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Digital substations: the future is now

The latest digital substation technology delivers cost, delivery, security and safety gains.

While a team of experts ready themselves to introduce the latest in digital substation technology to the UK, we examine the benefits customers can expect from innovation. 

Our modern day electricity networks are under more pressure to perform than ever before. Power generation is becoming increasingly dynamic, with distributed sources and renewable technologies coming online at a rapid rate. Of course, with growing numbers of diverse power sources, comes the impact of intermittent or unpredictable generation that the grid needs to react to. We’re experiencing a real requirement for rapid response from the grid to sudden changes in energy flow, and that’s where digital substations deliver.


The introduction of communications standard IEC 61850 revolutionised substation automation and promoted technological innovation through digitalisation. The combination of IEC 61850 and advanced automation technology created next-level interoperability and reliability – a power team that continues to ensure a stable and efficient transmission network.


Without doubt, digital substations would be a successful step-change in how energy is managed and transmitted; however, the IEC 61850 standard is constantly under development and the introduction of new technologies signals a resurgence for the substation evolution.

Digital substations of the future

A team of experts from Siemens High Voltage Substations business in Newcastle, UK have been working closely with colleagues in Germany on a pilot project that will see increased gains for customers wanting to invest in a substation for the future. The team comprising: Nishant Menon, Lead - Digital Operations and Principle Protection Design Engineers, Yasemin Baygar and Ripon Deb, have been expanding their formidable portfolio of engineering skills to bring the solution to the UK in 2020.


Nishant Menon, says: “It’s exciting for us to be learning new skills and expanding our expertise. We’ll be bringing increased efficiency gains for customers and introducing new technologies in the construction of digital substations. This project is all about future-proofing our power systems.”


The pilot project will see Siemens build a state-of-the-art digital substation in Germany that uses innovative technologies to ensure the highest levels of proficiency and interoperability. The difference is that it will also have a layer of ecological efficiency that will set the substation apart in terms of sustainability and environmental responsibility. Should we call this evolution or revolution?


Yasemin Baygar, says: “The latest innovations have been used in this substation, including the world’s first sulphur hexafluoride (SF6)-free gas-insulated switchgear which is insulated with Clean Air - a climate-neutral solution. Next generation switchgear and transformers are fitted with digital intelligence for accurate analysis, and the use of new non-conventional instrument transformers (NCITs) make it possible to construct a compact plant.” 

The value of a digital substation

Above all else, digitalisation in substations means increased operational efficiency through use of new technologies, methods and processes. But compared to a traditional model, a digital substation also delivers benefits around investment and operating costs – in particular a reduction in CAPEX and OPEX costs - interoperability and security, and safety.


Cost: When we look at investment and operating costs, perhaps the most significant factor is the reduction in the use of copper signal cables in favour of digital communication capability. Engineering and system testing is easier and commissioning is quicker and there is also space and weight savings from the introduction of new NCIT technology. From an operational viewpoint, the real life measurement data of the equipment delivers improved management and maintenance, and grid control is optimised through successful access and evaluation of data.  


Security: Cyber security is a concern across all UK sectors with organisations constantly adapting and embracing new technologies to counter the growing threat of attack. As part of the UK’s national critical infrastructure, a successful attack anywhere on the power grid infrastructure could have potentially devastating consequences. A fully optimised digital substation will be agile enough to allow future integration of systems and products without compromising security across its communication network.


Safety: Digital substations create a safe working environment with the removal of electrical connection between high voltage equipment and protection and control equipment – as digital signals in the protection and control panels replace test switches, exposure to electrical current is eliminated. The risk of electrocution is significantly reduced which delivers a level of safety for people and property that could never be realised with a traditional substation. 

What is there to lose?

Deb Rippon, Principle Protection Design Engineer, says: “I look forward to talking to customers about the substation of the future later this year. What I would say is that by not converting to digital they won’t lose anything with the substation they have, but what they will miss out on are the enormous benefits and gains a new or converted digital substation will deliver.”