Narinda Electricals
Narindra Electricals

Automation and the utility enterprise

Gone are the days of stability and predictability in the power industry. In the last decade, the global power industry has been turned upside down and forced to deal with the new realities of deregulation, competition and supply shortages. For many utilities and their customers, deregulation has become a way of business and life. Consumers are discovering the subtleties of shopping for electricity by evaluating contracts, incentives and restrictions. Utilities are learning how to retain and lure customers through branding, responsiveness and cost-competitiveness. Shareholders are riding the volatility of the energy market. The open marketplace has also created vast opportunities for vendors in the power industry.

Manufacturers and consultants are racing to develop and promote new technologies and solutions to address the growing business challenges of electric utilities: meeting consumer expectations of price and quality, and meeting shareholder expectations of profit.


power industry

Another facet of this industry change is the rising demand for quality power to support our increasing reliance on computer technology in every aspect of our lives. Utilities are under a great deal of pressure to supply quality power to support power-sensitive devices such as computers, networks, and security systems. There is not only an increased demand for electricity to power all these devices, but the need for reliable, consistent power that will not damage sensitive and expensive devices.


The rapid acceptance of the Internet at home and work is remarkable. Faster than ever before, global communities are jumping onto the computer technology bandwagon and venturing to the digital era. This is also true for electric utilities in adopting new products. Newton-Evans Research determined that since 1995 the percentage of utilities with Internet Web sites has increased from 30% to 95%.

Utilities' initial use of the Internet focused on providing customers with marketing information, customer services and billing information services. A Newton-Evans Research survey also found that almost 40% of the world's electric utilities plan to implement wide area network communications to their substations.

Today, utility companies are looking at how to apply the use of the Internet to internal activities, such as operations, engineering and maintenance. When the Internet is used within the utility for these purposes, we are now talking about an Intranet. Just like external users, internal users also use Web browsers to access information over the Intranet. All connected employees are empowered, being able to make decisions based on real-time and relevant information. This structure adds value to business activities that is passed along to customers in the form of more efficient, better quality goods and services. For example, in the PCB industry - consumers can now access affordable silicone parts and keypads through medium-sized businesses.

For electric utilities, the ability to meet these demands of competition, power quality and information technology (IT) hinges on knowing and controlling every element of the power system network down to the most remote and elementary device in a substation or on a distribution line.


Although we have identified the importance of data from the farthest reaches of the power system network, the question arises how to retrieve and manage that information. Any approaches are limited by the availability, capability and perception of computer technology.

Notable trends within utilities:

  • More involvement of IT department in communications to the substation
  • Widespread used of third-party IT and telecom providers to supply SCADA infrastructure
  • Greater interest/need across enterprise for accurate and current data
  • Higher expectations for usability set by widely-used business applications
  • Increased focus on customer service due to competition

Unfortunately, the bounded scope of automation systems in use today in the substation did not anticipate these trends well. Although modern specifications and systems talk of "openness" in actuality it has limited scope. For example, although DNP 3.0 is an open standard, it is only implemented on products used within the scope of products for these automation systems. Business system applications, or standard desktop applications, have no knowledge of DNP. If you wish to load data from an IED into an Excel spreadsheet, for analysis or plotting, DNP is of no use.

To be sure, this bounded openness has greatly contributed to open access by allowing interoperability between vendors, and compatibility with corporate IT networks. However, it has not bridged the gap between the various automation systems, and the enterprise software applications (business systems). Similarly, it has not provided easy access to data to anyone other than those people with access to the various automation systems, and the training to use them.

Dominant trends within the field of information technology:

  • Moore's Law is increasing processing capability
  • A similar phenomenon exists for communications infrastructure, which is continuing to become both faster and cheaper. Connectivity is becoming ubiquitous (everything connected to everything)
  • Peer-to-peer applications are replacing client-server applications (e.g. Napster®, JXTA®)
  • Support for ad hoc associations is emerging between applications (e.g. XML, .NET®, JINI®) Mainstream technology is adding useful capability continuously. Products and systems built on this technology gain these new capabilities by association.


Merging historically distinct power networks and information networks fosters better availability and sharing of knowledge, more cost efficiency from using common technologies, opportunities for new applications and solutions. The following equations define the different aspects of a true enterprise solution: the technology, the data and the users. Or, in other words, bringing people together with the information they need to do their job better at a lower cost.


A utility's information technology structure enables the management of data. Automation systems include remote terminal units (RTUs), the energy management system (EMS), the distribution management system (DMS), metering and other specialized systems with connections to field devices. These automation systems are the first line in the gathering and processing of data.

