by Alex Apostolov, Editor-in-Chief

To Test or Not to Test? That is the question.

The critical role of protection, automation and control systems for the security of the electric power system makes it extremely important to ensure that at any moment it will be available and properly configured in order to operate correctly and properly clear a fault or handle any other abnormal system condition.

We are living in the age of the Smart Grid (or at least we are trying to get there.) And as we already know - some of its main characteristics are improved reliability, quality and efficiency. To achieve all that we need to start with the engineering. But we cannot do it as we always did. Because we live in a different world.

A world in which we don't have individual devices working in isolation, but a very complex System of Systems (SoS). If we think about even some rather simple distribution protection devices, each one of them is a system that integrates multiple interfaces, measuring, protection, automation, control, monitoring and recording function elements. These IEDs then work together to operate as distributed bus protection or other schemes. They are at the bottom of the data acquisition system that feeds into situational awareness and other systems designed to help the system operator or act as a System Integrity Protection Scheme. We have to add to the mix of components the transmission line protection IEDs, the Phasor Measurement Units, the Ethernet switches and routers and many other devices that we have to make work together in the most efficient way possible. To get back to the question at the beginning - why isn't everybody rushing to use IEC 61850 to build the smarter grid?

It is all about the tools!

It is in human nature to assume that what we know - everybody knows as well.

  • So most of the tools that exist today for the engineering of IEC 61850 based protection, automation and control systems are obviously designed by people that are very familiar with the details of the standard, the logical nodes, data objects and their attributes, the common data classes, data sets, control blocks, etc., etc.
  • The PAC engineers however know about protection, automation and control functions, schemes and systems, the settings that need to be entered and parameters that need to be calculated. They know about the signals that need to be exchanged in order to detect and clear a fault or prevent the development of a local event into a wide area disturbance

The only problem is that the developers of the engineering tools and their users do not speak the same language. Why can't we have tools that allow the designers of the SPACS (Substation Protection, Automation and Control System) to select from a library of function objects described in a language that they understand and to connect them with signals described also in that language? Then just identify which signals are hard wired and which are IEC 61850 communications based - without having any idea what the IEC 61850 object model and services are. Then click a button - and the system design is complete!

Is this possible? Yes, it is! The same way as it is possible to have a car that does not have a steering wheel, breaks pedal and clutch. A car that you can just tell where you would like to go and then it takes you there.

"What we usually consider as impossible are simply engineering problems... there's no law of physics preventing them."

Michio Kaku

Relion advanced protection & control.
BeijingSifang June 2016