With the increase in use of renewable energy and distributed energy sources, use of traditional transformers has increased the complexity of the electrical power grids. In order to overcome this complexity, there is need to adopt newer technologies to ensure better control and more reliable operation of the grid. Transformers are fundamental components of any power distribution system. However, this system does have certain drawbacks such as voltage drop under load, sensitivity to harmonics and performance degradation under system disruptions and overload. The need to cope with these disadvantages is gaining importance as supply of quality power is one of the major issues in today’s scenario. A solid state transformers (SST) is considered a key enabler for power grids, as they provide better control over the system, with high load handling capacity as well as efficient bi-directional power flow.
A SST is capable of easily replacing a conventional transformer in an electrical system. Major applications of SST include locomotive and other traction systems, offshore energy generation systems (wind, tidal or any other source) and smart (power) grids. SSTs are able to deliver power at 400 Hz and can also be used as three-phase power system from a single phase line, which is difficult to obtain from conventional transformers. Depending upon its topologies, SSTs can be classified as:
- AC to AC buck converter
- SST with and without a DC link
- Three-stage SST
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The SST market is in its nascent stage. It has huge market potential in the distribution network of power grids. The overall market is expected to grow at a double-digit CAGR between 2012 and 2020.The APAC region is estimated to account for the highest market share by 2020.Smart grids is expected to be the largest segment among the aforementioned applications. The expenditure on smart grids is highest in Asia Pacific, especially in China, which occupies largest share in the region.
Major energy storage capacity additions, installation of renewable energy generation capacities, investments into power transmission and distribution infrastructure are the chief drivers of the solid state transformers market globally. Manufacturers are now engaging into major research and development efforts to bring SSTs into commercial installation and deployment however, cost-competitiveness will be a major challenge for the manufacturers.
Some of the major players in the market for solid state transformers technology are ABB (Switzerland), Siemens AG (Germany), Alstom (France), Schneider Electric SA (France), Avago Technologies Limited (U.S.), Bombardier, Inc. (Canada),Cooper Power Systems (U.S.), SPX Transformers (U.S.), GE (U.S.), Duke Energy (U.S.), Plasmatechnics, Inc. (U.S.), Selco (U.S.), Varentec (U.S.) and Gridco Systems (U.S.). The leading components manufacturing companies in the field of SST technology are CREE, Inc. (U.S.), STMicroelectronics (U.S.), Infineon Technologies (Germany) and Mitsubishi Electric Corporation (Japan).SSTs are being tested majorly in Europe and North America.
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SSTs ideally solve problems such as saturation of core of nonlinear load, poor voltage regulations and bulky systems, and they also serve as an energy router for smart grid energy network, thus improving scope of its application areas. The solid state transformer does not utilize any hazardous liquid dielectrics, thus giving it an edge over conventional transformers. Smart grid and traction transformers offer substantial market opportunity to solid state transformers. Commercialization for SST is low currently, but this is expected to increase over the next two years owing to research and development efforts by companies and add-on benefits.