IEC 61850 Goal to ‘Simplify, Harmonize, Lower Costs’

By Bob Fesmire, ABB Inc.

In October, protection engineers gathered in Spokane, Wash., for the annual Western Protective Relay Conference where one of the hot topics was the standard protocol for substation communications, IEC 61850. Ten years in the making, IEC 61850 represents the culmination of an international drive for a single open protocol to replace the numerous proprietary and generic systems that currently define communication between substation devices. The goal is to simplify and harmonize substation work from design, construction and testing through operation and maintenance, and by extension to lower the costs associated with all these activities.

IEC 61850 is, however, more than just a unified standard. It represents a major shift in how intelligent electronic devices (IEDs) communicate within the substation and beyond. Essentially, IEC 61850 replaces the physical copper wires linking IEDs together with virtual ones by way of an Ethernet network. Messaging replaces hardwired communications so that, for example, to test a given connection, one need only test the exchange of information in the system rather than physically testing a wire.

This shift from the physical to the virtual carries with it numerous benefits for utilities, the most immediate having to do with the elimination of wiring. In addition to the material and labor savings, there is a greatly reduced chance for error in communications processes. Even if a given physical connection is not working properly, the operator will know immediately thanks to alarms programmed into the system-a stark contrast to hard-wired arrangements where failed connections typically become apparent when something goes wrong. IEC 61850 also speeds up re-configuration or system extensions. One comparison in a substation modernization project recently showed that the process required to change and completely document certain IP configurations took two to three hours using the new standard vs. two to three days for a hard-wired option. That did not include the efforts to allocate and maintain the respective drawings.

Implementing IEC 61850 also makes more information available to devices within the substation and processes outside of it. Data sharing between multiple devices and/or locations allows for more nuanced input when setting up automatic operations, and the protocol can accommodate SCADA, condition monitoring and power quality data as well. This new abundance of data can then be fed into an asset management program to monitor equipment and facilitate better maintenance decisions.

That’s likely to raise some management eyebrows, but perhaps the greatest value in IEC 61850 has less to do with the technology and more to do with flexibility. Open standards have a way of leveling the playing field between vendors so that even small utilities with little bargaining power can feel confident they won’t be locked into using a single vendor’s equipment by virtue of standardizing on that vendor’s communication protocol. IEC 61850 doesn’t guarantee one vendor’s devices will work with another’s straight out of the box-there is still room for interpretation of the standard’s requirements-but it does greatly ease the integration of different manufacturers’ components.

This is known as “future-proof” design, and is driving IEC 61850 adoption in substations around the world. Vendor independence is an important part of it, but the idea also includes the ability to add functionality (e.g., optical arc flash sensors) and leverage investments in information networks that the utility has already made. There are currently hundreds of projects under way to implement IEC 61850 from Europe and the U.S. to China, Africa and South America. They run from the distribution voltage level up to critical transmission substations, and include completely new projects as well as retrofit and migration plans. Across the board, the consensus of the utilities adopting IEC 61850 is that the standard’s inherent flexibility is its best selling point.

The transition to IEC 61850 is by no means a slam dunk. It represents a major shift in utility management and practice, and it requires a whole new set of skills on the part of the engineering professionals charged with making it work. Training, therefore, will play a big role in how widely and rapidly the new standard is adopted. There is also a need for new tools to help with design, configuration, testing, performance tracking, troubleshooting and other activities. But it seems clear at this point that IEC 61850 is here to stay. It’s already penetrating the market and, under a sensible implementation plan, it could be coming soon to a substation near you.

IEEE Discusses Transmission at PSCE in Atlanta

By Kathleen Davis, associate editor

IEEE’s Power Engineering Society conducted its 2006 Power Systems Conference and Exposition (PSCE) from Oct. 29 to Nov. 1 in Atlanta. Students, professors, engineers and vendors were in attendance for the show downtown in the city of Southern hospitality.

