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Situational awareness in substations

Combined, the share of hydroelectric, biomass, wind, solar and geothermal power in Europe’s energy mix reached a 33 per cent during the third quarter of 2019. As the continent’s energy grid evolves, monitoring these systems becomes more complex. I’d like to explains the challenge of data blind spots for substation operators and how technology can be used to gain greater situational awareness.


Europe’s renewable energy efforts are advancing. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the technology used in on-grid facilities. Several of Europe’s advanced economies have benefited from long established energy systems – with some parts of the network built more than a century ago. The longevity of these grids may seem impressive, but this aging infrastructure is now struggling to cope.

Increasing variability of energy sources has forced operators to change grid monitoring. Unlike the predictable nature of fossil fuels, renewable energy sources require higher levels of observation to identify abnormalities. This is due to the volatile nature of renewable power generation, but also because of the increasing number of grid inputs.

DMS in the substation

For substation operators, this wider energy mix has increased reliance on Distribution Management Systems (DMS) – IT applications to collect, display and analyse grid data. Using a DMS, operators at substation level can execute grid operations based on real-time information. This can improve efficiency, optimise power flows and most importantly, identify any faults that could cause outages.

The most critical function of a DMS is determining load flow. In fact, load flow analysis is the most valuable prerequisite for decisions made at substation level and beyond. This data can provide operators with insight on the state of the grid, voltage levels and power system elements in real-time. Despite delivering such valuable data, using load flow calculation at substation level is uncommon.

Data blind spots

Unfortunately, the ageing nature of Europe’s grid means many distribution substations and secondary substations are ill equipped to deliver load flow data. While it is rare that data is entirely inaccessible by substation operators, it is common for there to be blind spots caused by invalid data.. These blind spots can be the result of broken hardware, but more commonly in medium and low voltage levels, it is because no hardware is installed to cover a specific data-point.

When an operator experiences these blind spots, they run the risk of overlooking a potential problem. To gain a valid representation of grid data, an operator has three options; install higher capacity equipment, install measuring and communication equipment to collect the data, or simply estimate the load from a central point. All can be costly, and the latter requires computing power to calculate the estimate and therefore an investment in technology.

Gaining a complete overview

Operators need access to all the data generated on the grid. However, because of the scope of many of today’s energy grids, this level of acquisition is not a simple task. In fact, accurately collecting data from such sprawling environments requires deployment of Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) software. Moreover, this software must be compatible with all pieces of grid hardware, regardless of its age, brand and Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) — a challenge for Europe’s increasingly ageing infrastructure.

COPA-DATA’s zenon Energy Edition has been developed to provide just that.

As a hardware independent platform, the age of Europe’s energy infrastructure is no obstacle. Moreover, because zenon Energy Edition is equipped with DMS functions — and is therefore sometimes referred to as D-SCADA — it can overcome the challenges of data blind spots for substation operators.

As Europe’s energy mix continues to diversify, technology used at substation level must also evolve. Operators currently at risk of experiencing blind spots in grid data — potentially overlooking critical information which could lead to dangerous faults and outages. Because of its impressive age, overhauling Europe’s established energy infrastructure is out of the question.

Deploying new technology to monitor it, however, is not just advised, it is essential.