A 2013 sniper attack on an electric power substation in Northern California, which caused more than $15 million in damages and destroyed 17 transformers, led Idaho National Laboratory researchers to develop a novel protective solution. Now, the lab’s Armored Transformer Barrier system has been licensed for production by Michigan-based Waltonen Engineering, a full-service design and engineering company.
Made from inexpensive yet rugged military grade steel, the armor package creates a formidable barricade to protect high-valued, critical substations from threats including high-power rifles or vehicles laden with explosives. It even remains stable in Category 2 hurricanes without the need for expensive footings or anchors.
“From the beginning of this project, our goal was to design a simple and cost-effective solution to protect the power grid from physical threats and attacks,” said lead designer Henry Chu. “After years of effort, we’ve thoroughly validated and documented this technology’s effectiveness, and we’re excited to see it manufactured and put to use.”
Each barrier system consists of four components: an A-shaped frame, two armor cassettes that slide into the frame and an optional top-hat armor extension. A separate corner piece locks in to provide seamless 360-degree protection. Each package can be transported unassembled to a substation site on a commercial truck and reassembled on-site with simple hand tools, utility forklifts and lifting cranes.
“We are proud to support INL in the effort of protecting our nation’s infrastructure.” said Lloyd Brown, president and CEO of Waltonen Engineering, Inc. “As a small business providing design and fabrication, we understand the need for and importance of a reliable power grid. The Armored Transformer Barrier does just that by protecting the often-overlooked physical assets.”
Although grid damaging events are rare in the United States, organizations including the Department of Homeland Security, Congressional Research Service and the National Academies of Science have warned of the societal effects from a long-term power outage caused by a physical attack on key parts of the grid. In 2015, Congress passed legislation to develop a strategic reserve of transmission equipment.
Currently, the U.S. imports about 85% of its high-voltage transformers from other countries. These large, custom-built devices cost $2.5 million to $10 million dollars each. With limited supplies, expensive raw materials and fabrication times of more than a year, the loss of a single piece of equipment could prevent reliable power from being delivered, creating a risk to national security, economic stability and public health.
About Idaho National Laboratory
Battelle Energy Alliance manages INL for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy. INL is the nation’s center for nuclear energy research and development, and also performs research in each of DOE’s strategic goal areas: energy, national security, science and the environment. For more information, visit www.inl.gov. Follow us on social media: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.