The conference highlighted many of its papers and presentations in a “poster session” on Monday evening from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Authors got the opportunity to post details and graphics from their upcoming presentations and intermingle socially discussing their ideas. There were 20 different paper sessions and 26 panel sessions that occurred between Monday and Wednesday afternoons.

The Tuesday morning session “Transmission Planning Paradigm” featured speakers looking at expansion planning and financial issues associated with the concept.

“With all the new rules these days, the planning paradigm is always shifting,” said Paolo Bresesti with CESI, the Italian research institute majority-owned by the government. Bresesti served as chair for the informative panel session.

Representatives from the University of Hong Kong opened the session with an examination of transmission expansion planning “from past to future.”

Simon Kwok Kei Ng detailed how deregulation in developing countries looks to increase foreign investment while deregulation in developed countries looks to level the interior playing field among competition. Therefore, in the traditional market, Ng stated, social welfare rises above profit, but, in the new market, profit trumps social welfare.

He went on to divide transmission expansion planning (TEP) in static and dynamic categories. Static planning determines what type of facility is needed and where, while dynamic planning adds the element of when to invest into the equation.

“There is a clear framework and acceptable computational efforts for both in the past,” he said, adding that mathematical optimization, meta-heuristic methods and market-based analysis are all available in TEP.

Stressing that the market approach integrates financial issues with traditional engineering analysis, he added, “The most suitable plan for the future involves choice, risk analysis and robust criteria.”

KEMA’s Siri Varadan continued with this approach in offering up the idea of “real options” on the investment side of transmission. He offered these “real options”-which he defined as non-financial options or “real” investments-to help make the planning process more reliable.

“The real options approach has a rigorous treatment of uncertainty,” he said. “And you can look at the valuation of the flexibility.” He admitted that “real options” isn’t anything new to the power industry and has, in fact, been used on the generation side for years. But, he added, “transmission investment valuation using real options is less explored.”

In a PSCE 2006 afternoon session titled “Public Participation in Transmission Line Routing,” the group examined trends of public involvement in the siting process and discussed how to make both the public and the professionals more content with the results.

“Public involvement programs can develop mitigation to reduce opposition and streamline your project approval,” stated Cyril Welter with Burns & McDonnell. “If people are included in the process and feel their concerns are addressed, they will usually invest in the outcome.”

Welter, working as a consultant, is helping Ward Jewell of Wichita State University, Ted Grossardt of the University of Kentucky, and Keiron Bailey of the University of Arizona to institute an individual keypad-driven computerized siting system that can give a visual to a potential corridor that is the most acceptable to the most people.

Grossardt, agreeing with Welter, presented the problem in simple terms. First, that most infrastructure-including powerlines-has an uneven impact on people. And, while professionals are looking to use solutions that offer the greatest good to the greatest number, most citizens who feel unjustly impacted will disagree.

The trick is to get all those citizens involved and feeling like they have a real say in the process, without the process stalling. Enter their GIS program that allows a visualization of the collaborative decisions the public makes in their forums. As they rate man-made, natural and other features to be considered, the computer takes every answer into account to map out potential siting corridors on the spot.

“Public opposition to new lines is one reason transmission investment dropped so significantly in the past,” stated Jewell. “If we can map it, then we can show the public what their input means.”

AMI/AMR Take Center Stage at Autovation 2006

Nearly 1,500 were in attendance in Nashville, Tenn., as the Automatic Meter Reading Association conducted its annual conference and exhibition. Advanced metering infrastructure and meter data management were the buzz words in the conference rooms, while in the exhibit hall, a number of product launches and business deals were announced.

