The IEC 61850 standard: The force behind a less costly way to engineer a utility substation

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As Ethernet protocols become more common inside of utility substations, the tendency to distribute functions across many different devices is increasing. Since open standards do not restrict designers to proprietary vendor solutions, they are free to choose the best solution for their application. This leads to multi-vendor environments. Therefore, the task of configuring communications between different substation devices becomes much more complex for system engineers.  This drives increased costs.

Change management, software configuration training, and human error all impact these substation automation engineering costs. Traditional methods that use hardwire and Distributed Network Protocol (DNP3) SCADA protocols are complex and time consuming.  Engineers using these tools rely on spreadsheets and other forms of documentation to pass the context of the data from level to level. An alarm at a protection Intelligent Electronic Device (IED) is mapped to a DNP3 index; this index is then mapped to data concentrators by a controls engineer, and finally mapped to a SCADA front-end processor. As the data is mapped from index to index, it is easy to lose the context of the data through human error when compiling such mapping tables. With limited investment and increasing pressure on operating cost, this traditional model of operation has been rendered less attractive.

IEC 61850 standard simplifies substation engineering work

The IEC 61850 standard, which embraces object-oriented engineering approaches, represents significant engineering cost savings.  If implemented, IEC 61850 greatly simplifies the substation change management process.

In the IEC 61850 standard world, data is mapped to logical nodes with pre-defined, meaningful names in the context of an electrical substation. This standardization between different devices and players ensures that the data never loses its context at different stages of the substation engineering process.

Adopting IEC 61850 standards can help utilities accrue savings in the following ways:

  1. Reduced configuration time – These tools reduce the time needed to configure a substation automation system. In one study, a time savings of 72% was observed using a system configuration tool versus having to configure each individual protection relay. For this test only one brand of protection relay was used, and of the two engineers selected for the test, the less experienced was selected to work with the system configuration tool.
  2. Increased virtualization – The substation data model can be developed and tested virtually, before the implementation phase of the project. A stronger initial design can be produced as a result and this allows for a reduction in costly modifications further down the road.
  3. Reduced reaction time to design changes –  Changes to the design that require modifications to the system during the implementation phase can be made through software, minimizing physical reconfiguration. This means the system design is solely in the hands of the engineer which allows him/her to quickly revert back to previous versions of the configuration if the change does not produce the desired result.
  4. Increased standardization and object–oriented engineering – The object-oriented approach to substation design enabled by the IEC 61850 standard allows designers to develop standard bay configurations for elements of their power system. This means that the building blocks of a project do not have to be re-engineered from scratch every time a substation automation system engineering project comes along. Standardization also allows for a high level of reuse and efficient repeatability.

Schneider Electric partners play an important role in helping utility customers to migrate their substation environments. To learn more visit our suite of substation automation solutions  and download our white paper, “Evaluating the Arc-Flash Protection Benefits of IEC 61850 Communication.”

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