Editorial Opinions

It is the age of communications – Issue 062 December 2022

by Alex Apostolov, Editor-in-Chief

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There is no doubt in my mind that probably the main characteristic of the time that we live in is the availability and use of communications technology in every aspect of our lives.

We have been witnessing its evolution over the last half century and sometimes it is difficult to believe how it has changed during that time. And this is especially obvious in the field of protection, automation and control of electric power systems.

When I started my career as a protection engineer about half a century ago, the use of communications-based protection schemes was quite limited. With the evolution of protection technology and the beginning of the digital transformation based on the development and application of protection and control devices using microprocessors, communications became an essential component of these systems.

When I think that we used modems with the amazing speed of 9.6 kb/sec, and then compare it with the 10 gigabits per second communications in digital substations it becomes clear what amazing progress has been made. But it is not just about the communications speed. It is also about how communications are being used.

At the beginning it was mostly to implement accelerated protection schemes, to download the protection setting file or to upload an event report or disturbance record. In many cases this was done using proprietary communications protocols. Nobody was thinking about interoperability and there was not much talk about cyber security. It was the time when the communications were based on “master-slave” relationships, something that we are not even allowed to mention today.

There is not enough space in this column to tell the history of the evolution of PAC communications. What we can just say is that today it’s a completely different world which to a great extent is the result of the evolution towards the smart grid in order to improve the reliability, security and efficiency of electric power systems.

This is why we dedicated this issue of the magazine to communications and their impact on protection and control systems. The requirements for widespread use of communications-based solutions are changing due to the increasing penetration of distributed energy resources, use of smart meters, developments in distribution automation and wide area protection and control, to name a few.

The development of the IEC 61850 standard and its global acceptance resulted in a step-change in the use of communications technologies. Because of it, today the communications relationships are “client-server” or “peer-to-peer” over optical or wireless communications links.

Interoperability is one of the key requirements to support interfaces between devices from different manufacturers. Communications devices are now key components of any protection and control system and have to meet the requirements for environmental withstand similar to or even higher than the requirements for protection devices.

Redundant communications protocols are becoming the standard in order to ensure that no messages will be lost in case of failure of components of the communications network.

The use of communications for different protection, automation and control applications is bringing significant benefits, but at the same time is raising concerns because of the exposure to potential cyber attacks that may lead to the tripping of circuit breakers, local or wide area disturbances.

The articles in this issue of the magazine demonstrate that the industry is taking very seriously all the above-mentioned issues and developing innovative solutions to support the transition towards the smart grid and improve the efficiency of all aspects of the operation of the electric power grid.

“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency.
The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”

Bill Gates