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Accelerate electrification with substation automation powered by IEC 61850 virtualization

Utility poles

The increasing pace of electrification and distributed energy resource (DER) adoption is creating new challenges for power utilities. Utilities know they need to adapt to two major trends in industrial and commercial domains: the switch from gas to electric vehicles and heating and the increasing generation capacity from DERs. Many are working hard to ensure that the grid can deliver more sustainable and reliable power for the new multi-megawatt loads these trends could bring.

Don’t forget about substations

What’s less talked about is the impact these trends will have on substations. To supply electricity for new heating and vehicle charging loads while integrating DERs on a large scale, utilities will need to deploy substation bays for new circuit connections with much greater agility. These bays include relays, circuit breakers and switches and connect to intelligent electronic devices (IEDs) such as merging units in the switch yard.

This quest for agility will compel utilities to look for ways to accelerate the digital transformation of substation systems and operations. To succeed, they need solutions that can cut through the complexity of digitalization and make it easier to:

  • Improve on the limited flexibility of existing turnkey protection and control systems to handle increased workloads and changing flows

  • Support standardized models of all substation elements to enable the automation of protection, operation and control systems—the key to speeding up the deployment of new bays for new circuits

  • Minimize installation work for new bays to streamline grid network expansion

  • Remotely maintain and administer protection and control systems by using digital twins to simulate the impact of new changes before rolling them out to the live grid.

IEC 61850 virtualization to the rescue

The good news is that IEC 61850 is ready to address all these needs and help utilities ensure their substations can keep pace with electrification and DER trends. This widely adopted global standard defines communication protocols for IEDs in substations, including GOOSE and Manufacturing Message Specification (MMS). It also models IEDs into standard data objects and logical functions to ensure interoperability.

Utilities can use the standard data objects and logical functions to implement IEDs and their application logic (e.g., protection and control) over a standard compute platform. They can even take advantage of the latest ICT server and software technologies, including virtual machines and containers. Some utilities have already gone down this path by trialing a dedicated compute pool—a substation operational technology (OT) cloud—and using it to virtualize and speed up the deployment of bays.

Virtualization of IEC 61850 IEDs allows utilities to avoid the cost of sending skilled workers to substations to deploy new bays with propriety controller and relay hardware. When they need a new circuit to support a new load or site, they can simply spin up a new virtual machine or container, run and configure the virtual relay software, and provision the substation LAN to connect the virtual relay to merging units in the field. And they can do it all from the comfort of the operating center.

Why grid communications networks need to evolve

The grid communications network is the foundation for supporting IEC 61850 automation, virtualization and containerization capabilities and responding to the rapidly changing energy landscape. Utilities are embracing IEC 61850 because they recognize that the TDM communication technologies used by their legacy grid assets have exhausted their life cycle.

To realize the full potential of IEC 61850 to transform substation operations, utilities need a modern grid communications infrastructure that addresses two key implementation challenges:

  1. Multiservice IP and Ethernet connectivity: To run IEC 61850 at a high level of performance, utilities need multiservice-capable substation buses that can work with the WAN and data center fabric to meet the OT network requirements of all grid applications from the substation to the OT cloud in the data center. This network infrastructure must also be able to evolve to support the substation OT cloud.

  2. Precise time synchronization: Many IEC 61850 substation applications depend on time-sensitive protocols such as GOOSE and SV. Utilities need solutions that will enable them to use the IEEE 1588 Precision Time Protocol standard to reliably and accurately distribute synchronized time data across the WAN to the substation LAN.

A communications infrastructure blueprint for IEC 61850 virtualization

Nokia has created an end-to-end IP/MPLS communications infrastructure blueprint that helps utilities address these challenges and unleash the potential of IEC 61850 to accelerate electrification in a sustainable way. This full-scale blueprint extends connectivity from IEDs to the field area network (FAN), substation LAN, WAN and data center fabric, connecting IEDs and the substation cloud to the central OT cloud in the data center. It brings new agility to bay deployment, DER integration and substation operations with specific capabilities in the substation LAN and WAN.

In the substation LAN, the blueprint uses Ethernet switches of varying sizes to ensure that substation buses can support every application implemented in the substation cloud or in proprietary hardware. This gives utilities more flexibility to apply IEC 61850 to the demands of electrification while meeting the network resource segmentation, availability, redundancy and quality of service needs of key protection and control applications. The blueprint supports substation assets with IEC 61850 protocols such as GOOSE and SV.

In the WAN, the blueprint enables utilities to use IP/MPLS to connect substations in support of applications such as differential protection, distribution automation, synchrophasor and fault location. The WAN distributes reliable and accurate time synchronization data to the substation LAN to ensure that grid applications can work together with the precision required for advanced IEC 61850 automation. It also extends mission-critical connectivity through the data center fabric, linking virtualized grid management software.

In the field area network (FAN), the blueprint uses IP/MPLS over wireless access to extend IEC 61850 deep into the distribution grid. This helps utilities integrate DERs and use IEC 61850 to support automated applications such as Fault Location, Isolation and Restoration (FLISR), direct transfer trip (DTT) and falling conductor protection (FCP).

In the data center fabric, the blueprint uses the WAN and FAN to reliably and securely connect physical assets across the grid, including the substation OT cloud, to mission-critical application software running in the central OT cloud, which is a dedicated compute pool in the data center. The blueprint can enable virtualization capabilities wherever utilities need to get full value from IEC 61850.

Find out more

Visit us at DISTRIBUTECH International (booth 1901) in Orlando from 27–29 February. We’ll show you how our IEC 61850 communication infrastructure blueprint can help you roll out circuit connections faster and integrate DERs to keep pace with the demands of industrial and commercial electrification.

Dominique  Verhulst

About Dominique Verhulst

Dominique Verhulst currently heads the Energy Segment at Nokia’s Network Infrastructure Group.

Leveraging Nokia’s portfolio of Fixed, IP&Optical, and professional services products, Dominique drives the business and solutions development  for Energy customers globally.

He is the author of the “Teleprotection over Packet Networks” e-book available, and co-author of several publications from the University of Strathclyde on the matter of Differential Protection over IP/MPLS.

He has over 30 years of experience in the telecommunications networking industry, holding senior sales and marketing positions at Nokia, Alcatel-Lucent, Newbridge Networks, Ungermann-Bass and Motorola.

Connect with Dominique on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter

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