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Clean Power Australians possess the bizarre superhuman ability to take photographs of transformers without being arrested by Homeland Security.

Published on February 14th, 2013 | by Ronald Brakels

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Australian Transformers Safe From Decepticon Solar Attack

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February 14th, 2013 by  

Australians possess the bizarre superhuman ability to take photographs of transformers without being arrested by Homeland Security.

There have been unconfirmed reports that electrical transformers have been damaged by solar power in Australia. And when I say unconfirmed, I mean really unconfirmed. As in, no one who’s mentioned it to me has been able to back it up with any evidence at all, not even a link to a newspaper article. This strikes me as odd because the people who have mentioned it to me (e.g. commenters on this site) seem really concerned about it, as if it was some sort of major problem, and important enough for them to bring it up out of context in online discussions.

But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by people saying things that aren’t based on evidence. I’ve noticed it happening a fair bit at the Australian end of the internet. I’m afraid the Australian internet just isn’t as refined or sophisticated as I’m sure the rest of it is. We seem to lack the dry wit and formal politeness I’m sure the UK internet has or the generous, warm-hearted friendliness I’m confident characterises the American part of the internet.

If you’re wondering just what is the Australian portion of the internet, it’s the part that smells like kangaroos. If you’re wondering what kangaroos smell like, I’ve been told by British people that they smell like curry, but I haven’t noticed this myself. I have had plenty of curries that have smelled like kangaroo, but I’ve always assumed that was because the chef was being flexible with the definition of the word “beef.”

I don’t claim to be any sort of genius when it comes to using this newfangled internet thing, but I’ve looked and looked and, while I can find news articles about things such as power station transformers catching on fire, I can’t find anything about a transformer being damaged by solar power in Australia, or indeed anywhere else. Now, this doesn’t mean it has never happened, but it does mean it is obviously not a big problem. Things that are big problems have a tendency to turn up in newspapers. That’s how they make their money. In fact, due to the motivation money provides, newspapers have a tendency to turn things that are teeny weeny little problems into very big problems. But despite this, I still found nothing on solar power damaging transformers.

And just to be clear, I’m not saying it’s impossible for some sort of botched solar power installation to damage a transformer. For all I know, it could happen. All I’m saying is it couldn’t be easy. It would require levels of incompetence that would impress even me. After all, our local power infrastructure doesn’t consist of twisty ties suspended from poles. It’s robust enough to handle things such as locals building their own homemade arc welders out of old microwave ovens.

So, I couldn’t for the life of me work out why people kept bringing up stories about solar power damaging transformers when it was obviously such a nonproblem. But then it occurred to me that maybe these people didn’t want to point out a real problem in order to motivate people to fix it. Maybe they actually had the ulterior motive of trying to make solar power look bad. Maybe it was all some sort of con job, or a deception, or a deceptive con!

I immediately went out and informed my local transformer of my suspicions, but he had to think about the situation and so didn’t make any comment. Nor did he roll out or change form into any sort of vehicle.

More recently, instead of complaining about solar power damaging transformers, deceptive con artists have been saying rooftop solar can damage appliances by raising voltage levels. When I asked these people to provide evidence of this, all they’ve been able to show me so far is a single newspaper article that merely mentions it as a possibility but makes no mention of any appliance actually being damaged. This lack of evidence doesn’t surprise me as I happen to know that in reality this simply does not occur, as solar inverters are designed to automatically cut out if the voltage rises too high.

So, my advice is to simply not believe people who lie by making mountains out of molehills, or who lie through negligence by repeating something that sounds good to them without considering if it has any foundation in reality, or who straight out lie because they either like to fight for what they think is their side or are just plain nuts. Now I’ll sit back and see if some nut can manage to produce evidence of a transformer somewhere in Australia being damaged by solar power at some point in time and see how much internet froth comes out of their mouth as they try to insist it’s some sort of massive problem.

But the up side of all this is I have obtained a deeper appreciation for my local transformer and all the good work he does for me. And I strongly recommend getting to know your own local transformer better. They are very thoughtful and always think long and hard before speaking. They answer any question you ask with a prolonged, “Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm…” Just remember to respect their personal space and keep a safe distance. And most importantly, above all else, resist the temptation to give one a hug.

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About the Author

lives in Adelaide, South Australia. Now that his secret identity has been revealed he is free to admit he first became interested in renewable energy after environmental mismanagement destroyed his home planet of Krypton. He is keenly interested in solar energy and at completely random intervals will start talking to himself about, "The vast power of earth's yellow sun."



  • John

    Transformer Networks damage by Grid Solar Power
    We have a case of you guys are not shore what going on, afraid of street transformer network been damage from grid connected rooftop solar power, yet you guys remain unsure of the situation base on newspaper reports across Australia which the power companies provide a case of damage networks of transformers that have been replaced as the results of grid solar power damaging them.

