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Protection in modern substations

Today’s advanced digital protective relays utilize high speed communication to replace copper wires for inter-bay control, safety interlocking and even breaker trip and closing. Modern sensor technology also allows for the digitization and analog acquisition in the switchyard replacing hazardous inductive CT and PT circuits with process bus communications.

Voltage and current measurement in modern high voltage substations
Voltage and current measurement in modern high voltage substations (photo credit:

Gone are the days of the simple electromechanical relay without firmware and communication interfaces. The fact exists that protection and control systems have changed significantly in the past decade and will continue to change with technology advancements.

The digital world has impacted the protection system from the introduction of microprocessor based relays in the 1980s to protection relays with communication interfaces in the 1990s.

The Digital World has brought many benefits but also introduces challenges. This paper will focus on the impact of the protection and control system as a result of microprocessor relay introduction in the 1990s. It will discuss key issues the protection and control engineer has encountered in the past and will face with the deployment of the advanced protective relay.

Key areas discussed will be performance and benefits including the digitization and transfer function of Non-conventional Instrument Transformers, security threats and best practices for the protection system, fleet management in the age of NERC PRC/CIP regulations and performance consideration to achieve high availability of the protection and control system.

As well the paper will address some protection issues such as; since fiber optic current sensor systems have no iron, and no CT saturation, the differential relay need not have multiple slopes to account for CT performance, just a minimum pick up thus increasing the sensitivity several fold.

The Standard – IEC 61850

First multifunction microprocessor relays were developed in the early 1980s. One was based on the Washington State University Master’s Degree Thesis by Ravi Iyer. He joined Brown Boveri Corporation under the mentorship of Stanley Zocholl to design the distribution protection unit becoming the first multifunction microprocessor relay in 1984.

This relay performed three-phase and ground instantaneous and time overcurrent protection, multi-shot circuit breaker reclosing and integrated per phase metering in a single device that was slightly larger than two single phase electromechanical overcurrent relays.

The innovation of the modern digital system roots from this era by the industry pioneers understanding the interworks of the electromechanical relationship to engage the revolutionary computer scientist replacing induction discs and spring constants with data acquisition, digital conversion and four point algorithms.

Substations secondary systems showing the same application with electromechanical relays versus modern digital system
Figure 1 – Substations secondary systems showing the same application with electromechanical relays versus modern digital system

These early devices were based on 8-bit microprocessors and programmed in highly optimized assembly source code as the algorithms had to be extremely efficient and program memory size of 64 kilobytes was a luxury.

The microprocessor relay is our industries first venture into The Digital World and it has revolutionized our protection and control systems. The key benefit of the microprocessor relay has been the significant reduction of panel space required to accomplish the same protection system.

Figure 1 depicts a line protection system for 1 ½ breaker arrangement. In the Figure 1 example, the protection function indicated by the ANSI relay elements were traditionally implemented utilizing discrete relays requiring several relay panels to protect this scheme.

The utilization of modern multi-object (protection of more than one primary apparatus) relays and open standards for device to device communications allows for functional consolidation, elimination of control and interlocking copper wire interconnections greatly improving the system performance while increasing both reliability and personnel safety.

The protection and control system may seldom be called upon to operate until the abnormal condition threatens the apparatus. It is this instance that the system must operate to protect the utility assets.

A major benefit of the modern protection devices is the advanced self-diagnostics and self-supervision to ensure the highest availability of the system. Electromechanical and solid state relays were only found to be non-operational when a fault occurred resulting in a misoperation or during routine testing.

The modern protection device has advanced diagnostics to ensure performance or indicate of pending problems.

Substations secondary systems with direct point-to-point wiring and process bus communication network
Figure 2 – Substations secondary systems with direct point-to-point wiring and process bus communication network

Today, the digital world continues to morph as modern primary apparatus embeds digital technology and the benefits of non-conventional instrument transformers further improve system performance and personnel safety. These enablers on the primary system process level will continue revolutionizing the next generation of system protection, control and automation.

The Digital Systems

In the digital system, sampled analog values are communicated according IEC 61850 9 2 from merging units or non-conventional instrument transformers (NCITs) to the protection and control IEDs and trip commands are sent as IEC 61850 GOOSE messages to the circuit breaker interfaces.

By this, the communication system becomes a critical part in the fault clearance chain affecting the total fault clearance time of the protection system.

Title:Voltage and current measurement in modern high voltage substations – Master of Science Thesis by Dias Serikbayev at CZECH TECHNICAL UNIVERSITY IN PRAGUE, Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Power Engineering Department
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Voltage and current measurement in modern high voltage substations
Voltage and current measurement in modern high voltage substations

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One Comment

  1. Rodney Hughes
    Jul 21, 2020

    “the first multifunction microprocessor relay in 1984”
    Not quite true
    GEC MCGG released in 1981/82

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