Why didn’t we do this before?How the pandemic has changed priorities

By Steve Jones, Sales Director, MIDEL Asia-Pacific

Covid-19 came, it spread and it took a sledgehammer to our economies, jobs and, most sadly of all, our families. We are all still finding our feet in this new world; the pandemic has also exploded our habits and ‘traditional’ beliefs – the operational DNA that has been hard-wired into us; passed down from managers and mentors and firmly fixed in our entrenched specifications and policy documents.

You would be hard pressed to find many positives in this surreal landscape we now have to navigate, but if I was to salvage anything from this whole episode it would be ‘the great adjustment’ that we have all so bravely embraced.

This adjustment is happening in every aspect of our daily lives. I live and work in Singapore, and have seen first-hand how the traditional Hawker Centre stalls (a unique feature of Singapore culture and lifestyle – open-air food courts housing multiple stalls selling or ‘hawking’ a variety of local and other Asian cuisines), have had to transition from waving fists of dollars, studiously checking the notes and carefully handing out change to now offering contactless payment terminals and laminated QR code boards. This technology has been around for a long time; it was first introduced by a restaurant chain in 2008 (that’s 12 years ago which is an age for technology of this kind!)

So if the technology was available and proven why wasn’t it used? Because it wasn’t considered a priority and in some cases seniors were sceptical of its usefulness.

People didn’t see the need to change as they were already too busy operating with the way things had always worked for them. When the rush of the Hawker Centres stopped during the ‘circuit-breaker’ measures they had time to re-consider their methods; having done so, it’s hard to see how they can ever return to how things were. They now have a safer and more efficient system that benefits both buyer and seller alike. They are even integrating in-app purchase providers for home delivery. Because of this adjustment their operational landscape is now much bigger – along with an expanded scope for increasing revenues.

In our professional lives, this same pattern is emerging over and over again. When I reflect on the last four and a half years and the hundreds of interactions I have had all over the world with transformer manufacturers, EPCs, consultants and world class utilities, I can count on the fingers of one hand those that have technically opposed my MIDEL product portfolio. MIDEL, as you might know, is an environmentally friendly and fire safe alternative to other dielectric technologies used in transformers, such as mineral oil, and it saves the owner money throughout the life of the transformer reducing the burden on maintenance and provides unique design benefits in substation construction. So for the few who have rejected it, I suspect some had conflicting agendas or were simply drowning with other priorities even in light of the glaring benefits.

Despite acknowledging this is what we should be doing moving forward not all of them have progressed this proven technology further. The main culprit here was its perceived priority. Departments and key engineers were too busy managing that day’s priorities and they didn’t have the time on their hands to evaluate this technology more thoroughly. This would be compounded by the old world distractions that would continually creep in and de-rail any momentum for change.

Finding ourselves in a very new working environment allows us to press “reset” and challenge what we did before. Perhaps it’s no surprise that some of our historical plans, procedures and technologies aren’t relevant anymore or even capable of the performance we need to manage not just today’s energy demands, but those of tomorrow when we consider the changing mix of renewables, smart and micro grids as well as the IoT. Working remotely, we suddenly have less distractions – the cat and mouse game of solving today’s problem is less prominent; we are adjusting, and giving ourselves some freedom to think beyond “right now”. The list of priorities has suddenly changed and renewed interest in that ‘thing’ we always wanted to do is making its way to the top of the pile. With this, I and the MIDEL APAC team have noticed a creeping keenness, a new impetus if you will, during COVID to integrate MIDEL not only on a one-off project or application, but to make it standard for all transformer types.

Each week I’m further encouraged by the feedback we receive about renewed interest and prioritisation of integrating MIDEL fluids into distribution and transmission networks. Although underlying growth and acceptance of MIDEL has increased at impressive rates over recent times, already, in the last 6 months alone we have done more alternative substation design studies, engineering business cases and helped advise on transformer policies and specifications than we had done in the previous 24 months. Our GoToMeeting platforms, Microsoft Teams meetings and Zoom sessions have been utilised in full-on mode and the intent to change on a wide scale is both serious and well considered.

One prominent utility in South East Asia lists the change from mineral oil to ester fluids as their number 1 priority this year and highlights distribution voltages right through to large power within its scope. Having had the time to evaluate and consult with our experts they can see the clear benefits in performance, safety, environmental impact and cost benefit analysis. Not only is it the right thing to do, it makes compelling economic sense too. Cutting costs will be the most frequent and demanding task placed on our industry in the short to medium term future. We now have an opportunity to equip ourselves with better technologies that can help us achieve that without compromising asset reliability or lifetime, or the resiliency of power networks, or the safety of the public, or… well, you get the picture. 

So it seems it was never really about “is MIDEL a good option for us?” – it was always about where it sat on a set of priorities amidst our busy daily schedules where we jump from one most urgent thing to the next. This is changing and the most commonly asked question is “why didn’t we do this before?” That would be one for you to answer but the good news is it’s not too late. This however, is not to say people haven’t been addressing fire safety, or the relative safety to people in close proximity to transformers as well as the impact on our environment. APAC territories like India, Australia, Thailand and the Philippines have been on a journey over the past decade to adopt safety conscious decisions, with marked progression but this is quite clearly a paradigm shift towards a more sustainable future.

To compare my Hawker Centre example in which it took 12 years for a proven technology to properly reach its counters and stalls, with MIDEL fluids it has been proven for over 40 years. Whilst I respect our industry is risk adverse, with a conservative approach to change, certainly now is the time to bring specifications in-line with best practice and that’s where MIDEL fits in.

Without exception, we all long to see the back of COVID and the limitations we’ve accepted in order to deal with it, but I for one hope that we don’t slip back into our ‘traditional’ ways and instead build on this great adjustment. Something as simple as a transformer fluid change can make a major difference and is part of the forward thinking engineers mind-set. You and your companies will be much better off for it – it is an exciting opportunity that we should all embrace. The MIDEL ester experts are here to help you do that, just like we are currently doing for many other transformer owners in Asia-Pacific.

One more thing to consider is that the products and technologies you choose need to be tried and tested. That’s another story about selecting the right supplier and using engineering criteria in your procurement decisions, and I’ll be sharing my views on that topic in my next posting.