  • mds

    Mr. Brakels,
    I enjoy your humor. I liked the earlier “Super Competitive!” article too. Thank you. We in the land of Faux News and Rush Limbo are a-custom to this kind of nonsense. I’m sure you’ve heard of Faux News recently declaring Germany’s solar resource better than that of the USA because Germany is actually a sunnier tropical country. Close to that anyway. Those guys are geniuses. Now more people know solar makes sense here. …just like when they bashed the GM Volt until a few of their own conservative leaders bashed them. Too much fun.
    You must have your own kind of Australian right-wing blindness down there. Not to worry, I figure in 5 to 10 years these same people will tell us they always knew solar was the future. In the mean time, keep up the good humor. You provide just the kind of serious consideration this nonsense merits.
    Thanks again,
    mike

    • Ronald Brakels

      I’m very pleased you liked my article on transformers, Mike. I might write more on the subject in the future. After all, there’s more to them than meets the eye.

  • Otis11

    Well, I actually think I can shed some light on this – but it’s a bit of a mixed bag.

    Is it possible for correctly installed solar panels to damage electrical transformer? Well yes, actually it is, but it’s fairly hard to do assuming it has been installed correctly. (Please note that even if they were installed incorrectly, they may work under normal situations, and do so for years, but fail under abnormal circumstances). If your solar array is only creating enough power to reduce your load on the grid, you can never damage anything – period. But, if you have a big enough system that during the middle of the day you push out power to the grid, and enough of your neighbors have this situation too – so many in fact that your entire neighborhood (everything downstream of the transformer) has a negative power draw, you will, by definition, be pushing power back to the larger grid as a whole. While this SHOULD not be a significant problem, not all transformers were made to accommodation this possibility and depending on internal designs, can malfunction and damage themselves. This is HIGHLY UNLIKELY however as you would need the entire downstream demand to be met, typically by solar panels that output power at times of peak demand, but it is possible.

    And as far as the claim they “damage appliances by raising voltage levels” – That can only be true if multiple mistakes were made upon installation. There are too many variables that will self correct this situation for it to occur in any significant numbers and any one of the necessary mistakes would severely hinder grid efficiency. So if your panels are putting out anywhere near the properly rated power, you will not have this problem an more often than you did with grid power spikes before you bought solar panels.

    So the short answer – It’s really not a problem in the short term, and it can definitely be fixed fairly easily.

    • Ronald Brakels

      Thanks for that, Otis11. And it is something that seems next to impossible given our restrictions on installation size and our requirements for inverters.
      An hour and ten minutes to the south of me is Victor Harbour, a town utterly infested with rooftop solar. It might have the highest concentration of rooftop solar in the world outside of Europe. And there things are running sweet. Transformers are humming along nicely and nothing is getting fried by high voltages.

  • anderlan

    That was brilliantly light-hearted. I will keep an eye out for deceptive-cons. Thank you.

  • http://www.energyquicksand.com/ Edward Kerr

    Proponents of centralized power production and sale will often resort to “trolling” in an effort to slow down the transition to distributed electrical production as they can see their income base being slowly eroded. I suspect that that is why some of those claims come “out of context” to the discussions involved. Perhaps just a stock holder seeing dividends diminishing(?)

    • Ronald Brakels

      I doubt it’s anything so rational. I’ve spoken to face to face to people who quite plainly don’t know the difference between carbon dioxide and a fetid dingo kidney, and yet they still have no problem at all confidently stating that they know there is no such thing as global warming. It basically comes down to them choosing to believe what their big men tell them, their politicians and radio talkshow personalities, and choosing to disbelieve anyone else without feeling any need to actually consider the evidence. And it’s not just a matter of them insisting that they’re right and everyone else is wrong. They don’t stop there. They often feel the need to vilify people who disagree with them because the more evil you make out your enemies to be, the better you seem in comparison. If you can convince yourself that you’re fighting a devil, then obviously you must be on the side of the angels.

      • http://www.energyquicksand.com/ Edward Kerr

        Sadly, you’re probably right…

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      I’d agree. I’ve seen many of these campaigns exposed. I’ve seen people identify true trolls of this sort in comments using various methods I won’t mention here. And I think I’ve developed a pretty decent ability to spot them from years of moderating comments. These ones Ronald is referring to seemed like definite paid trolls. I’m not going to spend my time writing at length why, but it doesn’t really matter — some people are paid, and some have simply bought the bull s*** they’ve been fed, but we certainly should correct them both.

      pointing out the likelihood or possibility or (when possible) fact that they were paid is certainly worthwhile sometimes, though.

  • globi

    PV Inverters reduce their power output above a certain voltage threshold or a certain frequency threshold (they cannot harm the grid).
    On the contrary: PV systems on existing roofs reduce the load on the grid and large PV inverters reduce reactive power in the grid even at night. If anything PV inverters protect transformers. http://www.sma.de/en/solutions/medium-power-solutions/knowledgebase/sma-shifts-the-phase.html

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