Editorial Opinions

Editorial – Issue 056 June 2021

To Standardize or Not to Standardize? – that is the question

by Alex Apostolov, Editor-in-Chief

To answer this question as usual we will approach it by answering the questions “What does it mean to standardize?”, “Why do we need to do it?” and finally “How we can do it?” in the most efficient way.

To Standardize means to bring into conformity with a standard, especially in order to assure consistency and regularity. Standardization is not a new idea. It has been used for more than two thousand years, from the time when larger human communities had to find a way to exist in a more efficient way in order not only to survive, but to thrive.

For example, Qin Shi Huang – the founder of the Qin dynasty who became the first emperor of a unified China in  221 BC standardized not only the Chinese characters, but also the system of units and measurements as well as the currency and things such as the width of cart axles. Throughout history we can find many examples of local standards, but with the arrival of industrialization it became clear that national standards need to be established to support it.

The many articles in the history section of the magazine have shown us that standardization took a while to be established in our industry. It was driven by the need to standardize things such as the interfaces with the process through the instrument transformers secondary currents and voltages.

For many years we have been used to having two options as the standard secondary current – 1 A or 5 A. This has helped a lot with the development of protective relays and measuring devices that can interface with the substation equipment.

Another area of standardization has been the inverse time characteristics of overcurrent relays with two sets of curves established as IEEE and IEC standards.

This is the story of the last century, but with the introduction of microprocessor-based protection devices with communication capabilities things became much more complicated. It had to do a little bit with human nature and the fact that there are many engineers involved in the development of communication protocols that can be used for protection, automation and control applications which think that they know better than anybody else.

As a result, we had on the market IEDs from different manufacturers supporting proprietary communication protocols.

The integration of such devices from different suppliers in a substation PAC system became very challenging and expensive which lead to a push from the industry for the development of a global standard communications protocol. And this is how IEC 61850 became a reality as the result of the joint efforts of a group of top-level industry experts.

The challenge with the development of the standard was the contradicting requirements for support of interoperability while at the same time maintaining its flexibility to be able to meet the requirements of different utilities’ applications and their PAC philosophes. As a result, we ended up with the standard that included a limited number of mandatory data objects and attributes and a large number of optional ones.

Because the implementation of the standard in any specific device depends on the understanding and vision of the manufacturer, many IEDs available on the market might be compliant with the standards, but not meet the requirements of a user which may need a specific data object that is not included in the device model, thus leading to a lack of interoperability.

To fix this problem it is important that the users define their own profile of the standard that will require a certain set of optional data objects or attributes to become mandatory for that profile. Another important requirement for the standard is to continuously evolve, expand and improve to meet the changing needs of the industry and the continuously evolving technology. 

If you think of standardization as the best that you know today, but which is to be improved tomorrow; you get somewhere.

Henry Ford