Industrial Automation

Explore the 5 Main Advantages of Digital Substations

Guilhermme Lisboa
While digital substations have been a concept in the power industry for some time, their adoption has been hindered by factors such as outdated processes, regulations, conservative approaches and limited knowledge; however, the tide is turning, and digital substations are now gaining traction.


How are they different from legacy or conventional substations? Digital substations use sensors and real-time data to support remote monitoring and control, enable digital communication and promote efficient, profitable power supply systems.


From our point of view, here are five of the most valuable benefits that digital substations provide for utilities.


1. They cost less to deploy


Compared to legacy or conventional substations, digital substations can be more efficient to deploy in terms of costs and installation time. Why? Because they significantly reduce reliance on copper cabling.


Typically, electrical substations rely on miles and miles (or kilometers and kilometers) of copper cables plus thousands of terminations to support control systems and point-to-point communications, such as circuit breakers, current transformers, voltage transformers and protection relays.


The evolution of substations is driven by the increasing digitization process, primarily facilitated by the widespread adoption of IEC 61850. This advancement involves not only the utilization of a station bus, but also the integration of a process bus. The process bus entails the installation of digital devices, such as merging units and process interface units, in the switchyard. These devices transmit essential data to intelligent electronic devices (IEDs) located in the control room. The transmission of data is facilitated through high-speed optical fiber-based Ethernet networks.


As a result, digital substations rely mostly on fiber connectivity to support the digitization of power transmission and distribution systems. This simplifies substation infrastructure design and drastically reduces the amount of copper cabling needed. For example, in a small to medium-sized substation, we estimate that copper can be reduced by nearly 30 km (more than 18 miles) and replaced by only 1.5 km (or less than a mile) of fiber.


2. They’re safer to manage 


Digital substations significantly enhance safety, mitigating electrical hazards prevalent in conventional substations.


In conventional substations, using copper to carry signals from the switchyard to the control room creates a potential safety risk—especially when current and voltage transformers are connected. Every copper wire holds the possibility of electrical shock.


In digital substations, current and voltage transformers are replaced by LPITs (low-power instrument transformers), which offer improved safety and reliability. Unlike traditional transformers, LPITs do not have electrical signal output; instead, they transmit measured currents and voltages to a fully digital energy meter.


One of the significant advantages of digital substations is the elimination of electrical connections between high-voltage equipment and protection and control systems. This reduction in electrical connection points minimizes the risk of worker exposure to electrical current. By lowering the potential risks, digital substations can contribute to reducing labor costs associated with hazardous work environments.


3. They help transform substation control rooms into micro data centers


Substation control rooms are set to become micro data centers that contain their own computers, storage, networking, power, cooling and other infrastructure for given workloads. And digital substations are the enabler of this transformation.


Micro data centers can help utilities reduce costs and scale up or down quickly. By bringing edge computing to the real world and closer to data sources, this will allow control rooms to support faster deployment and lower latency.


4. They support easier maintenance


Equipment like relays, protection and control panels found inside the substation control room have a typical lifespan of between 10 and 15 years. After that, it’s time to upgrade the equipment. A digital substation makes equipment upgrades and replacements faster and easier—and makes remote management possible. Outage times are reduced significantly, along with risk to maintenance personnel.


Fewer devices are hardwired to the network, and maintenance documentation is digital and easy to access.


The simple and open architecture of a digital substation also makes future expansion easier, faster and more cost-effective.


5. They provide access to real-time data


Digital substations provide utilities with the capability to capture, utilize and transmit accurate, real-time data, unlike legacy substations that offer limited access to such information. This real-time data empowers utilities to effectively monitor and control grid stability and respond promptly to grid conditions.


This supports better visualization at local and control center levels for increased system awareness and greater resilience. It also gives utilities deeper access to their digitized systems and the flexibility to standardize their data into a common data model based on IEC 61850’s Substation Configuration Language (SCL).


Bringing your digital substation to life


Belden’s experts can bring your digital substation and automation plans to life. We can help you move forward on your digitization journey and unleash the power of data to shape your utility’s future and be prepared to respond to ever-changing market trends.


The experts and consultants who work in Belden’s Customer Innovation Centers are ready to share their deep knowledge of hardware, software and operations elements with you as they assess your processes and network to identify challenges and opportunities. From there, we can design and tailor your solutions from the ground up to meet your specific KPIs while delivering a network that outperforms industry benchmarks.





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