Rugged communications for substation automation
Providing protection for valuable assets and reducing outages
Substation automation is a critical process that protects valuable assets and reduces outages. To ensure that this process runs seamlessly, all devices must communicate with one another reliably and with low latency.
Everything you need for future-proof substation automation – anywhere in the worldEnsuring that the digital transformation succeeds in the energy sector requires decisiveness, flexibility, and intelligent investments in smart digital technology. This is especially true for the technologies that enable communication between devices – no matter how demanding the conditions.
The digital substation is built on a foundation of data communications and modern electronic measurement technologies that digitalize information on voltage and current, and convert analog signals to Ethernet frames. These are then transmitted via Ethernet networks to a substation automation system. Digital substations bring many benefits, including better measurement accuracy, higher system availability, greater flexibility, the integration of more functions, and increased safety. Another important goal is to reduce CAPEX by minimizing the cost of materials (fewer copper cables) and manual labor. Industrial Ethernet networks play a key role in this new approach in which the communications infrastructure is an integral part of the mission-critical protection and control system. This makes an extremely rugged and reliable network for the IEC 61850 process bus and station bus, a critical requirement for reducing CAPEX in substations.
The typical lifespan of a substation automation system is 15 years, during which the system must operate reliably 365 days a year and 24 hours a day. Periodic maintenance to keep the systems running is a significant expenditure for electrical companies. This means that rugged equipment that has a very high MTBF (mean time between failures) is ideal for substation automation. It is especially important for all system components, including networks, to be immune to harsh environments. The communications devices can’t lose any data packets, even when they are installed near high-voltage equipment where they are exposed to strong electromagnetic fields, shocks, vibration, lightning strikes, and/or significant temperature changes and humidity. Rugged equipment that meets and exceeds the IEC 61850-3 and IEEE 1613 standards helps utilities lower their OPEX and maintenance costs.
The lifespan of secondary substation systems is approximately 15 years, and so it is common for utilities to still have large quantities of electronic equipment that only has serial communications interfaces. The growing need for remote connectivity and monitoring requires the interconnection of legacy serial devices into IP networks. Industrial networks need to provide more than just cost-efficient IP connectivity for modern devices; they also have to enable a seamless serial-to-IP conversion of legacy protection and control relays and RTUs. This allows engineers to download/upload data like configuration files and extract fault records over IP communications. Networking equipment that supports serial server functionalities helps utilities extend the lifespan of legacy systems for another 10 years and protects the return on investment.
In conventional substation automation, system-critical signals like tripping commands are hardwired using analog copper cables. In a digital substation, critical data is sent over industrial communications networks in the form of Ethernet data frames. The network should be extremely reliable to ensure the secure and error-free transmission of mission-critical data like GOOSE messages. Fiber-optic links must be used to prevent electromagnetic interference. Network equipment needs to be rugged and equipped with heavy-duty redundant power supplies. The communications architecture should feature seamless redundancy so that if a failure occurs, the network has alternative links and can recover in zero milliseconds so that no data packets are lost. Industrial communications networks also require precise time synchronization: modern substation applications like the IEC 61850 process bus or Synchrophasors require timing signals with sub-microsecond accuracy. Networking equipment used in those applications should support precision timing protocols like IEEE 1588 in order to meet these requirements.
Due to the increase in workforce mobility and the growing number of highly connected enterprise environments, utilities need a secure form of remote access for monitoring their assets. Ethernet and IP networks are a natural choice; however, utility companies are now being explicitly targeted by cyber criminals. This means that a WAN (wide-area networking) communications infrastructure should be built on a strong foundation of IP routers, security gateways, and appliances capable of protecting companies from cyber threats and malware. Port security, data encryption, strong two-factor authentication, role-based access control (RBAC), industrial anomaly-based intrusion detection (IDS), deep packet inspection (DPI), intrusion prevention systems (IPS), and next-generation firewalls (NGFW) are technologies that every utility needs to implement in all of their systems that will be accessed remotely.
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Rugged communications for the digital substationDigitalization ushers in a new era for the electric power industry around the world. The digital substation lies at the cornerstone of the evolving digital utility. It is the heart of an infrastructure that must be able to withstand the ever-growing amount of data that will be generated and consumed by digital substation equipment in the coming years. To prepare for the future, operators need to streamline the information and data exchanges in the electrical grid and supporting communication networks.
A digital substation can be operated much more cost-effectively over its lifecycle, from planning and operation to service. A digital substation also increases the availability, reliability, and sustainability of the entire power supply, providing an added value that is important for utility companies and grid operators.
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