Digital Substation – The Holy Grail of a Sustainable Power Generation Business

The increasing demand for renovating existing electrical networks along with rising investments in the grid infrastructure is expected to drive the market for digital substations across the world.  Furthermore, the constant research and development have facilitated the availability of advanced technologies that have paved a way for a more transition, thus reaffirming the Digital Substation Market growth. Further, the emerging countries are increasingly inclined to broaden the distribution of electricity in their respective countries thus paving the way for more increased opportunities for livelihood generation. The aforesaid, along with the need for expanding the existing network in these countries are expected to increase the Digital Substation Market share.

The Digital Substation refers to electrical substations wherein intelligent electronic devices (IEDs) interconnected by communications networks aids in the execution of everyday operations as well as its management. The genesis of this advancement stems from the introduction of the microprocessors in substation components viz. protection devices, to enhance their functionality. Therefore, delivering improved accuracy and stability. Later communications ports were incorporated which were later refined into today’s version that has provided a connection to SCADA equipment and substantially reduced hardwiring. In terms of design, engineering, installation, and operation, the digital substation has given rise to major benefits such as accommodating modifications, reduction of wires and cable and thus reduction of costs and the integration of diagnostic capabilities that upholds the integrity of the system.

Being an integral component of power grids, substation aids in connecting grids of differing voltage levels and also aids in the functioning of coordinating and controlling thereby ensuring the sustenance of the entire system. Furthermore, the increasing inclination to reduce the carbon footprint of various energy-producing installation across the world has led to the transformation of substation into a digital substation that has emerged as an urgent need in the energy and power sector. Moreover, power generation sources become increasingly distributed, sporadic and unpredictable which results in ensuring high levels of control to uphold system performance. This has been made possible by digital substations which have brought about grid automation technology resulting in reduced life cycle cost, enhance safety and greater efficiency than its analog predecessors. 

Key developments brought about by major players in this market

In 2017. ABB (NYSE: ABB) a Swiss-Swedish multinational corporation headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland, with operations mainly in automation technology areas, heavy electrical equipment, power, robotics installed a 110 kilovolt (kV) digital substation in Kerala’s Technopark, one of the largest information technology parks in India, to increase reliability, efficiency, and safety of power distribution. It was also reported that this digital substation will facilitate efficient power management but turning real-time data into actionable intelligence. A key component of the digital substation is ABB’s standalone merging unit that is manufactured to withstand the harshest environment. Again, in February 2020, the same organization completed a 500-kV digital substation for a 475-MW solar park owned by Enel Green Power Brasil Participacoes Ltda (EGPB). It is the first of its kind in the world. This installation will enable the local arm of Italian energy giant Enel SpA (BIT: ENEL) to supply electricity from its Sao Goncalo photovoltaic (PV) plant located in Piaui state. The substation also incorporates fiber optics instead of copper wires, ensuring quicker response times, maintenance and service, and increased system availability.

On the other hand, in September 2019 it was announced that along with Norwegian distribution system operator Glitre Energi Nett, Siemens will build a digital substation. This installation will be the first to integrate the Internet of things (IoT) analytics and applications for power grids. Siprotec protection and control, which is IoT ready and Sicam automation devices will be connected via OPC UA PubSub that is an open standard communication protocol to Siemens cloud-based open operating systems for IoT called MindSphere. The Spirotec dashboard cloud application will make data that was previously inaccessible, fully accessible, and of the first time would help to process grid data in the cloud with zero engineering effort.  Additionally, the first digital substation in Africa was concluded in 2017, Zambia by GE Sub-Saharan Africa to improve the transmission infrastructure of the region.

In November 2019 Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) installed its third digital substation within the premier township development of Robinsons Land Corp. (RLC) that connects the cities of Pasig and Quezon City. The forts two were set up in Valencia, San Juan, and the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. in Manila. The Manila-based public power distribution company also envisaged retrofitting it with another analog substation.

Prospects and trends

The market of APAC is expected to significantly grow at a high rate due to the expanding power distribution network in emerging economies like India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Taiwan. Furthermore, North American region is set to witness a significant surge in the Digital Substation Market share due to the presence of well-established companies operating in the space. Further around the world, there is a significant proportion of the population who doesn’t have access to electricity. This indicates a demand for energy connection that is going to drive the growth of Digital Substation Market in the coming years. The digital substations are increasingly gaining currency as age-old installations are recognizing the benefits as well as due to the availability of new, high-performance digital sensors and stand-alone merging units that can be installed with ease. Further by replacing electro-mechanical, static, and / or date digital secondary equipment with modern numerical devices bundled to a real-time communication network is also another factor for the adoption of digital substations.

Access to energy and the sustenance thereof is also one of the top priorities of regions across the world.  In view of the above, the benefits of refurbishment and installing digital substations also contributes to the insurer of the Sustainable Development Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.