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Substation automation remains top benefit of smart grid

SUBNET Solutions Inc | Friday, February 10, 2012

Proponents of installing a nationwide smart grid often turn to one of its most promising features that will bring together operational and information technology infrastructure to help utilities create a more intelligent, reliable and efficient grid.

According to FierceSmartGrid, substation automation will continue to be paramount in conjoining operations and IT to create a more intelligent grid, but it will be up to utilities to deploy the technologies if these benefits are to be fully realized.

Utilities will need to follow key implementation factors if they expect to fully benefit from what these technologies have to offer.

A utility's substation is an extremely strategic asset to its operations and business. Compared to other systems utilities use in their electric network, substations have the highest density of crucial information that is necessary for operating and managing a smart grid.

Typically, substations are designed with a huge number of microprocessor-based intelligent electronic devices (IEDs) that transmit valuable data. All IEDs have operational data and nonoperational data, both of which can be used by utilities to improve reliability, create new operational efficiency and bring about more overall benefits to the company.

The data can also be used to create new asset management programs such as predictive maintenance and ways to extend equipment life. However, all of this critical data that is generated by IEDs tends to be immensely underused. According to the media outlet, an average utility sees only 20 percent of the potential benefits of IEDs because of the way the device is developed and installed onto the substation.

Several studies have been conducted that prove IED installations typically fail to deliver 20 percent of their touted benefits. This problem lowers utilities' confidence that the smart grid can truly bring together operations and information, supporting the belief that those two sides of the business are incompatible.

However, John McDonald of IEEE says he has identified several steps utilities must take to tap into the 80 percent of benefits substation automation has the potential to provide.

"First, when buying IED devices, make sure that all the devices and the valuable data in the devices are known by the different stakeholder groups in the utility," he wrote. "The usual practice today, when devices are being put in the field, is for an individual group in the utility to become the primary owner of the device."

McDonald added that the first step utilities should take when deploying IEDs is to ensure that all who will be working with the devices are familiar with the new system. 

This important step is aided by SUBNET Solutions Inc.'s training courses, which provide utilities with the opportunity to achieve expertise in managing and administering substation assets. The courses focus on embracing open standards and industry-leading solutions, and are taught through hands-on training that promises improved efficiency within the utility.

Once workers are familiar with the field devices, utilities must determine which data points could help other business groups in the utility, such as digital fault files and circuit breaker contact wear data for maintenance.

Lastly, utilities will need to determine the architecture of the substation, according to McDonald. It must support both forms of data as it is sent across the firewall into the corporate IT system, where it can then be sent to an enterprise data warehouse where different sectors of the business can access it and use it to improve operations.

Substation automation remains one of the most promising aspects of the smart grid, but utilities will need to approach deployment with the appropriate knowledge to benefit from the new grid. 

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