October 22, 2021

Comparing Transformer-Based and Transformerless Uninterruptible Power Supplies

Choosing between transformer-based or transformerless uninterruptible power supplies may not be a simple ‘either/or’ decision, particularly above 10kVA. Both technologies have their place in today’s power protection scenarios but the key differences between them are: physical size, efficiency, noise output and the levels of input harmonic distortion that they generate.

Both uninterruptible power supply designs produce a tightly regulated source of uninterrupted power but they differ in the way they generate the dc voltage required by their inverters and their output stages.

Transformer-based Uninterruptible Power Supplies: until the early 1990s, the only design of online uninterruptible power supply was transformer-based. Nowadays, the design is still available but generally in larger sizes for UPS from eight to 800kVA. The most common applications for this are large industrial sites.

This type of UPS has a robust transformer-isolated inverter output, which makes it more suitable for the type of application where there is a likelihood of electrical noise; spikes, transients, and potentially, a high degree of short-circuit currents.

The inverter generates an ac supply from its dc power source, which is fed into a step-up transformer. The primary function of the transformer is to increase the inverter ac voltage to that required by the load. The transformer also protects the inverter from load disruption, whilst also providing Galvanic isolation (a method of isolating input and output).

Modern inverter designs use IGBTs (Insulated Gate Bipolar Transistors) in place of more traditional switching components (such as power transistors and thyristors). IGBTs combine the fast-acting and high power capability of the Bipolar Transistor with the voltage control features of a MOSFET gate to form a versatile, high frequency switching device. This in turn has given rise to more powerful, efficient and reliable inverters.

Transformer-based UPS are also supplied with a dual input option as standard, which can be selected at installation by simply removing a linking connector from its input terminal. This allows it to be powered from two separate ac supply sources thus adding further resilience. A transformerless UPS can be installed with dual input capability, with supplies derived from the same source, but this is typically a factory-fit option.

Transformerless Uninterruptible Power Supplies: transformerless UPS is a newer design, commonly available from 700VA to 120kVA. The primary purpose behind the introduction of transformerless units was to reduce the overall physical size and weight thus making an uninterruptible power supply unit more suitable for smaller installations and/or computer room/office type environments, where space may be limited. It also generates far less noise and heat than its transformer-based cousin and has far lower input harmonic distortion levels making it compatible with environments where electronic equipment (such as computers) may be more sensitive to this type of distortion.

In place of the step-up transformer, a transformerless UPS uses a staged process of voltage conversion. The first stage combines a rectifier and booster-converter to generate a dc supply for the inverter. An uncontrolled, three-phase bridge rectifier converts the ac supply into a dc voltage. This is passed through a mid-point booster circuit to step the dc voltage up to typically 700-800Vdc from which a battery charger and inverter are powered. In the second stage, the inverter takes the supply from the booster-converter and inverts it back to an ac voltage to supply the load
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