Realizing the Benefits of Digitalization in Distribution Automation

distribution automation

Industrial communication networks are a vital prerequisite for digitalization

Electrical utilities are strongly influenced by the overall requirement for increased power delivery and reliability, green and sustainable technologies and by proliferation of distributed energy resources for power generation and storage. Distribution utilities want to improve power quality, reduce outage times, lower operational and maintenance costs. These market drivers together with changing load patterns requires large amount of smart devices to be installed in the electrical grid . All the modern devices like line sensors, smart meters, recloser controllers, RTUs, Volt/VAR controllers generate huge amount of data. What is clearly evident is the need for a higher degree of automation, monitoring and control capabilities at all levels of the power distribution grid. Industrial networks enable reliable, high bandwidth, low latency bi-directional communications in order to solve the challenges of distribution automation and Smart Grid.


Grid modernization and utility challenges

The power industry is evolving. New policies, market conditions and the advent of grid modernization presents utilities with numerous challenges.


The digitization of monitoring and control schemes certainly offers granular, real-time visibility into system operations and asset performance and health. However, this digitzation now requires cybersecurity measures futher out into the grid - an end-to-end strategy.


Digitizing the grid offers the means to optimize systems, improve efficiencies, and increase safety, reliability and resiliency. At the same time, integrating digital devices and networks with existing analog devices and systems could risk stranding valuable assets. 


These are just a couple of grid modernization considerations, of which there are many.  We have the domain expertise to guide you through your utility's unique modernization journey so you, in turn, can offer the best quality service to your customers.

One of the important functions in Distribution Automation is called FLISR (Fault Location Isolation and Service Restoration). It consists of detection of faulty segment in a distribution line, then isolation of the fault by performing topology changes in the distribution grid (opening and closing of specific circuit breakers) and finally restoration of the initial topology once it is confirmed that faulty condition has disappeared. In a pre-digital era, when a fault occurred on a feeder a repair crew had to be dispatched to manually restore the fault. It would take up to few hours to complete the operation. In modern digital grids it is desired that an automated FLISR algorithm detects and isolates the faulted segment within 100 milliseconds or less. Such performance is possible with the use of a distributed architecture with Intelligent Electronic Devices (IEDs) using communications to exchange their status via IEC 61850 fast GOOSE messaging. There are examples of real projects in USA and other countries where Siemens industrial wireless communications, both public 4G and private WiMAX, helped to achieve the self healing grid.


Check out our “out of the box” ready to deploy Siemens Distribution Feeder Automation Solution

In large scale deployments it is very important to avoid making decisions exclusively based on the initial price of the solution (CAPEX). The proper selection should be made by taking into account “total cost of ownership” and this always includes OPEX. In order to minimize OPEX, and thus optimize “total cost of ownership”, the solution should be based on industrial grade, robust solutions that will operate reliably in adverse conditions for many years without the need for repairs or replacements. Selecting solutions that exceed industry standards and feature long product lifecycles as well as high values of MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures) is one clear way to protect your ROI.

Depending on the geographical region and population density there may not be fiber optic or similar wired telecommunications infrastructure to interconnect devices in the secondary distribution grid. Wireless communications is a natural choice in such cases. However there is a wide selection of wireless technologies that could potentially be used. It is obvious there is no “one solution fits all” in terms of wireless communications. Depending on economical and technical criteria, a choice has to be made between private wireless networks and public cellular networks. Private wireless communications such as WiMAX offer higher reliability, high security and OPEX optimization. While public cellular are attractive because of lower CAPEX, faster deployments and good coverage in most parts of the country. What is clear, however, is that the solution should be standard based, interoperable, scalable and should support multi-service network infrastructure. 

When designing the network for Distribution Automation, it is important to look closely at the requirements of the different applications that will use the communications architecture. The requirements should include number of nodes to be supported, type of ports to be supported (Ethernet, RS232 serial, etc.), required reliability, required data bandwidth, maximum tolerated latency, network redundancy options, time synchronization protocols, need to support multicast traffic, need to restrict data flows to specific locations or devices, monitoring and self-diagnostic requirements, etc. In terms of software features, scalability will imply that a rich set of layer 2 and layer 3 communication protocols may be needed.  Our Professional Services certified networking experts can assist with your design needs and ensure you are asking all the right questions up front. 


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Cloud platforms open up opportunities for ubiquitous connectivity to assets, data analytics, improved monitoring, predictive maintenance, and more. A big advantage of a cloud based system is that it is a framework for developers which enables an eco-system of suppliers, applications and services and leads to new business models. In addition, edge computing allows companies the ability to move intelligence closer to the field and process level. Modern communications platform such as RUGGEDCOM RX1400 with Virtual Processing Engine (VPE) is an example of a Smart Communications Node with edge computing capabilities, it is a powerful one-box solution ideal to run third-party applications.  Learn more.


Applications over a Field Area Network (FAN)

Direct Transfer Trip / Distributed Generation
Fault Location, Isolation, and Service Restoration
Substation Automation
Distribution SCADA
Mobile Workforce
AMI Backhaul
Substation Backhaul
Automatic Transfer Systems
Volt/VAR Optimization
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