Managing the risk of transformer fires : Page 2 of 2

July 30, 2018 //By Barry Menzies
Managing the risk of transformer fires
Transformers are the nerve centre of many organisations, powering infrastructures such as hospitals, transport hubs and any number of commercial buildings. They ensure businesses keep going but, if not managed effectively, there are signficant risks to a company’s reputation, continuity and the bottom line.

An outage could force the closure of railways, motorways or buildings, to name a few. If the transformer feeds electricity to a retail operation, loss of electricity could have massive commercial consequences in terms of loss of trade. If it powers a hospital, it could even jeopardise lives. Damage to the transformer itself is one issue, since it could take months to repair. An additional challenge is damage to other localised equipment, such as a furnace that had to be shut down and could take a while to restart.

It’s often the case that transformer operators are simply unaware of the risks. Through lack of awareness or even misunderstanding, they might wrongly assume that mineral oil is fire safe. It might also be the case that they don’t realise there are viable, safer alternatives on the market.

The most important alternatives are ester-based fluids, which are now proven and accepted as best practice in terms of fire avoidance. They remove the risk of transformer fires and environmental damage, ensuring peace of mind by enabling companies to tackle the cause rather than struggle with the effects.

Esters are fire safe because they have a relatively high fire point – nearly double that of mineral oil – and significantly lower calorific value.

At the board level, esters provide a mechanism not only to mitigate risk but also to boost corporate CSR programmes and green strategies. Increasingly, corporations are implementing green strategies in line with government policies, including how they handle and produce materials. This cascades right through to the transformer fluids they use – and because esters are biodegradable, they are the natural, environmentally-friendly option.

Any wide-scale business change requires a keen eye on the commercial implications – and one major barrier to switching to esters is the perceived cost. However, in addition to the safety and green credentials, esters can actually reduce a transformer’s overall total cost of ownership and increase its lifespan.

Firstly, because companies don’t need to include as many safety features – as would be required for mineral oil transformers – ester transformers enable them to save money on installations. Added to this, they need considerably less space because they require less surrounding infrastructure – and this can lead to major cost-savings, particularly in expensive urban locations. They are also cheaper to maintain.

As a result, any initial capital increases turn into significant savings when looking at the overall total cost of ownership. Some estimates suggest the companies can save as much as 30% over the lifespan of an ester transformer compared to mineral oil.

For many businesses, replacing existing transformers is simply not possible. Here, retrofilling existing mineral oil transformers with esters is a lifeline. It could avoid the need to put hundreds of mineral oil transformers out of service and, instead, extends their lifespan. 

Barry Menzies is Managing Director of MIDEL



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