US transformer demand could triple by 2050 — DOE study

By John Fialka | 03/11/2024 06:37 AM EDT

Utilities will need more of the key piece of grid equipment as renewable energy grows and climate change fuels more extreme weather.

A utility crew installs a new transformer to help restore power.

A utility crew installs a new transformer for Consolidated Edison to help restore power on Staten Island, New York, in 2012 after Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast. A new report warns that U.S. companies may not be able to keep up with utilities' growing demand for transformers. Paul J. Richards/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. transformer shortage raises questions about whether the country will have enough of the “bedrock” grid equipment to support the transition to renewable energy, according to a new report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Distribution transformers are crucial to the electric grid, adjusting power levels from high-voltage transmission lines to local distribution lines. But they are in short supply — even as demand for them grows with the rise in electric vehicles and more electrified homes and buildings. The rising frequency of hurricanes and wildfires is also creating more power outages, increasing the need for more and bigger transformers.

The NREL report finds that by 2050, utilities may need to increase distribution transformer capacity by between 160 percent and 260 percent compared with 2021 levels.


“Distribution transformers are a bedrock component of our energy infrastructure,” Killian McKenna, NREL’s lead researcher on this study, said in a statement. “But utilities needing to add or replace them are currently facing high prices and long wait times due to supply chain shortages. This has the potential to affect energy accessibility, reliability, affordability — everything.”