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Utilities take a deeper look into IEC 61850

SUBNET Solutions Inc | Tuesday, January 22, 2013

IEC 61850, the international design standard for substation automation, has been the focal point of conversations lately among utility leaders, and to get the hard facts, one operations manager recently attended the ABB Smart Grid Center of Excellence, Electric Light and Power reports.

According to the media outlet, the manager was thinking about designing a substation standard using IEC 61850, but after attending several lectures, webinars and supplier conferences, the controller began to wonder if the standard would support all of the utility's requirements. The manager's utility receives its electricity from a larger investor-owned utility, and controls its 23-kilovolt and 4-kilovolt distribution systems from 10 substations, which is only monitored by a small team assigned the tasks of protection, control, load management and communications.

Because the utility's budget must be approved by the city, promising a fast return on all smart grid technology investments is imperative. The manager said he wanted to use the system to better monitor, measure, control, report, diagnose, resolve and restore any event that occurred on the grid, but all this must be done on a new broadband fiber optic communications network. In time, the utility hoped to use automatic fault detection, isolation and restoration (FDIR) on all of its feeders.

When visiting the facility, the control manager put several aspects of his system to the test. IEC 61850 only uses Ethernet as its communication platform, lowering the number of connections that are needed to sync up all intelligent electronic devices. However, because of the huge improvements in Ethernet, communications platforms are not a hindrance to substation automation. IED access is possible from remote locations, however, the manager's utility would need to keep several factors in mind, including reliability, low latency and security.

According to Howard Self, program manager for the ABB Smart Grid Center of Excellence, the manager walked away satisfied with the new standard.

"Our visitor was satisfied with the performance and ease of access to real-time data enabled by the IEC 61850 architecture," Self wrote. "He was convinced that building a system on the foundation of the IEC 61850 standard would more than satisfy the goals of increased operational efficiencies, maximized system interoperability and support for implementation of advanced applications, which will ensure long-term system viability."

IEC 61850 is a part of the International Electrotechnical Commission's Technical Committee 57, which discusses architecture for the electric grid.

SUBNET helps utilities looking to install substation automation and intelligent electronic devices, which if done improperly, can lead to higher costs and longer installation times.

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