A stronger, smarter and greener grid

The disruption caused by multiple and unpredictable sources of renewable energy generation and the decentralisation of the energy infrastructure is presenting opportunities to utilities and system operators such as ABB. Writes Baset Asaba

Claudio Facchin, president, ABB Power Grids division.
Claudio Facchin, president, ABB Power Grids division.
ABB, Claudio facchin, Digital substations, Digitalisation, Substations, Baset asaba, Mohammed bin rashid al maktoum solar park, DEWA, Power generation, Power Transmission and Distribution, Electric vehicles, Charging stations, Electric vehicle charging, Itaipu, Three gorges, China, Hydropower, Hydro electricity, Dubai Aviation City Corporation, Smart grids, Burj khalifah, Highest substation, ABB Ability, Virtual power plants
ABB, Claudio facchin, Digital substations, Digitalisation, Substations, Baset asaba, Mohammed bin rashid al maktoum solar park, DEWA, Power generation, Power Transmission and Distribution, Electric vehicles, Charging stations, Electric vehicle charging, Itaipu, Three gorges, China, Hydropower, Hydro electricity, Dubai Aviation City Corporation, Smart grids, Burj khalifah, Highest substation, ABB Ability, Virtual power plants

There seems to be no tougher job like being in charge of electric power supply for millions of people, and ensuring that power is delivered right from point of generation to the end user. Yet, this occupation is what has come to define the everyday life of Claudio Facchin as President of ABB’s Power Grids division.

Since stepping into this role in January 2016, Facchin’s primary responsibility has been to help utilities build robust systems across their power value chains and enabling a stronger, smarter and greener grid.

“Millions of people depend of electricity for their livelihoods. It is very important to maintain a healthy and operation electric power ecosystem to avoid power failures,” says Facchin. “It is the duty of every utility to have a resilient grid network with help of innovative products and services on the market.”

Utilities in the region are now following the global trend in harnessing new digital technology to build resilient grid networks. Both the external market and internal infrastructure are being transformed by the emergence of the smart grid. In the future, the grid will simply be one autonomous energy system steered by analytics, an example of the Internet of Things (IoT) in action.

With end-to-end transparency of distribution and transmission, utilities and operators will be better able to understand both grid performance and customer behaviour. That insight can be used to optimise OpEx (operational expenditure) and CapEx (capital expenditure) and create new business services.

“The challenge will be not just to gather and secure data from a hugely diverse range of sources, but also to make sense of a wide variety of structured and unstructured formats,” says Facchin.

According to recent market reports, by 2016, the global market for smart grid technologies, which includes sensors, management and control technologies, communication networks, and software, will be worth $80.6bn, a growth of 28.7% from 2011. By 2020, the global smart grid market is forecast to exceed $400 billion.

A power hungry region

Electrical power is widely expected to play an important role in the region as GCC leaders develop strategies to diversity their economies. The region finds itself in a dilemma of meeting fast-growing demand for electrical power while making good to its international obligations to reduce CO2 emissions.

“Smart city and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies will be central to achieving this. They will enable utilities to fine-tune their power supplies to meet fast-changing demands, allowing them to optimise resources,” says Facchin. “Domestic and commercial power consumers will be able to benefit from the IoT, for example with air-conditioning systems that save energy by reducing cooling when rooms are not occupied.”

On the supply side, natural gas and oil have been the traditional energy source for generating electricity, but new energy sources such as renewables and nuclear are coming online to meet new demands. These include photo-voltaic (pv) solar, such as the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum (MBR) solar park.

In Saudi Arabia, the Vision 2030 plan will require electrical infrastructure to power transportation, water, business and leisure. Similarly, Abu Dhabi is actively planning for demand-side management to enhance energy efficiency and conserve water – and with desalination and pumping stations placing heavy demands on the power grid, water conservation has major implications for electrical networks.

GCC countries are also developing transportation through high speed railways and potentially hyperloop tracks – both of which will draw on significant power and rely on digital technology to optimise operations.

