Advances in 3-D Substation Design at Hydro-Québec

By S. Lamothe and P. Graveline, Hydro-Quàƒ©bec

Engineering projects are being carried out at an increasingly rapid pace in our day. Invariably, the goal is to reduce engineering time and costs, and this is true of all enterprises, not just energy providers. To do so, Hydro-Quàƒ©bec has turned to three-dimensional computer-aided design (3-D CAD) technology, which the utility now uses to design substations.

Hydro-Quàƒ©bec now has 30 substations (from 25 kV to 735 kV) modeled in 3-D–six more than half a year earlier. To further reduce engineering time, our development efforts focused on optimizing and accelerating the production of 2-D drawings. A potential benefits assessment was performed to see if 3-D modeling might be a cost-effective approach. The assessment made us realize that our financial goals could only be met if we improved our use of the software–not only for production of 2-D drawings but also by using the 3-D model for certain engineering tasks.

This article describes the results of the potential benefits assessment. It also looks at some new applications of the 3-D CAD software: the combination of 2-D and 3-D, the “equipment blocks” concept and lightning protection design.

Potential Benefits Assessment

At the end of 2007, Hydro-Quàƒ©bec performed a cost analysis to determine the potential benefits of using 3-D CAD technology for substation design. The purpose was to identify promising avenues for development in the next few years.

The analysis involved examining the costs of designing of a completely new substation using a 3-D model in 2008. The same substation design was then cost-estimated using design methods projected for 2012–that is, assuming developments projected for 2012.

The cost difference between the 2008 and the 2012 designs were estimated at $350,000 for this project only. Electrical engineering costs were reduced by around 20 percent and civil engineering costs by about 30 percent. These reductions were due to developments such as completely automated generation of 2-D drawings combined with changes in work methods.

As mentioned, projected benefits were not the only thing evaluated. Developments required to achieve these benefits were also analyzed: Certain redundant tasks are to be automated by 2012. Generation of 2-D drawings will not be required at all or will demand minimal effort. Substation models will be updated in real time with engineering input and will include engineering intelligence; for example, validation of standards and rules will be integrated in the software. The substation builder will also have access to the model. New employees will be familiar with the software and will use it on a larger scale than today.

There are two other potential benefits of these developments. With the reduced engineering time, financing costs will drop, and, with better interdisciplinary coordination, there will be fewer changes during construction of the substation, hence fewer unexpected additional costs.

The potential benefits assessment clearly showed that Hydro-Quàƒ©bec should continue to invest in 3-D CAD as there are still benefits to be derived. (See Figure 1)

Figure 1. 3-D CAD Model of a SubstationClick here to enlarge image


Combining Old and New

Designing new substations using 3-D CAD is clearly a cost-effective solution, but what about using this technology for major reconditioning of existing substations? An earlier study reviewed 3-D scanning with laser scanners to model existing equipment as a possible solution, but this option was not explored further. Since that time, a new design method was developed and existing 2-D drawings of substations can now be integrated in 3-D models.

The 3-D CAD software can incorporate Autocad drawings and scanned plans in the 3-D model. With large reconditioning projects, it is best to model the existing electrical equipment in 3-D and redraw all the 2-D plans from the model, but this is not the case for small projects, such as replacing a single circuit-breaker. For these smaller projects, the new design method of combining 2-D and 3-D is best. By inserting “tiff” or Autocad files in a 3-D model (See Figure 2), the software can be used to produce 2-D drawings at reduced cost but a 3-D model still exists.

Figure 2 Tif Files with 3-D EquipmentClick here to enlarge image


Simplification and Teaching

Despite these exciting developments, one major improvement is still required in 3-D CAD technology–simplification. Building a 3-D substation model is a complex task. Parts must be designed or selected from a library one by one and then assembled. In addition, the parts and assemblies have to be named and stored in a database. To accomplish these tasks, a designer needs good knowledge not only of the software but also of Hydro-Quàƒ©bec standards and the structure of the model. The designer must also be up-to-date on the latest applications, methodologies and processes–and this is a rapidly changing field.

