IEC 61850 Trends

Author:Christoph Brunner, it4power, Switzerland

Over the last few weeks, I was busy with various projects related to IEC 61850 in different places around the world, which illustrates the still growing interest for IEC 61850 all over the world. IEC 61850 has definitely become a fact in this industry and I believe, everybody dealing with protection and automation in the power utility industry knows today that IEC 61850 exists. They may not know exactly what it is, but they know that it is there.

So, I thought it might be of interest to discuss the latest trends in IEC 61850 for Substation Automation.
Looking at the user community, we certainly can state that the community of IEC 61850 users is continuously growing, and the utilities using IEC 61850 are also more knowledgeable about IEC 61850. In the first phase, many users were interested in IEC 61850 because it was a standard, and did not care too much about the realization details. Vendors have built turnkey substations for them and the utilities did not need to care a whole lot about the realization.

This has now changed. New users start by having a serious look at IEC 61850 beyond the communication scope and are investigating, how they can apply IEC 61850 so that they have real benefits. This group of new users is extended by users that already have a number of IEC 61850 substations in operation, but that now want to start with a second generation of IEC 61850 substations, where they can get additional benefits.

Engineering plays a significant role here. Users start to understand the importance of the IEC 61850 engineering process described in IEC 61850-6 with the roles of a system configuration tool and the IED configuration tools and they request that this process is followed by the products without compromise. Also, users are aware that the semantic data model defined in IEC 61850 has many advantages that are lost by limited implementations where LNs GGIO are used excessively.

As part of that trend, I also observed that the users today trust the usage of communication with GOOSE messages for protection applications as a replacement for wires. The concerns that existed in the beginning have obviously disappeared. This may be due to a good experience with GOOSE so far, or due to a solid understanding of the technology. Yet the usage of GOOSE in step by step migration scenarios where temporary interface devices are required to bridge between wired and GOOSE based devices seems not to be a show stopper anymore.
And last but not least, the group of utilities interested in process bus solutions with IEC 61850-9-2 based interface to CT and VTs is growing.

These trends from the user side are supported by the standardization and by the new generation of products. Some of this is already supported by new features in Edition 2 of IEC 61850; more will follow based on further developments.
The new testing features support the usage of GOOSE for protection by providing the mechanisms for a solid isolation of devices under test. Also, elements for GOOSE diagnostics have been added. Ed 2 of part 6 provides a better description of the borders between IED and system configuration tool; provides conformance statements for tools and last but not least the part 10 provides specifications for conformance testing of tools.

While this is a first step towards better tools interoperability, interoperability testing for tools is a significant topic for the interoperability tests run by the UCA users group. Guidelines for the engineering process are planned to further enhance interoperability for tools. The engineering process will further benefit from the ongoing activities to provide a standardized method to model logic as well as the activities to define functions and sub function modeling in SCL.

With regard to the process bus, TC38 is working on a product specification that will integrate the former guideline “9-2LE” to enhance interoperability between merging units and protection devices and the IEC WG10 is working together with IEEE PSRC to finalize the profile for accurate time synchronization over Ethernet using IEEE 1588.
Further, the vendors are working hard to upgrade their existing products with all these exciting new features.

So today, we see more and more what I would call the second generation of IEC 61850 projects, where the new elements introduced – engineering process, GOOSE messaging, semantic data models – are applied thoroughly.
The next trend I expect towards a further improvement of the engineering process with the support of a device independent design.


Christoph Brunner is the President of his own independent consulting company it4power LLC based in Switzerland. He has over 25 years of experience with knowledge across several areas within the Utility Industry and of technologies from the Automation Industry. He has worked as a project manager at ABB Switzerland Ltd in the area of Power Technology Products in Zurich / Switzerland where he was responsible for the process close communication architecture of the automation system. He is Convener of WG 10 of the IEC TC57 and is a member of WG 17, 18 and 19 of IEC TC57. He is senior member of IEEE-PES and IEEE-SA. He is an IEEE Fellow and he is active in several working groups of the IEEE-PSRC and a member of the PSRC main committee and the subcommittee H. He is international advisor to the board of the UCA international users group.


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