Utilities are slowly changing from an every-function-has-its-own-box siloed approach to more integrated automation solutions. As new standards like IEC 61850 are embraced and processing power increases, more and more utilities are upgrading their substations with modern intelligent electronic devices (IEDs) that can handle multiple functions.

Outdated substations have substation automation systems (SAS) from one manufacturer, with a manufacturer-specific data communication protocol. When the life cycle of the SAS expires, or there is a need to reinforce the substation, it is invariably difficult to source components that are compatible with the conventional SAS. When new functions are added within a substation — power quality, for example — they have difficulty communicating with the conventional SAS. New substation automation technologies do not experience these problems of the past, as the open communication protocols and integration (or decentralization) of functions provide the new SAS with simple and flexible operating characteristics.

The new modern SAS, like SASensor, demonstrates the integration of digital control and protection systems. It combines control, overcurrent protection, fault location, revenue metering and power quality within one system. This system is easy to maintain, and the software is upgradeable with future functions. Other IEDs from different manufacturers can be connected using the IEC 61850 protocols or through direct wiring. The new challenge is to manage the organizational changes that are essential for a successful rollout of the new SAS.

Substation Functions

Within the substation, different functions are used. In a conventional substation, each specific function has its own box, and different departments and field staff are responsible for the installation and maintenance of one or more functions.

For example, the protection engineer will install, check and set up the protection relays, while the revenue metering engineer will install, check and set up the revenue meters. In the event of a need to change the protection current transformer, the protection engineer will update the protection functions and record the changes. In this case, there is no need for communication between the protection engineer and the revenue metering engineer.

This example illustrates that the access rights of the engineers generally are limited to strictly specific relays or meters and, therefore, no interaction between departments is required. However, the introduction of the new SAS, with the integration of functions, establishes the need for interdepartmental communication.

One way to establish the desired level of interaction is to introduce a discipline whereby each department retains responsibility for the specific functions. If shared parameters are changed or any of the equipment, every responsible department has to be informed so the operation of the individual functions can be checked and tested. This essential discipline has a significant impact on how engineers manage their responsibilities, since they have to consider other departments when working with the SAS.

Another way to solve interaction is to integrate departments and responsibilities into service teams. These service teams are responsible for all functions within a substation. When changing parameters or equipment, the service teams can update the SAS immediately.

IED Management

The way SAS is changing from stand-alone functions to integrated functions within IEDs can be compared to the change that was made within the information communication technology (ICT) industry in the 1980s and 1990s. The technologies that support the new SAS are proven and being implemented by utilities around the world. It is now time for utilities to adapt their internal working procedures and responsibilities to ensure the benefits of SAS materialize.

The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) that documents the best ICT practices names several roles that should be defined within an organization, with each role responsible for a specific part of the process. The main areas that are important for the functions of the substation are processes such as change management, configuration management, release management, incident management and problem management. Therefore, changes to the SAS should be relayed to all departments, identifying the reasons for the changes and the department responsibilities. So for every new SAS installed and all new configurations of the SAS, the procedures to be followed need to be defined and clearly documented for all parties involved.

The integration of particular functions and combination of information impose a risk because of the loss of responsibility. Measurement data is used by different functions over shared equipment and communication lines. The protection of information has to be secured by a staff department, which will help and audit the processes and responsible parties to secure the information to a reasonable level.

SAS Rollout

The rollout of a new SAS marks a significant change compared with the conventional substation secondary equipment. Conventional protection relays installed in the 1940s and 1950s are still operating in substations. However, relays today only have an estimated life cycle of 15 years. This fundamental difference in life cycle has a serious impact on the current organization, especially with regard to the foreseen shortage of technical staff. The organization has to adapt to the shorter equipment life cycle, which means more frequent equipment changes.

A possible solution is different hardware architecture and the integration of all functions within one system. In such a system, it is advantageous that only the software requires regular updating, as opposed to requiring hardware replacement. To reach this goal, all intelligence should be centralized. With teleservice and telemaintenance, it should be relatively easy to update the software. As the population of in-service SAS increases with only the latest firmware, this becomes an advantage as the retention of knowledge is reduced to only the latest SAS version. The total approach saves engineering, installation, testing and maintenance time, and disruption of the grid is minimized.

The renovation of a substation with a conventional SAS initially saves time, and the organizational structure can be left unchanged. If a change is made to integrate departments to employ multidisciplinary teams to handle all substation functions, the new SAS will cost 25% of that of a conventional system, reducing engineering time, maintenance and updating functions.

As the need for renovation increases from once every 45 years to once every 15 years, the organization has to change to fulfill this goal. To meet the increasing workload, changes in procedures will help. These changes will not reduce the technical staff. The foreseen technical staff shortages will require efficient work procedures to be introduced by making use of the following:

  • Multi-skilled teams

  • Clear procedures (to achieve higher efficiency and quality)

  • Teleservice

  • Telemaintenance.

Alliander's Pilot Project

Netherlands-based utility Alliander began a pilot project in 2004 in which Locamation's SASensor system was installed in 10 substations. Before the start of the project, a business case was developed by a third party. The technology was proven when the project completed in 2008. For an efficient rollout of the SASensor system, or any other SAS, on a large scale, procedures for engineering, installation, commissioning and maintenance need to be developed and tested.

The different procedures must have a seamless connection to have maximum growth in efficiency at higher quality. Therefore, in 2009, Alliander launched an operational pilot project to evaluate the changes in work procedures within the utility concerning multidiscipline configuration responsibilities, configuration change management, overall system responsibility, cyber security and so forth. Utility personnel need additional training to fulfill their tasks in the new procedures and, provided these goals are met, significant efficiency advantages are achievable.

Embracing Change

Due to the integration of substation functions and a shorter life cycle of the digital electronic devices, hardware and organization changes are necessary for SAS. One solution is to integrate all functions within one system. In such a system, it is advantageous that after 15 years only the software has to be updated, and the hardware does not require replacement.

To achieve this goal, all intelligence should be managed by a centralized approach that will save engineering, installation, testing and maintenance time while limiting the disruption to the grid system. For a successful rollout of new SAS, the work procedures and responsibilities should be clearly defined, and multi-skilled teams should be assigned to install and test the system for an efficient changeover to the new generation of substation automation systems.


The authors wish to thank Frank Baldinger from Locamation for his support and inspiration to complete this article.

Frans Volberda (frans.volberda@alliander.com) received his BSEE degree from the Leeuwarden Technical College in 1987, and he joined PGEM as a technical specialist. In this role, Volberda gained experience in several projects for generation, transport and distribution of electrical energy in the Netherlands and overseas. As a senior engineer/consultant, Volberda was closely associated with the standardization of protection concepts and innovation projects for PGEM, NUON and now Alliander. Volberda is a member of CIGRÉ.

Sebastiaan van Loon (sebastiaan.van.loon@alliander.com) received his MSEE degree from the University of Twente in 2005 and joined Alliander as a consultant in protection and control. He is a specialist in wide area system protection, substation automation and security technologies.

Maarten van Riet (marten.van.riet@alliander.com) received his MSEE degree from the Technical University of Eindhoven in 1979 and joined PGEM, which became Nuon, and then Alliander. During his career, he has been project manager on large 150-kV and 50-kV projects. His appointment as Nuon's R&D manager, and his knowledge of transformers, switchgear, cables, protection and technical automation proves invaluable when seeking economic solutions. He is a member of CIGRÉ and CIRED. And in 2007, he received the Dutch Power Award for innovation and inspiration in the energy world.

Companies mentioned:

Alliander www.alliander.com

Locamation www.locamation.nl