Overcoming the Current Transformer Shortage

by Emily Newton

People throughout the U.S. and the rest of the globe are dealing with a massive transformer shortage that’s putting electric utilities under increased strain, delaying the construction of new housing developments and more. Here’s what some people are doing to reduce the impact of electric transformer shortage challenges.

Pursue Several Options Simultaneously

The transformer shortage is so widespread that many affected decision-makers realize they can’t just try single strategies to overcome it. Instead, they get better results with various approaches intended to achieve the same goals.

In San Antonio, Texas, the need for transformers is hindering ongoing construction on a subdivision. The main sticking point is that power company CPS Energy needs transformers to supply the development with electricity, and the wait to get them could be as long as a year.

As of May 2023, CPS had 645 transformers used for residential subdivisions. However, the company received more than 3,400 requests for the equipment. Eighteen came from the San Antonio subdivision. However, 171 other housing developments are ahead of that one on the waiting list.

One of the difficulties of sourcing new transformers is that all the affected parties don’t necessarily grasp the impact of electric transformer shortage difficulties. Suppose they just hear broad statements about long delays and how other customers need the equipment too. In that case, they often become frustrated because the problem’s magnitude is unclear.

CPS employees have addressed the issue by creating a public queue of transformer requests. Then, developers, builders and others waiting for transformers can see how many other parties are ahead of them.

Allowing More Flexibility and Eyeing a Longer-Term Fix

Additionally, CPS updated its policy, allowing developers with simultaneous projects to move transformers between those sites. Developers can also try to secure transformers outside those offered by entities on the CPS vendor list.

If they succeed, CPS will work with them to verify the transformers are certified for use in San Antonio. Finally, CPS hopes to secure an agreement with a local transformer manufacturer that would ease shortages in several Texan cities.

These examples show why people must continually search for possible solutions and communicate to everyone involved as clearly as possible. Even if such proactiveness doesn’t solve the problem, it could mitigate it.

Repair or Update the Transformers in the Current Inventory

When purchasing new transformers will take a prohibitively long time, some decision-makers may turn to the equipment they already have on hand. Then, repairs or refurbishments could ease the crisis until replacements become available. Specialty suppliers can provide new or surplus parts for those projects.

Leaders at Central Maine Power Company (CMP) took that approach by asking a local shed builder to create dozens of dedicated enclosures employees use to retrofit or install its existing transformer inventory.

Additionally, crews have targeted hundreds of unused or underutilized transformers. They take them down, then transport them to a facility in Georgia where the equipment gets recycled or fixed, depending on its condition.

Adam Desrosiers, the vice president of electric operations at CMP, said the transformer shortage has been the biggest problem in the company’s history, and that employees started feeling the impact of electric transformer shortage ramifications as early as the summer of 2022. Now, wait times for pad-mount transformers are more than a year, significantly restricting the company’s business model.

However, Desrosiers noted that recycling or salvaging the units his company already has buys the business more time. Those possibilities give employees options besides just waiting for the long-awaited equipment to arrive.

Assess the Evolving Situation Frequently

The transformer shortage has been one of many enduring challenges to affect people who rely on this equipment. For example, equipment owners and managers have also had to safeguard transformers from cyberattacks as hackers increasingly target the equipment.

Doing this well involves staying up to date on attack methods, preventive measures and more. Similarly, people must stay abreast of the impact of electric transformer shortage effects. That information will help them curb the worst of the complications.

Leaders from Nashville Electric Service (NES) do that by holding committee meetings every two weeks to talk about priority standards for using specific equipment in the NES reserve. The equipment in the reserve is vital because the company uses it to recover from outages as quickly as possible.

Decision-makers are also always assessing the current state of the shortage and the best ways to tackle the associated challenges. For example, the company utilizes a multitiered supplier network when purchasing new transformers. It sometimes buys refurbished offshore transformers when vendors have them available.

Additionally, NES places large orders two to three years in advance, increasing the chances the company will have the equipment available when necessary. The company has engaged with builders and allowed them to buy their own transformers that meet NES standards.

Explore Other Options for Getting the Necessary Power

Even customers without an immediate need for transformers are feeling the effects of the shortage. Consider the situation affecting California’s Cobblestone Fruit, which needs an energized connection to accommodate new equipment investments.

However, representatives from Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) said the company may not get it until 2025, despite filing its initial application in 2022. The reason given is that PG&E must upgrade a substation and produce a circuit panel for the fruit company’s packinghouse before it can supply the power.

Cobblestone employees are compensating by using leased diesel generators. Each one uses 92 gallons of fuel per hour but will power the company’s equipment. The company’s general manager estimates it will cost $6 million per year to use two generators and purchase fuel to last through the October-June fruit-packing season.

Getting power with such a hefty price tag is certainly not ideal. But when the transformer shortage causes ripple effects across industries, it may be the best way to prevent production stoppages.

Anticipate the Impact of Electric Transformer Shortage Challenges

People affected by the transformer shortages should realize that they’ll almost certainly experience the effects, and potentially more severely than they thought. The best way to get through those obstacles is to start planning now. Additionally, people should keep open minds about solutions they hadn’t previously considered. The transformer shortage won’t get resolved quickly, so thinking outside the box is necessary for now.