Elster announced a re-alignment of three of its business units in North America: Elster Electricity, AMCO Water Metering Systems, and a new business unit called Elster Integrated Solutions (EIS). The business alignment results in three separate, but coordinated businesses serving markets in North, Central, and South America. Elster Electricity will continue to focus on providing state-of-the-art metering and metering system technology to electric utilities. AMCO Water Metering Systems will continue to focus on and provide advanced metering products and meter reading solutions to water utilities. The focus of the new group, EIS, will be on delivering AMR/AMI system solutions across gas, electricity, and water to multi-utility customers. The goal is for EIS to bring a common vision and integrated plan across gas, electricity, and water. Sharon Allan was named president of EIS, and Mark Mundy, CEO and president of Elster Electricity, has been named executive vice president of the North American electricity and water businesses.

TXU Electric Delivery made perhaps the biggest project announcement at Autovation. The T&D subsidiary of TXU Corp., signed an agreement with Landis+Gyr to purchase 400,000 meters with broadband over power line (BPL) capabilities in 2007.

“Our contract with Landis+Gyr is a major step forward in TXU Electric Delivery’s drive to develop the nation’s first automated, smart electric grid,” said Jim Greer, vice president, asset management, TXU Electric Delivery.

TXU Electric Delivery plans to have 3 million automated meters by 2011, complementing an advanced grid intelligent enough to monitor electric service real-time. By year end, TXU Electric Delivery expects to have 370,000 automated meters system-wide, including 10,000 BPL-enabled meters. CURRENT Communications Group, through its subsidiary CURRENT Technologies, will provide BPL-enabled communications technology for the Landis+Gyr meters.

Meanwhile, Cellnet Technology Inc. and Corporate Systems Engineering announced an agreement to develop and market Corporate Systems Engineering’s energy control devices using Cellnet’s two-way UtiliNet mesh communications system. The companies demonstrated their first collaboration, a two-way load control switch for demand response programs, at the AMRA show. The combination of the two technologies will provide UtiliNet network customers with two-way open standards communications that enable smart home functionality.

SmartSynch announced collaborations with both Elster Electricity and Itron. The company will develop a communications component that enables public wireless connectivity for Elster’s EnergyAxis System. The EnergyAxis System uses two-way RF communications to retrieve metering information directly from meters. SmartSynch’s technology will be integrated into A3 ALPHA meter collectors in the form of an under-the-cover communications module that enables usage data collected from the meter nodes throughout the mesh network to be transmitted securely via public wireless networks to utility information systems. SmartSynch already offers a communications module as an integrated component within GPRS- and ReFLEX-enabled A3 ALPHA meters. The new module will allow the A3 ALPHA meter collector to leverage several different types of communications platforms, including GSM/GPRS, CDMA/1xRTT, and Wi-Fi.

It was also announced at Autovation that SmartSynch will provide public wireless communications technology for OpenWay, Itron’s new advanced metering infrastructure platform that is currently under development. SmartSynch’s development efforts will enable wide-area network (WAN) connectivity to OpenWay CENTRON residential meters by providing an integrated, under-the-cover public wireless communications module for those utilities who intend to leverage networks like GPRS or Wi-Fi for transmission of all critical metering and event data from their meters .

Datamatic took advantage of the gathering of AMR proponents to introduce ProfilePLUS Online, a web-based interactive enhancement to its FIREFLY AMR system. ProfilePLUS Online is designed to streamline billing dispute resolution by making customer usage profiles available over the Internet and can do so using handheld, mobile and fixed-base data collection platforms. Information generated by ProfilePLUS Online shows such common issues as high usage, leak conditions, and watering violations in a way that is both intuitive and highly visual. Utility representatives can even choose to “share” data and explain usage patterns to the customer while they simultaneously view online.

On the conference’s final day, AMRA announced its 2006-2007 board of trustees. Those set to lead AMRA in the year ahead include: James Andrus (Elster Electricity), president; Stephen Carrico (Lee Lake Consulting), president elect; Bernie Bujnowski (PPL Utilities), senior vice president of advocacy; Sandra Fernstrom (DCSI), vice president of communications; Kevin W. McDonald (Georgia Power Co.), vice president of administration and finance; and Clark Pierce (PSE&G), vice president of technology.

