Why Transformers are the Foundation of Today’s Society

Over the course of history, many inventions and technologies have shaped society in profound ways. For instance, in the 19th century, the steam engine transformed both industrial businesses and transportation and became a necessary part of society. They’ve since been replaced by internal combustion engines and electricity, but steam turbines are still used in coal power plants.

Today, society runs on the electric grid, which has come a long way since 1882 when Thomas Edison revealed the first power plant at Pearl Street Station in Manhattan. In order for the electric grid to work on a grand scale like we require today, transformers are needed to alter the voltage that comes directly from the power stations. Raw power directly from the plant isn’t usable as-is because the voltage is too high, so transformers are used to lower and raise voltage as needed throughout the grid’s infrastructure.

Transformer basics

There are essentially two types of transformers – oil-filled and dry-types. The difference is mainly the materials used to insulate the inner windings. Oil-filled transformers use either synthetic or mineral oil for insulation and dry-type transformers can use a variety of materials, but the highest quality units use Nomex, which is made by DuPont. Nomex is superior transformer insulation because it isn’t flammable or combustible.

Both types of transformers serve the same purpose, but generally speaking, oil-filled transformers are capable of handling higher voltage and since they are a fire hazard, they’re best suited for outdoor installation. Unfortunately, oil insulation can become contaminated, which will compromise how well it insulates the unit and can lead to failure. Oil-filled transformers usually require more maintenance and can catch fire and even explode.

Dry-type transformers are safer, and when following proper building codes, they can be installed indoors. Dry types cost more in the beginning, but units made by reputable companies require less maintenance because they’re built with longevity in mind.

Our society is dependent on electrical power

Today’s society runs on electricity, from our homes and places of business to all the retail shops we visit on a regular basis. Even schools and hospitals require electricity to function. It has changed everything about the way we live, work, and enjoy our free time.

We keep our food in the refrigerator so it’s easy to access at any time and leftovers don’t go to waste. With the exception of some gas-powered appliances, most households have electric appliances, like dishwashers, washing machines, clothes dryers, blenders, coffee makers, garbage disposals, and sometimes even mini trash compactors under the sink.

In addition to all of that, the internet is powered by electricity; all of the electronic devices that are staples in most households run on electricity. For example, televisions, DVD players, DVRs, radios, iPads, desktop computers, laptops, smartphones, tablets, video game consoles, and more.   

All of these devices require electric power, and it would be tough to live in society without them. However, they wouldn’t work without transformers to convert the voltage.

Why do power plants transmit high voltage that has to be changed?

You might be wondering why the power plants don’t just send out low voltage to start with. The reason the power plant doesn’t just transmit low voltage directly to the consumer is because it wouldn’t be efficient. High voltage electric power won’t cause the wires to heat as much as low voltage, which greatly reduces the loss of energy.

Distributing high voltage from the source plant makes it possible for generating plants to be located far from the end users. There is some energy loss along the way, but not as much as there would be with low voltage transmissions.

Society wouldn’t function without transformers

There are some inventions whose absence would make life challenging, but if transformers disappeared tomorrow, life would be impossible for most people. We have become completely dependent on the grid for just about everything we do in our daily lives. If we didn’t have transformers, we wouldn’t have access to all the electrical power we need to function on a daily basis. There would be no hospitals, universities, or shopping malls. Nobody would work in an office or from home. We would all be forced to go back to a time when daily life involved a host of manual labor just to survive.

Transformers may not be the first thing you think about when considering what holds our society together, but they are the foundation of our current world, and we would be lost without them.

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