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Energy Central Power Perspectives: Optimizing the Engineering Process with Digital Substations: Exclusive Interview with Pablo Humeres Flores of Eletrosul Brazil

image credit: Pablo Flores

In the exciting world of the globe’s power grids, upgrades are being made constantly to address smart abilities of the grid, digitalization of the energy sector, and more. Next week, professionals who are living in the heart of this matter will gather at the Digital Substations 2019 Conference on Accelerating the Mass Roll-out of Digital Substations to Maximise Grid Visibility, Reliability and Security.

The idea of digital substations presents immense opportunities to those working on the grid, but of course these upgrades introduce new and unique challenges to those utilities working with them. The engineering process for digital substations is facing new territory, and that area is the focus of Pablo Humeres Flores, who is the Head of Automation Systems of Substations, Power Plants, and Control Centers at Eletrosul Brazil. At the Digital Substation 2019 Conference, Pablo will be sharing his lessons learned with those in attendance via his presentation “Optimising the Engineering Process – reducing the time and cost of engineering multi-vendor multi-edition digital substations through advanced configuration management.”

For eager engineers who simply cannot wait for next week’s conference or for those not fortunate enough to make the trip to Berlin for this meeting of the minds, Pablo kindly shared some insights and answered some of my questions ahead of time so I could share them with you, the Energy Central Community:

Matt Chester: I’d love to first have you share more about your background and the work you do. What’s your current role in the utility industry, how did you get to that point, and what’s your overall energy industry background?

Pablo Flores: I graduated with a degree in electrical engineering at the Federal University in Santa Catarina in the city of Florianopolis in Brazil, where I also did my master's degree in electrical power systems. I work for Eletrosul, a utility electric power company that operates in southern Brazil, in a market of 30 million people. In the 90s we started a program of digitization of transmission substations (230 and 525 kV) focused especially on their remote control. This also meant developing the Control Centers and their functionality.

I am currently head of the engineering maintenance of supervision and automation systems, which is responsible for the local automation systems in substations and power plants, including the local communication infrastructure, concentrating units, and SCADA systems. In addition, the operation centers for remote control of substations and power plants and the operation center that coordinates actions and sends data to the national operator are included. It also includes infrastructure for remote access for maintenance interventions and information acquisition.

Working in a technology area means always learning, and besides studying I believe in the exchange of knowledge. That is why I participate in the production of publications and seminars, in Brazil and internationally, as well as working groups and technical meetings.

 

MC: For readers who are not as familiar, can you describe what the change to digital substations really means and why it’s an important step for the utility industry?

PF: Power substations consist of high voltage yard equipment: transformers, switches, and circuit breakers that are controlled by devices in the control room that acquire patio signals and send commands. Its function is the control and protection of the main equipment. In the past, wired patio signals were connected to electrical controls, auxiliary relays to create interlocking logic, and electromechanical relays that protected the system. Digitalization began in the control room, replacing electromechanical devices and panels with intelligent electronic devices - IEDs and a Human Machine Interface - HMI SCADA. Control room connections migrated from wiring to communication protocols on an ethernet network.

The IEC-61850 standard is the main basis in this process, defining concepts and standardization of communication protocols. The next step already underway is the digitalization of the yard, replacing wired connections with yard devices that publish via communication signals and receive commands. This process has huge advantages for power companies, giving greater supervision over installation conditions, engineering process, changes, new applications, remote access for operation and maintenance, and asset management. In the future, full virtualization will allow even greater facilities with artificial intelligence and new applications in a smart grid environment.


MC: Despite the excitement for digital substations, there are obviously a number of challenges. What, in your view, is the most difficult part for utilities who are trying to install digital substations more widely? How can these hurdles be best addressed?

PF: Digital substations have many challenges. The first is cultural. We are migrating a cabled infrastructure, where protection and maintenance teams have a strong domain for an ethernet-based communication, where they are unaware. Routines change radically. What will a maintenance technician do with a multimeter in a digital substation? How do you see signals in protocol communication? What tools will he have? How will a protection technician evaluate system performance and understand any communication issues that impact this analysis?

A second aspect is the useful life management of the facility. Substations are systems designed for 30 years of life. We now have devices that last 10 to 15 years. How will we replace it? How will we manage technological developments? How will we maintain team qualification?

And a third aspect is cybersecurity, which was a minor problem and is now fundamental in critical infrastructure such as the power system. Strategies for all this include, among other things, team qualification, synergy between the various protection, automation, and networking experts. Also, the correct application of IEC-61850 standard will allow interoperability and facilitate future-proof upgrades. Management will be ensured through the application of monitoring, management and cybersecurity software systems.
 

MC: Are there any given utilities that you think are leading the industry when it comes to digital substations? Are they providing valuable lessons for others who are behind them to learn from, whether positive examples to follow or pitfalls to avoid?

PF: Utilities in Brazil, especially Eletrobras, have extensive experience in applying the IEC-61850 standard to Station Bus, resulting in both positive and negative lessons. Hydro-Quebec in Canada is also migrating to Station Bus, and is doing it in a more planned manner, which will probably give it great results. Statnett in Norway is investing heavily in multi-vendor Process Bus platform and learning to apply it securely. In Brazil ISA-CTEEP is implementing the first Process Bus substation in the national network. In the case of Eletrosul we have a pilot Process Bus implementation within five years and we are increasing other suppliers. In addition, we are including optical NCIT which in the future will surely be part of the full digital solution. Another action is to have a group of maintenance and operation specialists defining the requirements and technical specification of a full digital substation.


 

MC: I’m sure you’re very excited to share your insights and knowledge during your presentation at the digital substation conference, but surely you’re also eager to watch the presentations of your peers and learn from them. Are there any particular presentations you are eager to catch or topics generally you’re hoping to learn more about while you attend the conference?

PF: Digital Substation 2019 is a great opportunity to exchange experiences and learn. We will have the presence of important European utilities, who will be able to present their challenges and solutions.

Also some of the world's leading experts in substation digitization will be present and discussing very interesting themes. But I think discussions are the best time, after the presentations and at the roundtable moment. Networking opportunities are great, connecting companies and technicians from different areas. Some topics that I look forward to are new tools, new applications, testing strategies, and cybersecurity.

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If you’re interested in hearing more about Pablo’s insights into the engineering process for digital substations, be sure to check out his presentation at the Digital Substations 2019 conference, taking place from November 26 to 28 in Berlin. You can check out the agenda and register for the conference here.

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