribution
transformer is brought back on-line. Wind turbine generators, on the other hand, in order to maintain
network stability are not allowed to disconnect from the system due to network disturbances except within
certain guidelines developed for generating plants. The length of time the generator is required to stay on
line can vary. During this time the generator will continue to deliver an abnormally low voltage to the
WTG transformer. Therefore, during faults, the transformer may be required to carry as low as 15% rated
voltage for a few cycles and then ramp back up to full volts a few seconds after fault clearing. The WTG
transformer must be uniquely designed with enough 'ruggedness' to withstand full short circuit current
during the initial few cycles when the maximum mechanical forces are exerted upon the WTG transformer
windings.

Conclusions:
The role of WTG transformers in today's wind generation scheme is unique; it's design must be equally
unique and robust. Don't trade long term reliability and lower total cost of ownership for low initial cost

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