Your run-of-the-mill electrical engineer is not knowledgeable enough about 3-D CAD software to be efficient. Extensive training in the use of 3-D CAD software would cost the utility money and time. On the other hand, the more people designing substations with the software, the better the software will perform, because of feedback on its use. To minimize the costs of employee training and at the same time make gains in software performance, we turned to the concept of “equipment blocks.”

The equipment blocks concept is simple. Electrical equipment that is usually used together is grouped in blocks. This way, the 3-D CAD neophyte can move the blocks around and create a preliminary substation design. Once a satisfactory design is developed, it can be forwarded to a more expert user, who will generate the model according to corporate standards (name, constraints, details, etc.).

This problem is not limited to more seasoned electrical engineers. Undergraduate students as well have no knowledge of 3-D CAD, as it is used mostly in mechanical, not electrical, engineering.

Hydro-Quebec strongly believes that the future of design lies in 3-D and has decided to take a proactive approach. In the 2008 winter semester, Hydro-Quàƒ©bec offered the first university course in 3-D CAD for undergraduate students in high-voltage electrical engineering. The course was given through the IGEE (Institut en gàƒ©nie de l’àƒ©nergie àƒ©lectrique) program. Though the 12-hour course was optional, 20 students attended. The primary objective of the course was to interest students in 3-D substation design. A second objective was to test our blocks concept. Students who started out with no knowledge of the software were able to build simple 3-D substation models by the end of the 12-hour training session. (See Figure 3)

Figure 3 Graveline teaching at IGEEClick here to enlarge image


Lightning Protection Design

One innovative use of the 3-D CAD software is modeling lightning protection to the standard IEC 62305, 2006-1. Hydro-Quàƒ©bec has included this knowledge in the 3-D CAD environment so engineers can optimize lightning protection design by rapidly examining different protection scenario. Designers can check the impact of each type of protection equipment on the global protected area and reduce or optimize the amount and positions of the equipment. At present, the application does not have the intelligence to design lightning protection or distinguish between good and bad protection schemes. This means the engineer has to analyze the visual results generated by the application and select the optimal design. (See Figure 4)

Figure 4 A Substation Under a Lightning Protection ModelClick here to enlarge image


Future Developments

Reusing 2-D drawings to build a 3-D model of a substation is cost effective with small projects, but Hydro-Quàƒ©bec’s ultimate goal is to eliminate 2-D drawings. As a result, 3-D scanning with laser scanners is still being investigated as a possible option for 3-D CAD modeling of existing equipment.

Hydro-Quàƒ©bec wants to add more intelligence to its 3-D substation models. Our team currently is working on an electrical clearance validation function. It is also working to integrate corporate proprietary software in the 3-D CAD tool. Other projects include automation of the production of 2-D drawings and improvements to the methodology for building complete substation models to make it easier to integrate changes at a later date. The equipment blocks concept discussed earlier will also be optimized and pushed to its limits.

In the second half of 2008, Hydro-Quàƒ©bec started using a product data management (PDM) software to store all 3-D models. This software will dramatically change the design process at Hydro-Quàƒ©bec. Models will be accessible to more than 10 times as many people as before. Collaboration will improve and changes to models will be made and known to everyone in real time. Many designers will be able to work on a substation model at the same time. Design will become a parallel process, rather than the sequential process it is today.

Hydro-Quàƒ©bec sees many potential benefits from the use of 3-D CAD software to design substations.

Various tools, methodologies and applications are being developed to optimize design, integrate knowledge from an older technology and help designers make decisions. Simplifying the 3-D CAD tool to make it more user-friendly is a key goal for the years ahead. Knowledge and ideas will be generated by growing the number of people who use the 3-D CAD tool, and new and better applications will be developed as the numbers increase.

Attracting new students to electrical engineering, to substation design in particular, is a challenge. By going directly to the source, we may be able to interest undergraduate students in our field of work. In this era of information technology, Internet and multimedia, Hydro-Quàƒ©bec wants to show that power engineering can be just as exciting and challenging as the telecommunications and electronics industries.


  • The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at

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