Combining computer technology of the office network with the communications technology of automation systems will link the corporate world with the electrical system to produce the foundation for gathering, managing and distributing all data. This is best accomplished using standard protocols and communications interfaces. The beginning of enterprise access is evident by networking techniques deployed both to and within the substation, and software to enable remote access to many substation devices, beyond traditional SCADA. This degree of enterprise access occurs at the device level. A user can start up and use a proprietary configuration interface to connect with an intelligent electronic device (IED) over the corporate WAN using a virtual connection.


Much enterprise information can be produced from an energy management system. But the value-added applications (e.g. expert systems) and generated knowledge of an EMS depend on the retrieval and transmission of information from the substation. Remote terminal units (RTUs) located across the transmission and distribution network are responsible for the collection and exchange of traditional analog and status operational data between substations and the energy management system (EMS), commonly called SCADA.

However, RTUs have evolved into powerful substation servers and network gateways. Critical information beyond traditional SCADA can now be retrieved from the substation, such as load profiles, breaker status, digital fault records, and power quality harmonics. This information is a product of advanced applications implemented on smart devices right in the substation.

Programmable logic controllers (PLCs), RTUs and intelligent electronic devices (IEDs) in the substation are powerful components of an information network. Today's communications, intelligence in the substation and advanced EMS applications provide the jumping off point for enterprise information and connectivity, and result in enhanced protection monitoring, control and monitoring of the power system.


The utility's business systems are the major software applications used in running the company, such as, accounting, billing, customer service, human resources. Giving access to information enables knowledge and ability in employees to act to solve problems more quickly and effectively.

Automation systems possess the current, accurate data about all manner of things related to power being produced and sold from the electrical network. Technology exists today that can be implemented to give outside users - those without access into the existing automation systems - entry. These outside users can be other utility personnel or external users, such as customers and service providers. This increased accessibility to data provides real benefits to the primary users of these automation systems as well: end device data can be accessed from more places and more easily loaded into software tools for analysis.

Open standards, such as ODBC (Open Database Connectivity) and OPC (Object Linking & Embedding for Process Control), are integral components of providing enterprise access. ODBC allows standard desktop software applications to access the data stored in ODBC compliant databases, valuable for creating custom queries and reports.


The enterprise solution that emerges from the above equations has several critical elements. Many of these criteria are inter-related. For example, open standards foster connectivity of systems and integration of data.


The systems at the data and device level, including substation automation systems, distribution management systems, and energy management systems provide essential information to business systems at the enterprise level, i.e. accounting, billing, customer service. Technology and expertise form the foundation of an architecture that facilitates information sharing. Communications and networks form the backbone of this framework. The enterprise users and functions they need to perform branch out from this structure. The Internet inherently provides a suitable infrastructure for sharing information and allowing communication. It creates a virtual computing environment across worldwide networks. It is constructed of routers (packet switches) interconnected by many different link-level network technologies. In the wide area, these links are usually provided by the telecommunications industry, and include, for example:

  • Dedicated circuits
  • Asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) over a SONET (synchronous optical network), also suitable for high-speed, local area networks
  • Dial-up analog and digital (ISDN) telephone circuits In local area networks (LANs), Ethernet and FDDI (fiber distributed data interface) are typical link-level technologies.

Internet protocols run over all of these different link-level networks, providing inter-networking, hence Internet protocol or IP. Transport protocols like the TCP (transmission control protocol), UDP (user datagram protocol), and RTP (real-time transport protocol) use the IP network protocol for addressing and packet-level operations. Protocols are the rules that are used to specify how to do addressing, format data, communicate control requests, etc., over a data communication link. Network-level protocols specify, in a very general way, how to transport data (e.g., TCP). Application-level protocols organize the communication of specific types of data and actions between clients and servers, for example (just to illustrate a few of the many application protocols):

  • FTP (file transfer protocol), for sending files on the Internet, also the name of the client application, in this case
  • SMTP (simple mail transfer protocol) for sending Internet mail messages
  • HTTP (hypertext transfer protocol) for transferring files on the World Wide Web (WWW)

Therefore, the basic technology requirements are: Modern networking infrastructure in the substation and offices. More data flowing to more users demands more bandwidth. The technologies used to enable open access generally assume an IP-based communications infrastructure. Computing power in substation devices. To economically deploy these open technologies requires sufficient processing power and memory in substation devices to support widely available software.