A transformer is a passive component that transfers electrical energy from one electrical circuit to another circuit, or multiple circuits. A varying current in any coil of the transformer produces a varying magnetic flux in the transformer's core, which induces a varying electromotive force across any other coils wound around the same core. Electrical energy can be transferred between separate coils without a metallic (conductive) connection between the two circuits. Faraday's law of induction, discovered in 1831, describes the induced voltage effect in any coil due to a changing magnetic flux encircled by the coil. Transformers are used to change AC voltage levels, such transformers being termed step-up or step-down type to increase or decrease voltage level, respectively. Transformers can also be used to provide galvanic isolation between circuits as well as to couple stages of signal- processing circuits. Since the invention of the first constant-potential transformer in 1885, transformers have become essential for the transmission, distribution, and utilization of alternating current electric power. A wide range of transformer designs is encountered in electronic and electric power applications. Transformers range in size from RF transformers less than a cubic centimeter in volume, to units weighing hundreds of tons used to interconnect the power grid.
Small dry-type transformers are often self-cooled by natural convection and radiation heat dissipation. As power ratings increase, transformers are often cooled by forced-air cooling, forced-oil cooling, water-cooling, or combinations of these. Large transformers are filled with transformer oil that both cools and insulates the windings. Transformer oil is a highly refined mineral oil that cools the windings and insulation by circulating within the transformer tank. The mineral oil and paper insulation system has been extensively studied and used for more than 100 years. It is estimated that 50% of power transformers will survive 50 years of use, that the average age of failure of power transformers is about 10 to 15 years, and that about 30% of power transformer failures are due to insulation and overloading failures. Prolonged operation at elevated temperature degrades insulating properties of winding insulation and dielectric coolant, which not only shortens transformer life but can ultimately lead to catastrophic transformer failure. With a great body of empirical study as a guide, transformer oil testing including dissolved gas analysis provides valuable maintenance information.
Building regulations in many jurisdictions require indoor liquid-filled transformers to either use dielectric fluids that are less flammable than oil, or be installed in fire-resistant rooms. Air-cooled dry transformers can be more economical where they eliminate the cost of a fire-resistant transformer room. The tank of liquid-filled transformers often has radiators through which the liquid coolant circulates by natural convection or fins. Some large transformers employ electric fans for forced-air cooling, pumps for forced-liquid cooling, or have heat exchangers for water-cooling. An oil-immersed transformer may be equipped with a Buchholz relay, which, depending on severity of gas accumulation due to internal arcing, is used to either alarm or de-energize the transformer. Oil-immersed transformer installations usually include fire protection measures such as walls, oil containment, and fire-suppression sprinkler systems. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have properties that once favored their use as a dielectric coolant, though concerns over their environmental persistence led to a widespread ban on their use. Today, non-toxic, stable silicone-based oils, or fluorinated hydrocarbons may be used where the expense of a fire-resistant liquid offsets additional building cost for a transformer vault. However, the long life span of transformers can mean that the potential for exposure can be high long after banning.
An electrical cable is an assembly of one or more wires running side by side or bundled, which is used to carry electric current. One or more electrical cables and their corresponding connectors may be formed into a cable assembly, which is not necessarily suitable for connecting two devices but can be a partial product (e.g. to be soldered onto a printed circuit board with a connector mounted to the housing). Cable assemblies can also take the form of a cable tree or cable harness, used to connect many terminals together. Physically, an electrical cable is an assembly consisting of one or more conductors with their own insulations and optional screens, individual covering(s), assembly protection and protective covering(s). Electrical cables may be made more flexible by stranding the wires. In this process, smaller individual wires are twisted or braided together to produce larger wires that are more flexible than solid wires of similar size. Bunching small wires before concentric stranding adds the most flexibility. Copper wires in a cable may be bare, or they may be plated with a thin layer of another metal, most often tin but sometimes gold, silver or some other material. Tin, gold, and silver are much less prone to oxidation than copper, which may lengthen wire life, and makes soldering easier. Tinning is also used to provide lubrication between strands. Tinning was used to help removal of rubber insulation. Tight lays during stranding makes the cable extensible (CBA – as in telephone handset cords).
An electrical insulator is a material in which electric current does not flow freely. The atoms of the insulator have tightly bound electrons which cannot readily move. Other materials—semiconductors and conductors—conduct electric current more easily. The property that distinguishes an insulator is its resistivity; insulators have higher resistivity than semiconductors or conductors. The most common examples are non-metals. A perfect insulator does not exist because even insulators contain small numbers of mobile charges (charge carriers) which can carry current. In addition, all insulators become electrically conductive when a sufficiently large voltage is applied that the electric field tears electrons away from the atoms. This is known as the breakdown voltage of an insulator. Some materials such as glass, paper and PTFE, which have high resistivity, are very good electrical insulators. A much larger class of materials, even though they may have lower bulk resistivity, are still good enough to prevent significant current from flowing at normally used voltages, and thus are employed as insulation for electrical wiring and cables. Examples include rubber-like polymers and most plastics which can be thermoset or thermoplastic in nature. Insulators are used in electrical equipment to support and separate electrical conductors without allowing current through themselves. An insulating material used in bulk to wrap electrical cables or other equipment is called insulation. The term insulator is also used more specifically to refer to insulating supports used to attach electric power distribution or transmission lines to utility poles and transmission towers. They support the weight of the suspended wires without allowing the current to flow through the tower to ground.
Insulators used for high-voltage power transmission are made from glass, porcelain or composite polymer materials. Porcelain insulators are made from clay, quartz or alumina and feldspar, and are covered with a smooth glaze to shed water. Insulators made from porcelain rich in alumina are used where high mechanical strength is a criterion. Porcelain has a dielectric strength of about 4–10 kV/mm. Glass has a higher dielectric strength, but it attracts condensation and the thick irregular shapes needed for insulators are difficult to cast without internal strains. Some insulator manufacturers stopped making glass insulators in the late 1960s, switching to ceramic materials. Recently, some electric utilities have begun converting to polymer composite materials for some types of insulators. These are typically composed of a central rod made of fibre reinforced plastic and an outer weathershed made of silicone rubber or ethylene propylene diene monomer rubber (EPDM). Composite insulators are less costly, lighter in weight, and have excellent hydrophobic capability. This combination makes them ideal for service in polluted areas. However, these materials do not yet have the long-term proven service life of glass and porcelain.