When I was starting my career as a protection engineer half a century ago, we were living in an analog world. Everything we used was hard wired and performed a single function.
And when I think about it, it is amazing how much time we needed to perform what can be considered today a simple task. For example, to go by car to a place where you have never been before you had to first find a map of the place and then to figure out where the address, you’re looking for is located, then write down the directions how to get there. Or to make a call with an electromechanical rotary dial phone (which probably many of you have never seen in your life) just finding and dialing the number can take you a few minutes.
Things were even more complicated at work. Probably one of the most extreme examples that was taking a lot of my time was looking for information on protection and control developments around the world. To find a single paper on a specific topic I had to leave the office, go to the library and get a stack of the transactions of the IEEE for a specific year, sit at the table and spend an hour going through the contents trying to find a paper on a topic that I was interested in.
When developing a protection scheme, I had to draw it by hand on a sheet of paper which may take hours or days for a more complicated application. I remember one of my first tasks as a protection engineer was to draw by hand the power swing detection characteristic of a BBC distance relay. I can keep going for hours giving examples of all the different tasks that we have to do manually, as well as the frustration with the fact that everything was hardwired in the substation and to make even a small change it required a lot of time and taking an outage to implement it.
But there was hope – the digital transformation had already started with the inventions of the computers that were slowly becoming part of our lives. This was not visible in our everyday activities at home but was becoming part of our work environment. For example, we didn’t have to do short circuit simulations with an analogue model to determine the protection settings – we could run a system short circuit study with a mainframe computer that would allow us to calculate the settings. The computer we were using for this had much less power and memory than even the cheapest smart phone from a decade ago, but it was still much better than doing a system study using a slide rule. George Rockefeller had already written his famous paper about protection using a digital computer indicating that the world is changing. It took less than half a century of this digital transformation to affect everything that we do. Most of the things around us depend on digital technology and communications that is making our lives much easier by saving us a lot of time for most of our activities. On the other hand our lives are becoming more complicated because of the cyber security threats and the loss of our ability to communicate with other human beings face to face.
While this digital transformation has been accepted in our everyday lives and we are all walking around with multifunctional devices in our pockets that function as a phone, TV, radio, GPS receiver, photo camera, video recorder, etc, for many people in our industry it is a very different story at work. There are still PAC specialists that do not accept the digitization and digitalization of our industry because they prefer to do everything as they always did with the electromechanical devices of the last century, regardless of all the problems they have to deal with.
That is why we dedicated this issue of the magazine to the role of digitization in protection, automation and control systems to demonstrate the significant benefits the digital transformation brings to our industry. There are many large utilities around the world that have realized that, and they are moving full speed in this direction. The ones that hesitate to do it are the ones that are going to fail.
“There is no alternative to digital transformation. Visionary companies will carve out new strategic options for themselves — those that don’t adapt, will fail.”
Jeff Bezos, Amazon