Efficiency improvements in tech sometimes come with unintended consequences. In March, the American Public Power Association filed a comment warning that the Department of Energy’s proposed efficiency standards for transformers would worsen an existing shortage, throttled by supply chain woes since early in the pandemic. WEC just saw a delivery of transformers ordered in 2020, and has several orders still outstanding.
The transformers are in high demand as motivated members take advantage of incentives and improving technology to reduce their own carbon footprints. The five-kilovolt transformers installed years ago on WEC lines by regulators’ mandate are comparatively small in order to encourage electricity conservation. Now, as WEC members and people throughout the country increase their electric load with devices that require 240 volts, like heat pumps and Level 2 chargers for electric vehicles, the demand for transformers is so great that a mandate to improve the efficiency of the transformers themselves would create an obstacle to system-wide beneficial electrification.
The paradox shows the complexity of transitioning to a clean energy economy. A measured approach is useful here, plus some old-school values, like thrift and patience. Because while EV drivers may want super-fast Level 2 charging, many drivers don’t actually need it.
How can I tell if I need a transformer upgrade?
About half of WEC’s membership has a five-kilovolt transformer, said Bill Powell, WEC’s Energy Coach. That’s the type installed on most single-residence accounts that are one-to-one, he said, or that have one transformer per one meter. Locations with higher density may have larger transformers, with each transformer serving a greater number of meters.
And, Powell added, members who don’t plan to add a lot of load, or whose electric use was minimal to begin with, are likely to not need an upgrade anytime soon.
A licensed electrician can tell you how large your transformer is, what your service panel (or breaker box) can handle, and whether you need to make changes in order to add devices with a 240-volt load.
Do I really need a Level 2 charger?
Most WEC members don’t need a Level 2 charger for an EV, said Powell, because most members charge at home and drive 50 miles or fewer each day. If that’s you, you don’t need to wait for a transformer or service panel upgrade for your EV. Just get in the habit of charging at night on a 120 volt Level 1 charger.
Remember: before you install any new 240-volt load, like a Level 2 charger, contact WEC.