Blog post: Power Grid Digitalization – catching up to our digital world and ending our love affair with copper

October 15, 2019

Despite the latest advances in the energy sector involving large-scale renewable energy generation and mass electric transportation systems, the power grid as such is a long way from fully embracing some digitalization trends that have become commonplace in other industries. The systems that control and protect the power infrastructure rely on technologies that are decades old and concepts developed for, what it seems now, another era. In most places and to different levels, we still rely on analogous electrical signals that are transmitted via copper.

However, our industry, the power industry, is somehow unique, holding a central place in the well-being of societies. Just count how many doomsday movies have as a common theme the wide-spread loss of power and you will realize the impact power has in our lives. Any horror scene starts with the power being cut off. Our job is to plan, build and operate the infrastructure that will last a generation and provide a better world for our children and failing to do so can be catastrophic. As this new world literally comes to life before our eyes, successfully embracing the power of digitalization to integrate renewable generation and to electrify other sectors such as transportation is both daunting and a privilege.

In Linxon we are harnessing the best of both worlds: Our strong history and expertise of substation design combined with a set of young and motivated workforce who brings new skills and ideas. The combination of experience and innovation is a fine balance that we try to maintain in our everyday work. The inescapable reality proven by examples, case studies and pilots is that a properly designed digital substation can increase the safety, productivity and reliability of a power system.

The theory states that digitalization in general can cut costs, reduce installation times and lower risks by vastly reducing the amount of copper cabling in a substation. The actual challenge is to transform that concept into specific solutions that replace complex wiring schemes with safe, secure and standardized components. From the technical perspective, and even with all the virtues of different standards and codes such as the IEC61850, interoperability of different vendors remains a challenge.

The rest of the barriers are even more challenging since they involve the human factor. The training of a qualified workforce is the most-common factor slowing the adoption of a full digital substation. This challenge can be compared to training thousands of perfectly skilled horse carriage drivers to drive taxis. The only difference is what you are driving a complex and in some cases a very delicate power system.

If the potential of the digital substation is unlocked, then owners can see measurable improvements in efficiency and control over their substation assets, reducing maintenance demands through the eliminated need for miles of conventional copper cabling.

The future is just around the corner where state-of-the-art electrical components with digital sensors and cloud computing, a digital substation enables decisions that are based on comprehensive, up-to-the-moment information, while predictive algorithms can improve maintenance practices and asset management. This is the challenge we have decided to take on.

By Jose Restrepo

LinkedIn post here.