Demolishing barriers to smart digitised substations

Welcome to the new era of smart digitised substations, where every asset can be data-enabled and connected to central control systems. The concept has been around for years. What’s changed is that the dream is now deliverable, easy to implement and affordable.

Interest in substation digitisation has been growing since as long ago as 1995, when the process began of developing IEC 61850 – the international standard defining communication protocols for intelligent electronic devices. The standard has spurred development of technologies which are inexorably transforming the way the grid is managed. So how did we get to where we are now?

Dream Or Nightmare?

The problem with turning the dream of smart digitised substations into reality is that the grid is a clutter of assets and communications systems of all shapes, sizes and ages. Operators need to modernise what they already have, by making existing assets and systems smarter. But by no means all assets are data-enabled – and legacy communications systems are notoriously incompatible with each other. How could we make everything work together?

This seems a good time to tell the story of how Fundamentals’ software experts have developed one of the most cost-effective and flexible digitisation platforms available: the Application Data Hub (ADH) – an event-driven modular information distribution software package, specifically for T&D control and automation applications.

Fundamental Problem Solving

Fundamentals’ journey to ADH began in Australia in 1995, when SystemCORP (now part of Fundamentals) was established as a specialist in Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition (SCADA) for the process control industry. But a step change took place in 2009, when the company identified the enormous potential – and challenges – of smart grids in the T&D sector.

When Fundamentals was established in 1985, our reason for existing was (and still is) ‘applying the fundamental principles of engineering to solve problems’. Founders Nick Hiscock and Chris Goodfellow put this into practice by inventing and patenting a game-changing electrical control circuit, which enabled the operation and balance of two power transformers in parallel. The Transformer Automatic Paralleling Package was born – and continues to evolve in our industry-leading SuperTAPP family of automatic voltage controllers.

SystemCORP applied the same ‘fundamental principles’ approach, when it recognised that incompatible data communications systems were a crucial problem, which could derail the realisation of smart, digitised grids. Focusing on the comms compatibility issue has led directly to the Application Data Hub (ADH) – a software package available on licence, that is simple to implement on existing management systems, without the need for expensive new equipment or disruption.

Plug-And-Play Communications

The ADH overcomes all the problems of incompatible communications protocols in legacy assets. It adds comms capability to older dumb assets, so useful data can be extracted from them – and it has unlimited scalability, so additional substations and new assets can be plugged into the platform, anytime, anywhere.

Existing software obstacles to effective data gathering are demolished and replaced with a universal comms platform, which brings every asset into a fully integrated Internet of Things (IoT), linked to the control centre – anything from old battery chargers to the latest protection relays. It’s like hooking up a house full of decades of incompatible electrical equipment, together with the latest smart electronic devices, to a single, easy-to-use remote.

In the new era of digitised smart substations, data gathering and communications are the keys to greater automation and control, delivering better asset management, reliability, efficiency and carbon reduction. And their potential is being unlocked fully, by replacing the clutter of incompatible systems with a solution which speaks one universal language.