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Avangrid buys mobile transformers from Hitachi Energy

With the purchase, the utility is betting on a stop-gap for the widespread transformer shortage.

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Photo credit: James A. Parcell / The Washington Post via Getty Images

Photo credit: James A. Parcell / The Washington Post via Getty Images

As the transformer shortage roils on, the mobile transformer has emerged as an attractive option for moments when the grid can’t afford to wait.  

  • The top line: The utility and renewables company Avangrid acquired its first mobile transformer from Hitachi Energy, a purchase that underscores how entrenched the shortage of grid equipment is — and just how important work-arounds have become to developers.
  • The market grounding: Transformers are the lynchpin of electrification. They convert direct current power into alternating current power, and everything from new housing to new renewables projects depend on them. But as demand for the grid equipment soars, supply has fallen behind, forcing developers like Avangrid to get creative

The 168 megavolt-ampere mobile equipment was custom-made for the utility, and can be deployed as a stop-gap for damaged transformers within just a few months, rather than the multiple years it can take for full replacement transformer. 

The thinking is that when a transformer fails, the mobile option can be rolled up to an energy project, and keep operations going while a replacement is acquired, not unlike a spare tire. At present, if a storm or other unexpected event causes the machines to fail, power generation must instead halt for as long as it takes to find a replacement.

CEO Pedro Azagra said in a statement that the technology will contribute to the “resiliency and reliability” of the company’s renewable assets. 

The mobile transformer is compatible with any of Agangrid’s onshore wind or solar facilities, because it has multi-voltage capabilities. And, consisting of three modules that can be disassembled, it’s small enough to fit on a trailer attached to a semi-truck. 

This comes just a month after Hitachi Energy, the world’s largest transformer manufacturer, announced its intention to invest over $1.5 billion in manufacturing them over the coming years. As demand for the technology continues to grow, Hitachi is aiming to use the funds to shorten the time it takes from producing transformers to putting them in customers’ hands.

Separately, just last week, Avangrid’s Spanish parent company Iberdrola agreed to buy the remaining 18.4% stake in the utility. That all-cash deal is worth roughly $2.6 billion.

For more on the tranformer shortage, listen to this episode of Catalyst

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