The Business Case for IEC 61850

Author: Alexander Apostolov, USA

What is a Business Case?

There are many definitions that one can find on the Internet about what a business case is. They can be summarized in the following definition from WhatIs.com:
A business case is an argument, usually documented, that is intended to convince a decision maker to approve some kind of action.
Like everything else we talk about, the business case needs to answer the three questions:

  • What are we doing?
  • Why are we doing it?
  • How are we doing it?

The answer to the first question is related to the Smart Grid. The electric power industry is trying to transition into an environment in which we will have a more reliable, secure and efficient grid. From the point of view of the definition of business case above the goal is to convince the decision makers that the transition from traditionally used technologies to protection, automation and control solutions based on the IEC 61850 standard is the approach that will help meet the challenges that our industry is facing.

The answer to the second question is related to the challenges the industry faces. The need for change is driven by the combination of old and new challenges. The following is a list of some of them:
High costs of building new substations, including land, equipment, transportation, construction and installation

  • Labor intensive process of connecting primary substation equipment and multifunctional IEDs which leads to increased installation and commissioning costs
  • Labor intensive mapping of data from multifunctional IEDs to substation HMI which increases engineering costs and is prone to human errors
  • Limited number of inputs and outputs of multifunctional IEDs which may require the use of additional auxiliary equipment, resulting in increased costs, reduced reliability and degraded protection scheme performance
  • Proprietary communications interfaces between protection Intelligent Electronic Devices used in accelerated protection schemes do not support interoperability and as a result reduce the availability and reliability of such schemes
  • Unsupervised hard wired interfaces between relay outputs and opto-inputs in distributed protection schemes do not provide indication about the failure of an interface which may lead to a failure to operate when necessary
  • Labor intensive maintenance of the interface between multifunctional IEDs and the substation HMI which requires remapping of IED data to the HMI
  • Safety concerns related to possibility for open CT circuits which result in dangerously high voltages that can hurt or even kill employees
  • Labor intensive maintenance testing requiring traveling to substation location which may be under dangerous conditions raising safety concerns and possibilities for human errors
  • Outages for testing of protection IEDs or schemes which are very difficult to get and result in reduced electric power system reliability
  • CT saturation and CCVT transients may result in incorrect operation of protection functions
  • Impact of changing substation or power system topology on the performance of protection functions which has an impact on the sensitivity or selectivity of protection schemes and the fault clearing times
  • High penetration of different types of Distributed Energy Resources at all levels of the electric power grid which requires reduced fault clearing times at the different levels of the system

The traditionally used technologies have difficulties with resolving the issues as listed above. These difficulties have been discussed in many articles published in the PAC World magazine and papers presented at conferences around the world.
Taking advantage of the development and implementation of IEC 61850 can help the industry meet the goals of the Smart Grid. This is the answer to the third question above. This has to be further expanded with a description of a vision for the future, including the levels of implementation of the standard at different stages of the migration strategy.
At the same time while building the business case we need to also consider the risks and costs of change. This is a very complex issue that needs to take into consideration the short term and long term objectives. The analysis should examine the benefits and risks involved with both switching to IEC 61850 based protection, automation and control systems and, on the other hand, continuing to use the traditional solutions. 

It is very important that the goals of the transition to IEC 61850, the benefits and the risks are presented in a very focused manner without the use of very technical IEC 61850 terminology. The information included should be understandable by decision makers without any knowledge of the standard.
Addressing any of the challenges listed above needs to highlight at the end the impact on the bottom line, i.e. how it will improve the efficiency, related to reliability and security.
The following sections of this article briefly analyze the benefits and risks of the transition from conventional technologies to IEC 61850 based solutions.

Relion advanced protection & control.
Protecting your electrical assets? today and tomorrow