The emergence of electric vehicles (EV) is changing the region’s energy landscape. Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) is working to meet future demand for electric vehicles by investing heavily in a network of EV charging stations, which will rely on smart control and e-commerce systems to balance the demand of drivers and the operation of the grid and manage payments.

Bearing in mind this changing landscape, utility operators are already making good progress on diversifying energy sources and enhancing the sophistication of the grid.

The role of electrical substations

Globally, electrical substations are seen as the cornerstones of the grid, and will continue to play a central role in the region’s energy diversification.

Substations are the vital installations in the power grid that monitor, protect and control the transmission and distribution of electricity. Their role is to ensure the efficient and reliable supply of power, connecting power from generating stations with consumers through transmission and distribution networks.

Key substation equipment includes transformers, which adjust voltage to required levels, and switchgear, the large industrial switches that connect and interrupt power to isolate sections of the grid.

ABB has a long history of supporting power infrastructure in the Middle East. The company has made success in Dubai with the world’s highest substation, which lies on the 155th floor of the Burj Khalifa. ABB was challenged by Dubai property developer, Emaar Properties, to develop a one-of-a-kind substation to control and distribute power throughout the building.

“The substation at Burj Khalifa delivers safe and reliable power for everything from lighting and elevators to ventilation, heating and air conditioning,” says Facchin. “As part of the project, ABB delivered lightweight and space-saving switchgear, as well as specially designed transformers to fit inside a tight footprint and also the MicroSCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) system that integrates unit substations at various levels of the building.

Another project is the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum (MBR) solar park substation, energised in February 2017. It is the first solar plant of its kind in the UAE with a 400kV substation that integrates a solar power plant into the grid. A major consideration in the design of the transmission substation was the capability to accommodate future growth, with the park’s power generation capacity expected to reach 5,000MW by 2030.

“When delivering substations, ABB draws on decades of experience of building tens of thousands of substations, including more than 10,000 high-voltage substations. It has introduced substation innovations to enhance the performance and intelligence of substations while reducing their size,” says Facchin.

Among ABB’s landmark installations are the substations that serve the world’s largest hydropower plants; Itaipu in Brazil and the Three Gorges in China, where ABB’s switchgear handles more than one million volts (1,100 kV) for the world’s most powerful long-distance AC transmission network in China. A single switch can turn on and off the entire electrical power of a country the size of Switzerland (population 7.7 million).

In Singapore, ABB has provided substations to help the island’s power grid meet the increasing electricity requirements. As one of Asia’s fastest growing cities, space is at a premium so compact switchgear has helped the power and energy department plan for the future growth within a limited footprint. This consideration is particularly important when transmitting and distributing power to crowded cities, says Facchin.

The footprint of substations has reduced steadily over the years, with ABB’s introduction of gas-insulated switchgear (GIS) in the 1960s, as well as more recent developments in underground substations that free up valuable real estate at ground level. Up to 98% of a substation’s volume can be discreetly tucked away below ground level.

Unprecedented change

However, the balance of supply and demand is changing fast. The electric ecosystem is undergoing a remarkable change at a scale not previously witnessed.

“We are experiencing fast growth in renewables, which are by nature subject to supply fluctuation. Whereas we previously relied on centralised power stations, today’s generation is distributed over a myriad of locations across the grid. This means that the traditional model of one-way flow of electricity is giving way to multi-directional flows,” says Facchin.

“The behaviour of power consumers is also changing, with introduction of electric vehicle charging networks and demand-side response schemes.”

Facchin points out the capabilities of ABB in powering the fast-changing power requirements for transportation projects. One example is the 220 kV substation that ABB is delivering to support the expansion of Bahrain International Airport.

The Dubai Aviation City Corporation has relied on ABB to extend the electrical supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system at Dubai international Airport. This contract was awarded based on ABB’s earlier experience of delivering SCADA systems for the airport.

