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Transformers in the Circular Economy

We need to get more life out of our transformers. The circular economy prioritizes reconditioning & repairs, ensuring units reach their true end of life.

Written by:
Nathan Stenzel & Ben Gulick

July 11, 2024

Padmount in the circular economy

The demand for new transformers is higher than ever. While factories struggle to keep up, lead times continue to climb. And, it doesn’t look like the demand will go down anytime soon. The build time to replace existing equipment could be years.

These long lead times have fueled a growing focus on using existing equipment in new ways. Think: transformer repair, maintenance and even full reconditioning. These practices fit into what we call the circular economy.

A circular economy uses products to their fullest extent. It keeps them in use for as long as possible, instead of disposing of them before their end of life.

This seems intuitive enough. Why the fuss? What’s the alternative? 

The alternative is a linear path. In a linear economy, transformers are taken out of service before their end of life. This system works when factories have full capacity and resources abound. But, the loss of build capacity and/or resources chokes this system. Some folks simply can’t wait three years to get their power on.

Transformers in Circular & Linear Economies

Let’s look at typical examples of how these two systems play out in the transformer world.

Typical Linear Economy

It is common to remove transformers from service for reasons other than failure. In some cases, the primary voltage may change. Utilities update sections of their distribution network from time to time. In other cases, building expansions need a bigger utility service. This requires a larger transformer. In both situations, the end of the transformer’s service life has nothing to do with its condition. Such units are often discarded with the majority of their lifespan intact.

Sometimes a component inside a transformer fails. Examples include bushings, tap changers, or switches. Component failures require repairs which take the unit out of service. In some cases, the entire unit is discarded or set aside. Rather than repair the faulty component, the transformer is replaced with a new unit.

A linear path discards a transformer when it no longer serves its original design. Regardless of how much life is left. For some products, this is understandable. It makes less sense for goods with a low level of obsolescence (like transformers).

Linear economy

Typical Circular Economy

In a circular economy, the same scenarios hold true. Utilities may make voltage changes at the grid. Larger transformers end up replacing smaller ones. Transformer components sometimes fail. The difference is how the transformer is treated after it comes out of service. Rather than going to the scrap yard, the unit gets repurposed elsewhere. 

If the transformer taken out of service is of no further use to the end user, it goes to someone who can use it. Users don’t want the hassle of selling or repurposing surplus units. The task of repairing, testing, and shipping adds cost and time. But companies like Maddox make this easy. Maddox buys these surplus units and outfits them for new projects.

Circular economy

Maddox and the Circular Economy

At Maddox, we recondition used transformers to get them back into service. A used transformer sitting in a warehouse or field is no good to anyone. Not when it could be back in service supplying power to a new project. Using existing transformers provides relief to the already-slow supply chain. It also makes efficient use of our nation’s scarce raw materials. Both support the circular economy.

Let’s look at the two main ways Maddox does this.

Transformer Reconditioning

Reconditioning transformers allows Maddox to increase its stock of deployable units. This reduces pressure on new manufacturing. It also promotes the most efficient use of materials, allowing them to reach their true end of life.

Many people choose to recycle, instead of recondition, their old or unused transformers. Recycling costs time, energy, and money. Like building new transformers. Recycling increases the availability of recycled materials for new products. But, it also increases the demand for the same product just taken out of service. At Maddox, we buy units headed for recycling for 5x their scrap value. We then recondition these units and redeploy them on the grid.

Reconditioning processes are easier on the environment too. Transformer reconditioning consumes less energy and emits less greenhouse gasses than new manufacturing.

Repair and Field Service

Beyond reconditioning old units, Maddox also offers repair and field service. This means we can keep transformers out in the field serving our customers longer. Saving them money and time spent waiting for a new replacement. Supporting the idea of a circular economy.

With shops located from coast to coast, Maddox makes repair convenient and easy. From basic external welding fixes to complete core and coil replacement—we do it all. The more transformers we repair, the more units reach their full service potential. 

We also have field service teams equipped to travel to your location. They handle minor repairs and testing on site. Saving you the logistical cost of transformer removal and shipment.

Conclusion

At Maddox, we promote a circular economy. We work to ensure transformers reach their full potential out in the field. Before scrapping your old transformer, call Maddox. And if you’re looking for a transformer for your next project, we’ve got you covered. Just fill out the form below to get started!

Maddox padmount transformer loaded on truck

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