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Digitalisation to shape future of substations

Traditional energy network substations are evolving into digital substations, with major breakthroughs that may provide enormous gains for GCC utilities

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Mostafa AlGuezeri, ABB, Substations, Digital substation

Recent technology trends around the world have set the GCC electric grid on the path for a complete overhaul. While the utilities industry has for long been known for resisting changes, even as everything else around it succumbed to them, the unremitting push for diversification of energy sources is prompting a paradigm shift.

Today, the grid is evolving in the wake of new industry realities that are pushing regional utilities to reassess their positioning for the digital future in a world of fast changing consumer tastes and ubiquitous interconnectivity.

Even as the GCC utilities plan investments to the tune of $100bn in renewable energy over the next five years to boost current power supply, serious concerns remain over power intermittency especially in the absence of utility scale storage. This and several other considerations continue to make a strong case for smart grids.

GCC Utilities are gradually moving from a one-way system where power flows from centralised generation stations to consumers, to a platform that can detect, accept, and control decentralised consumption and production assets so that power and information can flow as needed in multiple directions.

This common industry vision is what has come to be widely known as the “intelligent grid.” The intelligent grid builds on the industry’s innovative heritage of increasing interconnectedness using sensors, smart devices, and networked operations. Achieving it will require a myriad of technologies, including numerous Internet of Things (IoT) applications.

At the heart of these advances are exponential technologies like sensors, robotics, and advanced analytics, which together form advanced, interconnected systems capable of quickly analysing large amounts of data. These critical systems are the sensory organs, nerves, and brains capable of giving electric systems the flexibility and agility necessary to enable ideas like a self-healing grid and plug-and-play generation—an intelligent grid.

“The world today has more machines than there are people, and a lot of useful information is coming out of these machines,” says Mostafa AlGuezeri, managing director, ABB, the United Arab Emirates.

“When you connect the two, you can unlock a huge amount of productivity that can take this industry to a whole new level.”

As major utility companies chart the course to growth and returns through digital transformation, the global number of devices being managed by utility companies is projected to grow to 1.53 billion in 2020. But this is just the beginning of this industry’s transformation.

GCC utilities are determined to unlock the full potential of deploying digital solutions across the entire electric power eco-system. The deployment of smart grids in the GCC is expected to help the region save up to $10bn in infrastructural investment by 2020, according to industry analysts.

In March, ABB won an order worth more than $90mn from Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA), to build the Shams 400 kV substation that will integrate solar power from upcoming phases of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (MBR) solar park into the emirate’s electrical grid.

The MBR solar park, located inland 50km south of Dubai, is a central part of Dubai’s renewable strategy. When completed in 2030, the park will occupy 214km2, generate 5,000MW and reduce carbon emissions by approximately 6.5 million tonnes.

ABB has been contracted for the design, supply, and installation and commissioning of the Shams 400/ 132 kV substation, which once completed, will have an overall capacity of more than 2,000 megavolt amperes (MVA). Once Phase 3 of the project is finished in 2020, which is the same year that Dubai will host Expo 2020, the total solar power generated through Solar Photovoltaic will exceed 1,000 MW, which is expected to significantly lower carbon emissions.

The ABB substation contract also includes supply of 400 and 132 kV gas-insulated switchgear, power transformers, protection, automation and control systems as well as surveillance and communication systems. The substation will also be IEC 61850 enabled, to support open and seamless communication with all intelligent devices.

This will be ABB’s second substation for the park, with the first one launched last year and already supporting the current installed pv solar capacity of 213MW that is already connected to the transmission grid.

According to AlGuezeri, ABB has a long history of supporting power infrastructure in the Middle East. He says that the company has made success in Dubai with the world’s highest substation, which lies on the 155th floor of the Burj Khalifa.

“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 AlGuezeri.

The company is already supporting Dubai to build the electrical infrastructure for the key sites of EXPO 2020.

Headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland, ABB has positioned itself as a pioneering technology leader in electrification products, robotics and motion, industrial automation and power grids, serving customers in utilities, industry and transport & infrastructure globally.

The digital technology implanted in substations across the GCC is being tapped to make it an intelligent web of smart components acting as a network interactive with other digital substations on the system.

Utilities have the ability to gather, filter and trend data to determine the health of equipment and the condition of the network, but another level has received attention — technology. After all, it is the technology that makes the management of energy systems much easier.

The equipment sends a notification when maintenance is needed or a problem is found, and then groups of digital substations work together to route electricity around the maintenance or problems rather than interrupting the flow of power.

The extensive self-diagnostic capabilities of digital devices ensure the maximised availability of the substation, as well as its full suite of functionalities: any degradation in the performance of an asset is pinpointed in real-time. The inherent redundancy built into the system can be employed to self-heal maloperation, and permits troubleshooting without the need for primary system outage.

The intelligence within digital substation schemes allows close monitoring of the load capacity of plant equipment, based on their design ratings. This dynamic load analysis means that lines, cables, transformers and other grid equipment can operate closer to their limits.

The digital substation closely monitors all substation assets in terms of operational conditions, effective load capacity and asset health indicators. Intelligent systems analyse the data and provide recommendations on maintenance and repair actions. This allows a shift to predictive maintenance, avoiding unplanned outages and emergency repair costs.

Data exchange between intelligent devices, intra and inter-substation, is optimised through Ethernet communications. Smart local and wide area control units allow data exchanges between voltage levels within substations and between substations.

Direct inter-substation communication without the need to transit via a control centre reduces the response times, enabling fast, real-time applications.

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