EREA: energy-efficient transformers help make products more energy-efficient and reduce energy bills

Posted on 6 Jan 2022

The European Union's Climate and Energy Framework aims to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, to increase the proportion of renewable energy and to improve energy efficiency. One of its provisions states that by 2030, there must be a 32.5% increase in energy efficiency. Industry is therefore being asked to improve the energy efficiency of its products, in order to achieve at least the same output, while consuming less energy.

Transformers are important electrical components in a variety of industries. They need to be designed so as to enable them to lose as little energy as possible. That way, they will be able to contribute towards the energy efficiency of Europe's industries.

That is what EREA is doing. EREA Energy Engineering has been manufacturing energy-efficient transformers that are ‘engineered & made in Belgium’ since 1933. We spoke to the company's two directors, Herman Nollet and Jeroen Goetschalckx.

How does EREA differ from other transformer manufacturers?

“All transformers suffer energy losses, so if we can make sure that transformers lose less energy, that makes a big difference. That is the reason why for a long time now, we've been focusing on developing and producing all of our transformers to be as energy-efficient as possible.

In 2010, we launched our ‘blue e³ series’. These industrial transformers – whether they are one of our standard products or are built to the customer's specifications – are even more energy-efficient than our ordinary transformers. ‘Blue triple e’ stands for ‘Erea Energy Efficiency’.

By using more, better and therefore more costly materials, we can bring the no-load losses down. By increasing the cross-section of the copper wire, we can also drive the full load losses downwards. Initially, these transformers are therefore more expensive than ordinary transformers, but the end-customer will realise savings across their entire life cycle. After all, the blue e³ transformers ensure that our customers achieve a reliable reduction in energy losses, thereby driving down their energy bill. Now that energy prices are rising, even more of our partners will be convinced that choosing blue e³ is a good idea.”

You launched your first energy-efficient transformers back in 2010. Were you pioneers in that regard?

“You could say so, yes. Certainly within our segment, which is made up of low-voltage transformers. On the one hand, you have the manufacturers that produce very small transformers, such as the ones used in mobile phone chargers, for example. Those transformers are subject to very clear regulations.

On the other hand, however, you have the manufacturers of the very large transformers that supply the electricity network. They of course have everything to gain by keeping energy losses as low as possible, as those devices would otherwise generate extremely large losses indeed.

EREA is situated in the intermediate segment, in that we don't produce such massive numbers, nor do our transformers handle such high power levels.

We are not obliged to comply with the European Ecodesign Directive to make devices more energy-efficient right from their design, but we do so anyway. And we were actually doing that even before the European Ecodesign Directive came into force. After all, it was as long ago as 2010 that we decided to focus on energy efficiency. Our ecological design easily satisfies the European energy efficiency requirements here in Europe.”

Were these energy-efficient transformers developed for use in specific sectors?

“We have reorganised a major part of our product range to make sure that we're not offering two distinct ranges but are enabling our customers to choose between a conventional transformer that is somewhat less costly or a more energy-efficient transformer that costs more to purchase. The energy-efficient models are clearly recognisable as they are finished in blue. We supply transformers for a diverse range of sectors, such as the medical, telecom, public transport, wellness, general industrial, food, maritime and offshore sectors.

In sectors specialising in renewable energy, our blue e³ transformers are performing very well, including the blue e³ single-phase and triple-phase isolating transformers used in applications such as charging points for electric vehicles, photovoltaic systems, heat pumps and wind turbines. In those fields, the emphasis is upon the total cost of ownership, which means that customers are more prepared to pay a higher purchase price at the outset. They regard it as an investment as opposed to an expense."

How soon do buyers of these blue e³-transformers recoup the extra cost?

“If they are working at full capacity 24 hours a day, the extra cost required to purchase the transformer will be recouped in just one year, due to the fact that the electricity costs are lower. So it pays for itself fairly quickly.”

You develop all of your products in-house. But aren't you also involved in innovation projects?

“We are taking part in ESSIAL. ESSIAL is a research project financed by the European Commission's "Factory of the Future" programme. The aim of the project is to carry out research into the use of laser surface texturising on soft ferromagnetic materials, in order to improve the performance and functionalities of laminated magnetic circuits. One of the applications in which this ought to be useful is in the core of a transformer, as this is one of the ways we are hoping to reduce losses even further. The consortium therefore contacted us to ask us to share our expertise and take part in the project. Our long-standing market position makes us the ideal partner.”

How do you see the future of EREA?

“The energy transition, increasing energy prices that are causing increasing numbers of consumers and businesses to generate their own energy and the transition towards the more widespread use of electric vehicles all offer a whole host of opportunities for EREA. We will maintain our focus on energy-efficient products. Our transformers perform well in applications such as solar panels and charging points for electric vehicles due to the fact that they also have an additional feature. They require a low inrush current, which means that they are easier to deploy in residential settings. That in itself is relatively unique. The electricity network in Belgium is somewhat atypical in that the 400-volt network structure is not present everywhere. What is more, the system sometimes lacks a stable neutral conductor. Without a stable neutral connector, the vehicle cannot be charged. A series of transformers designed specifically with this in mind is now solving that problem and is something that we believe offers significant potential for growth.”

What are your ambitions?

“What we are dreaming of is not only supplying our super-economical transformers to customers in Belgium and its neighbouring countries, which account for 75% and 25% of our turnover, but also to customers the world over. We therefore want to direct our primary focus towards international growth. Our web shop is already contributing to this. We are also convinced that the decentralisation of energy production and the electrification of transport will provide a favourable environment for us. We will therefore continue to focus on those areas.”

About EREA – Designed & Made in Belgium

EREA was set up in 1933 and is a transformer manufacturer based in Belgium. EREA manufactures its transformers at its production facility in Wijnegem and achieves an annual turnover of approximately EUR 4 million.

In total, EREA employs around thirty people, about twenty of whom are involved in production. EREA develops all of its transformers itself at its own R&D department in Belgium. EREA's customer base consists of electrotechnical wholesalers on the one hand and of large installation companies on the other.

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