Monday, July 19, 2010

Crucial Impact on Power System Automation

While the power industry is struggling with the retiring workforce as well as educating and recruiting power system engineers (see IEEE Power & Energy Magazine issue 7/8 2010) there are two other crucial influences on power systems on my radar screen:

  • Manufacturers of (non-utility) Industrial Automation Systems
  • Manufacturers of (non-utility) IP Network Infrastructures

Whoever wants to make his living from building a future Smart(er) Grids has to keep in mind that such smart(er) networks are power systems - that still need being designed, build, operated, and maintained by smart power system engineers.

The 11th VDI Congress on Automation Technology in Baden-Baden (Germany) May 2010 had a very interesting motto "Leading through Automation". Manufacturers of products and systems for industrial Automation applications are proud of their success in automation of factories (car production, machines of any kind, chemical processes, ...). There was not that much to automate in the power (distribution and distributed generation) systems - so far. That seems to change all in a sudden: The discussions and activities in the domain of power systems to implement smart(er) grids has infected the industrial automation experts.

During the last 20 years there was very little automation in the power industry influenced by factory automation vendors and their solutions. This will change in a fast pace: One of the leading experts (Roland Bent, CEO of Phoenix Contact) stated during the VDI Congress that the market for automation systems in the utility domain (electric power, water, ..., clean and green technologies) will be three times bigger in 2030 than today's factory automation.

There is the second crucial influence on the future of utility systems: The industry that offers the IP Network infrastructure for smart(er) grids. Read how, e.g., CISCO sees the future: "The smart grid promises a more efficient way of supplying and consuming energy. In essence, the smart grid is a data communications network ...".

CISCO states also that IEC 61850 plays a major role in the future: "The existing supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and remote terminal unit (RTU) systems located inside the substation cannot scale and evolve to support next generation intelligence. Since flexible IEC 61850–compliant intelligent electronic devices (IEDs) and utility-grade
rugged IP routers and Ethernet switches have become more widely available, many utilities are now ready to transform their communications networks from serial to IP-based communications." With a single standard they can sell their standard-compliant products all over! They do not need to develop and maintain tenth of solutions. This benefit of a single protocol stack (IEC 61850) is also what IBM and other IT companies like.

Click HERE for the white paper from CISCO on their vision to build smart(er) grids.

So, the utility industry will soon see a lot of new solutions offered by companies experienced mainly in non-utility markets. I hope that the management in the utility domains understand that the future of the utility systems must be controlled by smart power system engineers!! And not mainly influenced by the focus on share holder value, general automation and network infrastructure.

The future of the automation in the smart(er) grids requires TEAMWORK of many disciplines - led by smart power engineers. One of the crucial tasks is to get more education on topics like Network Infrastructure and IEC 61850 for power engineers. Since IEC 61850 is much more than any of the field busses or DNP3 it requires comprehensive education by well experienced trainers.

The power engineers have to take care that the utility automation systems will not be flooded by a myriad of field busses from the industrial automation domain (see discussion on IEC Fieldbus). Getting cheap automation devices with one of the many different fieldbusses does not automatically mean to get low life-cycle cost!

Smart People are the most crucial asset for Smart Power Systems

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