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January 20, 2022

U.S. Electric Grid Imports More Chinese Transformers in 2020 and 2021

Chinese Transformers in 2020 a

Posted on August 13, 2021 by Michael Mabee


The U.S. Imported 66 Large Chinese Transformers in 2020 – More Are On Order for 2021

According to U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) data, the U.S. imported 66 Chinese large power transformers in 2020. 54 of these were classified as “having a power handling capacity exceeding 100,000kVA.”

Since 2006, USITC data shows that the U.S. has imported 366 “liquid dielectric transformers having a power handling capacity exceeding 10,000 kVA” from China. We now know that 294 of these have a power handling capacity exceeding 100,000 kVA.

Since I last reported on this critical infrastructure security issue HERE and HERE, the U.S. has continued to order and import, these large Chinese transformers in 2020 and 2021.

In fact, in August of 2021, a Chinese company, JiangSu HuaPeng Transformer Co., Ltd. (a.k.a. “JSHP Transformer”) posted on their website that “JSHP has been awarded to design, build, and supply of a 345KV 610MVA Step-up Power Transformer by a US comapny” [sic]. Step-up transformers are a key component of the U.S. electric grid.

JSHP also boasts of several recent U.S. orders and deliveries.  In sum, the U.S. electric grid continues to import Chinese transformers in 2020 and 2021. Here are a few examples – straight from the horse’s mouth – of U.S. imports of large Chinese transformers in 2020 and 2021 (click on pictures for a larger view):

Chinese Transformers in 2020 and 2021

U.S. Electric Grid Continues to Import Chinese Transformers in 2020 and 2021

U.S. Electric Grid Continues to Import Chinese Transformers in 2020 and 2021U.S. Electric Grid Continues to Import Chinese Transformers in 2020 and 2021

Is This A Problem?

Back on April 25, 2019, E&E News discussed this issue in an article entitled “China and America’s 400-ton electric albatross.” They reported:

“There have been over 200 Chinese transformers that have come into the U.S. energy sector in the last 10 years,” said Charles Durant, deputy director of counterintelligence at the Department of Energy. “Before that, there were zero.”

On May 27, 2020 the Wall Street Journal reported that a Chinese built transformer was seized by the government and diverted by the federal government from its intended destination (the electric grid that feeds Denver, Colorado) to Sandia National Laboratories.

Control Systems Cybersecurity Expert, Joseph M. Weiss noted that Executive Order 13920 was issued in response to real nation-state supply chain cybersecurity threats to the US grid:

“Government and public utility procurement rules often push organizations into buying equipment due to price and without regard to origin or risk. In this case, it resulted in a utility having to procure a very large bulk transmission transformer from China. When the Chinese transformer was delivered to a US utility, the site acceptance testing identified electronics that should NOT have been part of the transformer – hardware backdoors. That transformer now resides at a government installation.”

Executive order 13920 was suspended on January 20, 2021.

Here’s the problem:

We are buying critical equipment from China to install into our critical electric infrastructure that China is already hacking!

(What could possibly go wrong?) This is what is known as a “supply-chain cybersecurity” vulnerability.

There is no requirement that anybody check these pieces of equipment for vulnerabilities. And transformers are not the only electric component we import from China – and possibly install in our critical infrastructures. Large transformers are just big enough to see!

U.S. Imports of Chinese Transformers in 2020 and Prior Years:

There are two datasets that show the number of large Chinese transformers imported into the U.S.: The U.S. International Trade Commission and the WITS (United Nations and World Bank trade data). The WITS reports 300 more “Electrical transformers; liquid dielectric, having a power handling capacity exceeding 10,000kVA” Imported from China by the U.S. than the USITC data reports.

Electrical transformers; liquid dielectric, having a power handling capacity exceeding 10,000kVA:

U.S. Electric Grid Continues to Import Chinese Transformers in 2020 and 2021
Click for Larger View

Electrical transformers; liquid dielectric, having a power handling capacity exceeding 100,000kVA:

U.S. Electric Grid Continues to Import Chinese Transformers in 2020 and 2021
Click for Larger View

Interestingly, in a 2012 the Department of Energy’s publication “Large Power Transformers and the U.S. Electric Grid” contained a chart that showed the imports of Chinese large power transformers (exceeding 100,000kVA). However, in the April 2014 Update to this chart, the number of rows listing individual countries were reduced and China disappeared (presumably falling under the “All Others” category).

Here are both charts:


Department of Energy 2012 Chart

Department of Energy 2014 Chart

Source Data:

USITC Data (pulled August 11, 2021):

WITS Data:

 

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Top Photo Credit: JSHP Transformers