“The airport’s staff rely on the SCADA system for full supervision and easy operation of the electrical grid at one of the world’s busiest airports. It includes smart decision making, for example by automatically disconnecting and connecting loads in the case of a power outage and the subsequent powering up of the emergency gas turbines,” says Facchin.

Dubai Metro, the first driverless train in the region relies on ABB technology for substation control and monitoring systems. ABB designed and installed control systems for three substations to be used by the metro. The technology is designed to increase energy efficiency and reliability with a powerful set of tools to monitor and manage power quality.

“It is this type of smart grid technology that offers an insight into the future of substations,” says Facchin.

Introducing digital substations

As power grids evolve, they must be capable of adapting fast to rapidly fluctuating conditions, serving a complex power generation, supply and demand landscape. This will rely on digital technology at a deeper level in electricity substations than ever before.

The approach is already central to DEWA’s research and development drive at the MBR solar park, where the operator is conducting research to integrate smart grid technology and enhance the production and efficient consumption of energy.

Digital substations will enable smarter control and operation of power systems. They will incorporate digital communications via fibre-optic cables, replacing analogue signals carried by copper lines.

Digital substations will integrate information and operational technologies by bringing together primary substation equipment with the controllers and software that will allow the grid to react to rapid changes in supply and demand, as well as monitor the condition of vital assets.

ABB started replacing conventional protection and control systems with numerical types as far back as the 1980s and has supported the development of IEC 61850, the industry standard that defines smart grid communication and interoperability.

In digital substations analogue equipment is replaced or complemented with digital signalling at every level in the substation, down to the instrument transformers. This helps power utilities achieve significant cost savings, performance enhancements and safety improvements.

Digital substations help to enhance the productivity, functionality and reliability of assets while reducing footprint and improving safety.

Driving the energy revolution

“The challenge for operators is to digitalise aging infrastructure to meet new regulations, balance distributed energy resources and implement protection with cyber security measures,” says Facchin.

In order to drive digitalisation, ABB has pulled its digital capabilities together under its ABB Ability technology platform. The ABB Ability portfolio comprises more than 180 digital solutions using the Industrial Internet to create digitally connected devices, systems and services that dramatically increase productivity, cut maintenance costs considerably and reduce energy consumption up to a third in today’s digital age.

“ABB Ability’s range of digital solutions comprises performance management solutions for industries that depend on plants and systems, control systems for process industries, remote monitoring services for robots, motors and machines, control solutions for buildings and offshore platforms along with charging infrastructures for electric vehicles,” Facchin points out.

He says that one example of this approach could be applied to virtual power plants (VPPs), a term for the central control and optimisation of many distributed power generators. “Almost all generation and storage technologies can form part of a BPP, from biogas and biomass to combined heat and power (CHP), wind, solar and hydro, to diesel and fossil-fired plants,” says Facchin.

He says that thousands of small individual units can be combined into a single VPP to gain the competitive advantage of a big player. ABB Ability enables VPP operators to monitor and plan loads, forecast deviation and participate in the energy market. The solution handles real-time processing of large signal and data sets to manage and control assets.

Distributed Energy Resource Management Systems (DERMS) are another example of the potential of ABB Ability, says Facchin. “Rooftop solar and battery energy storage are transforming power distribution networks. Operators need to keep the grid balanced while maintaining system reliability and power quality,” he points out.

“This has become more challenging as the number of renewable generation connections grows. ABB introduced DERMS to manage increased complexity and variability of loads. The software can help utilities manage the entire lifecycle of distributed energy resources from registration to optimisation.”

Technology at the fore

Digital substations rely on the two key technologies of digital sensors for transmission-level applications and substation automation systems that comply with the IEC 61850 smart grid communications protocol.

In a conventional substation, current and voltage transformers are connected to intelligent electronic devices (IEDs) and signals are carried by copper wiring. The IEDs then perform first-level analysis and provide the gateway into the digital world.