EPRI Prototype to Increase Reliability of Existing Lines

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) recently completed and successfully tested a prototype design of a solid state current limiter (SSCL), a device that restricts fault current from new generation or transmission and reduces switching surges.

The solid-state technology developed by EPRI, with primary support from Con Edison of New York, restricts fault occurrences when new capacity, such as the additional generation created by independent power producers, is integrated into existing power systems, creating a greater likelihood of fault current.

The device alleviates the short-circuit condition and gradually phases in the new current. This current-limiting capability improves fault isolation and network protection, and helps resolve critical situations that can cause voltage sags and swells and power outages.

The next step in development of the new technology is to test it at a host utility to determine if it is suitable for widespread deployment.

“This technology will allow utilities to significantly increase the capability and reliability of their existing power lines,” said Arshad Mansoor, vice president of power delivery and markets at EPRI.

Currently, utilities’ only option in addressing fault current issues is to replace breakers with higher-rated equipment, a solution that may not be economical or viable because of space constraints, and the difficulties associated with outages necessary for replacement may be severe. In addition, breaker replacements alone may not eliminate mechanical and magnetic bracing issues for other equipment that high fault currents pass through.

“The Solid State Current Limiter demonstrates that we now have a new piece of equipment able to safely withstand the impact of and limit prospective fault currents,” said Patrick Di Lillo, technical specialist at Con Edison. “This newly developed device can be used to mitigate the effects of the increased capacity required to serve increasing loads in our urban centers.”

Reliability Project to Result in Cost Savings for Colorado Utility

Advanced Control Systems (ACS) has supplied the first two of 63 Connex 30 Substation Managers to Colorado Springs Utilities as part of an ongoing reliability improvement project. Although the utility will reap significant communication and intelligence improvements by adopting the solution, the deciding factor was the substantial cost savings made possible by the flexible approach to upgrading, which has proven advantages over direct replacement of an old RTU.

In planning for the project, Colorado Springs Utilities recognized that rewiring and re-termination represented a substantial portion of renovation costs. The Advanced Control Systems solution leaves nearly all local terminations and wiring untouched. Although it is too early in the project for CSU to calculate cost savings, past ACS customers have reported compelling results.

According to Clint Cowan, substation integration business unit manager at ACS, “Our first deployment of this strategy-upgrading Landis & Gyr/Moore RTUs at a large Midwestern utility-resulted in savings of $34,000 per substation. Engineering costs were nearly eliminated, and overall project expenses were 59 percent lower, compared to a replacement solution.”

The project, which is expected to take four years, uses Connex 30 Substation Managers to upgrade Ferranti Outpost RTUs that are no longer supported by the original manufacturer or the company that now owns the product line. A Connex 30 replaces the Ferranti hardware, then connects to the existing Ferranti termination modules. Since the utility is moving from an obsolete protocol to the open DNP3 protocol (ACS was an early champion of DNP, and made substantial contributions to its development), Colorado Springs Utilities will create the database with Connex/NTU Explorer drag-and-drop configuration software.

Advanced Metering, MDM Making Inroads at Utilities

As additional utilities turn to automated meter reading (AMR), more are settling on advanced metering systems capable of delivering frequent meter data and the supporting infrastructure necessary to meet future business goals, Chartwell reports.

After adopting a wait-and-see approach for many years, numerous large utilities are in the final stages of rolling out advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) systems capable of delivering interval data and two-way functionality. Thirty-one percent of utilities that Chartwell interviewed said they have already installed or are installing advanced metering systems, while many others are considering, piloting or planning future deployments.

Along with this movement toward AMI, utilities are also seeking ways to better manage meter data through meter data management systems (MDMS). Chartwell asked utilities what types of systems they are using to manage their meter data, and found the majority still uses customer information and billing systems or data warehouses, but the report also shows many utilities moving toward stand-alone MDMS.

“The Chartwell AMR Report 2006, 11th Edition” is available to members of Chartwell’s metering research and information series. Additional information is available by contacting Bill Grist at

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