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Setting new substation standards

Implementing measures to meet the requirements of International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standard IEC 61850 can significantly improve efficiency in substations. IEC 61850 promotes interoperability, whereas previous standards had notable limitations. Here, I’d like to explain why the energy world needed a new standard and how you can introduce compliance with zenon.


Substation communication challenges
IEC 61850 has been accepted globally and successfully since the 2000’s. In the 1990’s, substation signals were carried by wires to other instruments in a much more costly and labor-intensive process involving the laying of hundreds of meters of copper wire. 

The need for standardization of signal transmission to switchgear was recognized and IEC began to establish protocols based on substation functionality. Previous iterations of substation communications standards included IEC 60870-5-101, 102, and 103, with each applying to different processes within a substation. The Anglo-American region then built on this to produce protocol DNP3. These processes were used both remotely and locally in substations until the development of Ethernet networks.

IEC 60870 and DNP3 were both transferred to work with Ethernet systems, but there were still limitations. The standards only focused on communication and signals were addressed numerically, meaning that while assigning the data type was possible, determining the purpose of the transmission was not. As a result, operators had to rely on individual systems to translate the addressing numbers and to understand the corresponding signals, emphasizing the need for ease of recognition in signals and self-explanatory addressing numbers.

Setting a new standard
These issues highlighted the need for a clearer standard, that could offer more transparency in signal transmission and flexibility in architecture design. IEC 61850 was intended to address this, giving greater visibility of signals for improved efficiency and simpler management.
Another of the key aims of IEC 61850 is to facilitate an open-vendor approach — where intelligent devices and equipment from different manufacturers and vendors can be used within the same system. When operators and engineers are designing substation functions, they are no longer limited by manufacturer or device type, as the generally accepted language and modelling allows the solution to be integrated with any compatible hardware and device. This gives operators more freedom to create architecture suited for their application.

Supporting successful implementation
IEC 61850 did present a more complex process for engineers, with compliance requiring more thorough design and planning of protection, automation and control (PAC) functionality of all equipment and instrumentation. This design and PAC planning must then be applied to overall infrastructure and subsequently validated systematically. Alongside this planning stage, to provide the interoperability of an open-vendor system and to ensure appropriate configuration interfaces, some process modification is often required by manufacturers.

This can be a challenge to operations newly implementing IEC 61850 compliant standards and digitalizing their processes, but the benefits in efficiency and interoperability mean that long-term the process is worthwhile, accounting for its global success in recent decades.

Energy management software for IEC 61850
COPA-DATA’s zenon software platform offers a unique integrated solution to implementation challenges. As automation software platform it can enhance substation operation and PAC installation, improving safety and overall efficiency both remotely and locally. With IEC 61850 already included for effective signal routing and a fully scalable platform, zenon can be used in substation applications at all levels with ease.

This makes zenon the ideal accompaniment for IEC 61850 compliant systems. Introducing IEC 61850 can be logistically and operationally daunting, but with an integrated solution designed to make it as easy as possible, meeting the new standards can be simpler than ever.


To find out more, download the free IEC 61850 white paper here.
Get the IEC 61850 White Paper

Also explore for free our bundled features to implement a modern Substation HMI with zenon.