However, in a digital substation, primary equipment such as switchgear, transformers and sensors are digitally enabled and connect with state-of-the-art IEDs via a fibre-optic process bus.

The IEDs themselves combine the roles of control and protection and their functionality is established at the engineering stage. For example, the entire control and protection functionality of a gas-insulated switchgear (GIS) bay can be integrated in a local control cubicle in the bay, removing the need for a separate control room.

But the very core of digital substation can be seen as the IEC 61850 digital process bus. This is the fibre-optic link that provides the control and communication between all substation equipment.

It contrasts with the arrangement of a conventional substation, where many individual point-to-point copper connections link individual IEDs with primary substation equipment.

The role of the process bus is to carry digital data such as current and voltage measurements and control commands between high-voltage equipment and the protection and control system that acts as the brains of the substation.

The digital technology can monitor and diagnose mission-critical functions of power transformers and switchgear continuously, allowing for remote monitoring and proactive management of the asset’s lifecycle.

Software systems that manage data and asset health are the final element of digital substations. They turn digital substation data into actionable information safely and securely.

“Digital substations are simpler, more compact, safer and more efficient than their conventional counterparts,” says Facchin.

Adopting digital substation technology can reduce the quantity of copper in air-insulated switchgear (AIS) substations by as much as 80% and eliminates conventional instrument transformers, which are bulky and require regular maintenance for testing and calibration.

“Not only does this save the use of copper as a material but also saves space by reducing the need for cable runs and trenching. Commissioning is also more straightforward and removing the conducting copper lines also enhances safety for operating personnel during the life of the substation.”

He also notes that, being galvanically isolated from the grid itself, digital grid automation equipment is straightforward to install and maintain.

Facchin says that digitalisation opens up the potential for condition-based monitoring. He says that constant supervision and measurement of performance enables utilities to benefit from earlier detection and preventive elimination of malfunctions, therefore reducing the need for periodic maintenance.

Digitalising power grids worldwide

ABB has delivered a digital substation to Technopark, a major Information Technology (IT) parks in Kerala, India. The 110 kilovolt (kV) digital substation provides reliable, round the clock power to serve more than 350 companies located in the 930,000m2 campus employing more than 50,000 people.

“The park is a government-initiated scheme to foster high-technology industry in the Indian state of Kerala and hosts workers in IT, biotechnology and nanotechnology – so it was natural to adopt a future-compatible digital substation as the centrepiece of the park’s power grid,” says Facchin.

In the United Kingdom’s, ABB technology is enabling the country’s first digital substation under the name of FITNESS (Future Intelligent Transmission Network Substation). Utility operator SP Energy Networks engaged ABB to deliver grid automation technology to protect, monitor and control the transmission network in southern Scotland, where large-scale wind energy resources are connecting to the grid.

The area of lower Manhattan in New York experienced significant salt water flood damage after a storm surge during Hurricane Sandy. Utility company, Con Edison, took the opportunity of major refurbishment to digitalise the substation, and as part of the latest digital upgrade by ABB, some 80% of the copper control cabling has been rendered obsolete and has been replaced by just a handful of fibre optic cables.

“The increasing digitalisation of the power value chain is key to addressing new grid complexities” says Facchin. “Our pioneering technology heritage, domain expertise and unparalleled global installed base, positions us as a partner of choice for enabling a stronger, smarter and greener grid.”

“Facilitating grid automation and the convergence of information and operational technologies are an integral part of our strategy and ABB’s Internet of Things”

With the pace of change in the power grid accelerating, digital substations continue to hold great promise for utilities globally as they seek to meet the changing patterns in supply and demand, integrate ever-high levels of renewable energy, and broaden avenues for managing energy resources and new types of demand.

Whether driven by the need to upgrade existing infrastructure or to support the development of high-technology industry or transportation, digitalised substations will continue to offer unique opportunities for enhanced power grid performance, while guaranteeing huge savings in space and resources.


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