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Many of us have walked past or over a transformer substation without knowing it – or maybe we did. Whether walking through the city or the countryside, these key elements in our daily lives are strange everyday objects that, unless you have an electrician friend or have read an article about how energy reaches our homes, we rarely come to understand and identify. The truth is that very few people understand the true importance of these transformer substations and how they make sure that, thanks to a crucial and innovative technological development, we use energy in our homes, workplaces or different public facilities. In short, these unknowns, whose function we are going to reveal today, are one of those everyday mysteries that so fascinate people who are in the habit of asking themselves questions. Are you curious? Then let’s go for it.
Let’s take it one step at a time. Perhaps the main thing is to explain, very quickly, how the electricity grid works. We, the consumers, are part of a long chain where the continuous availability of energy and the security and intercommunication of the infrastructure are absolutely necessary. The electricity grid is a kind of spider’s web made up of various elements such as cables, switchgear, poles, towers, substations, etc.
In short, and to be clear, energy comes from different electricity generation sources that can be classified into two main groups: traditional or renewable.
The traditional sources are far away from us – think of a combined cycle power station on the outskirts of our city – so the electricity has to be transported efficiently to city centres: this is where the power is switched to high voltage. This is transported via cables on high-voltage pylons to an electrical substation, where the voltage can be lowered and reduced from high to medium voltage. This reduces risks and leaves the energy ready to be distributed to consumption points.
In contrast, the energy generated by renewables undertakes a substantially different journey, as it is transported directly at medium voltage to the substations located in the vicinity of our cities. In addition, in many cases this energy is generated inside the buildings themselves, equipped with systems such as photovoltaic panels, allowing direct access to their power supply systems.
This is all very well, but when do the famous transformer substations come into play? Well, they act as the great controllers and distributors of energy in the great web that is the electricity grid. If we were to speak in footballing terms, the transformer substations would be the creative midfielders, crucial for spreading the play intelligently and weighing up, at all times, where to pass the ball. Located at the outlets of the substations to our electricity grids, the TSs (in abbreviated form) distribute and distribute electrical energy to areas of consumption thanks to sophisticated grid protection and automation systems, such as those implemented by Ormazabal, a leading company in the sector. In this way, the spider’s web is transformed around the consumption points into interconnected rings thanks to the work of the TSs.
All this makes it possible to ensure the supply, the rational utilization of resources and the safety of the electricity consumption environment, achieving an efficient, safe and sustainable electricity distribution, capable of supplying and adapting to the different existing energy demand needs. Without our strange friends we would have a big problem, as we would run out of electricity. That is how important they are. They are present in residential areas, shopping centres, factories, hospitals, railways, roads, petrol stations… and the list goes on.
Now that we know what they do, all that remains is to find out what they are made of and how they work.
A transformer substation consists of five main elements:
As in other respects, transformer substations fall into different categories according to their use. No doubt while walking through a park you have seen some oval-shaped vents amid the grass; or maybe on the outskirts of an industrial estate you have noticed some sort of concrete blocks with metal doors, various electrical signs and the unmistakable seal of quality that is the Ormazabal brand. Well, they are transformer substations, and these are two of the clearest examples of some of the types that exist depending on their physical location. Let’s take a look at each one in turn:
In any case, the incoming lines (the connection to the grid) of these substations that we see in our cities, are underground; the only visible ones are those in areas with high voltage pylons located outside city centres.
Now that we know what components make up a transformer substation and what types there are, all that remains is to find out how the substations work.
When the energy arrives at the transformer stations via the electricity grid, it is distributed through the medium voltage switchgear. Normally, the most common configuration used by electricity companies is that of an input and output ring with a protection switchgear designed to protect each transformer in the event of a problem such as a network overload.
Thus, the transformer is responsible for reducing the voltage value, allowing the output current value to increase and obtaining a large amount of current, which is then distributed through the low-voltage switchboard to numerous outlets.
This is how, once the transformer substation has managed to adapt the current to its ideal value for consumption in our homes, the energy is channelled to our sockets; making everything work correctly.
This is why every transformer substation is crucial in protecting and securing the electricity supply.
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