Transformer from the Warsaw University of Technology set to change the face of energy

"We’ll need devices acting like routers in an IT network. This is the function of our transformer", Malinowski explains.

A smart transformer, which will help save energy and solve the problem of grid failures, is being developed by a team led by D.Sc. Eng. Mariusz Malinowski, associate professor at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering of the Warsaw University of Technology.

“By the end of 2020, billions more electronic devices will be added and these will need to be powered”, the professor says. “There are two ways: to find new energy sources, or to use the available energy efficiently and sensibly”.

Professor Malinowski focused on the second option and took advantage of the growing popularity of the, so-called, smart grids. This solution assumes that various electrical devices communicate with each other in order to increase energy efficiency. With that a network can be created, in which the amount of energy produced and used can be dynamically adjusted. Solutions employed in the energy sector today come mainly from the early twentieth century. We have centralised facilities generating energy and sending it over a long distance to recipients over the public power grid, but this is not a very economical solution.

An intelligent distributed network will work differently. Communication between all devices will make it possible to dynamically adjust the power consumption with, for example, those that don't need it to work correctly, switching off. “If the power grid develops in this direction, it will resemble the Internet, in which information is exchanged dynamically between all nodes”, explains the researcher. “This means that we’ll need devices acting like routers in an IT network. This is the function of our transformer”.

It will help ensure appropriate energy quality to end users and, in addition, facilitate exchange of information between all electrical devices in a particular network.

End of long blackouts

“In contrast to a standard transformer, ours will be semiconductor-based with a microprocessor controlled system and an advanced control algorithm, which is why we call it 'smart'”, Malinowski explains. “This design ensures appropriate responses to power grid disturbances, for example lines being switched off or failures. The system will be able to automatically reconfigure itself, so that a recipient won't even notice the problem, such as a power failure in the grid”.

This would bring an end to the situations where homes, neighbourhoods, cities or entire regions are deprived of electricity for hours due to storms or high winds.

However, the above is not the only advantage of the device being developed at the Warsaw University of Technology. “The transformer will also be able to easily integrate DC and AC sources and loads, as well as energy storage”, Professor Malinowski said.

He added that the transformer will also have many functions, to which the modern energy sector is not yet adapted.

From idea to market conquest

The smart transformer design received an award in the first edition of the TEAM-TECH programme run by the Foundation for Polish Science (FNP). A sum of PLN 3.5 million was granted for its implementation. The project manager is Professor Malinowski, his deputy – Dr. Eng. Sebastian Styński. As per the programme’s rules, other members of the team will be selected in a competition.

“We're building a demonstrator unit with less power than standard transformers, but fully functional in an actual network”, Professor Malinowski said. “We'll also build a micro-network, which will correspond to what normally happens within the scope of LV and MV alternating current, energy storage and the DC circuit“.

After that, all that remains is to find a manufacturer interested in the project, who will want to create a prototype and then launch the product on the market.

The developed smart transformer technology will also offer economic benefits: improved power grid reliability (through greater integration of storage and renewable energy sources, which reduces the number of failures and interruptions in energy supply), reduced peak energy demand through the active management of consumer demand, reduced costs of overloads, power supply interruptions and disturbances in power quality thanks to increased reliability and quality of supply to consumers.

At the moment such devices are not used in the industry. However, leading scientific centres, in Zurich and Kiel, are working on this technology.

Future of energy

What about the vision of electrical equipment that automatically switches on/off (not only making our lives easier, but also saving energy)? “We are approaching a point, at which each device will be connected to the Internet and a smartphone will assure an easy and flexible way to set our home’s energy use profile to, for example, energy-saving”, said Professor Malinowski. “With that it's possible to introduce dynamic energy tariffs, which also allow the energy utility to control some devices in our homes, thus easily adjusting the amount of electricity produced and used”.

This can be a great option for those who forget to switch off electrical equipment or don't really attach great importance to the fact that each connected device consumes energy.

“Although smart electricity meters are being installed in homes, that's not enough”, claims Professor Malinowski. “You have to go one step further. The 21st century will be the century of energy and the transformer being developed at the Warsaw University of Technology is a project to take on this challenge”.


Agnieszka Kapela

Office of Promotion and Information