Thursday, January 14, 2010

Why IEC 61850 will succeed

The industrial automation in manufacturing and petrochemical plants has fallen well short of the expectations of the 1980s and 1990s. The MAP project (1983-1990) for example has not been accepted and the many international field-busses have not helped to provide a few real internationally standardized solutions. The many field-busses are now the headaches of many engineers. Why could we expect that IEC 61850 will be a real international standard accepted and applied all over and for many decades?

The key is that the physical power system is easier to model than the collective industrial processes of the world. The basic topology of the current electrical power system is the same since the very first steps. It is likely that the electrical power system will be the same in many years down the street. Since its inception, the power industry has operated with clear demarcations between its generation, transmission, and distribution subsystems. All over we have physical measurements and processed information than can be used in all domains of the electrical system today and in the future, e.g., the electrical measurements like voltage or currents.

The basics of the physical part of the power system will stay the same. The number of energy resources will explode and the locations of the grid connections will be quite distributed. The number of loads in existing grids will more or less be the same. What will change is how to monitor and control the many new and existing connection points of power resources and loads. It is likely that for every connection point there will be a need for a smarter device that communicates with its environment.

IEC 61850 implementations have proven that all basic requirements for the information and communication system are met by the various information models, communication services, networks, and configuration language. Missing elements can and will be added while we go. There is - to my knowledge - no competing standard on the horizon.

The challenges in the future power system are the stability of the electrical system with the many connection points (power engineers) and the management of the sheer unlimited number of smart devices (ITC engineers). There is a crucial need: These people have to team-up with each other - led by power engineers. Power engineers know the difference between a power network and the communication network: in the communication network messages can be stored in queues for seconds or hours - in the power network the power is consumed at the very same moment when it is produced.

Keep the grass green, the sky blue, and the power flowing.

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