New intelligent digital substations, developed by GE’s Grid Solutions in partnership with RTE, are ready for deployment

Chances are pretty good you’re reading this near a lit lamp. The power to run that lamp – and anything else nearby – had to travel through a sophisticated electricity grid to reach you after it was generated. Electrical substations are the workhorses of that electricity grid. They convert electricity to different voltage levels, and switch power to different branches of the grid depending on demand. They also guarantee continuity of service – keeping the lights on if something unexpected happens. Thanks to digitisation, all these tasks are about to become easier. The digital revolution is coming to electricity delivery. Developed by GE’s Grid Solutions, RTE’s main partner in the Smart Substation innovation project, the future generation of intelligent digital substations is ready for roll-out. “We offer a complete and operational solution,” says Gerardo Rebollar (Leader of GE’s Substation Automation Products Line). After tests conducted at the GE Centre of Excellence in Montpellier (France), the system will be put into service before the summer at the pilot site at Blocaux in Picardy, France’s second largest region for wind power production. “Digitization offers greater convenience and flexibility and guarantees a dynamic adaptation,” Gerardo Rebollar continues. “All the information about the operation of the substation, operational electrical parameters, status of the primary, secondary and auxiliary equipment is digitized and transmitted to the substation’s control room down an optical fibre connection.” This technology makes it easier to control and protect the substation, and it answers a challenge facing RTE: how can we transmit and distribute ever more electricity through the existing grid infrastructures, at a time when renewable forms of energy are on the rise? Renewable power is great, but it can also be unreliable, with peaks and troughs if the wind stops blowing or clouds cover the sun. This creates a complex situation for substation operators to manage. By operating the existing grid more efficiently, digitization allows real-time increases in power transmission capacity.

Improved safety and maintenance

It also simplifies installation and reduces investment. In a smart digital substation, thousands of copper control wires are replaced by a handful of optical fibres, the number of cabinets is reduced, and all the systems are more compact. Another advantage: digitization improves safety of the operators who now have to manipulate the fibre and not live cables as before, while simplifying maintenance. Instead of fixing parts when they break down, or at regular intervals, the new substations can monitor their own condition and call out maintenance as required.

Another advantage: digitization improves safety of the operators who now have to manipulate the fibre and not live cables as before, while simplifying maintenance. “In our intelligent substations, thanks to the status indicators on many components, we model and monitor more items and know which part to take action on,” Gerardo Rebollar explains. “Maintenance becomes preventive and more focused now. In addition, using a better connectivity helps technicians to do remote operations on substations located far away. A software update can be enough to modernize an installation, there is no need to change the wiring. ” Intelligent digital substations like this are destined to become widespread. “We have a firm belief: digitization is the future of electricity grids,” claims Gerardo Rebollar. “This is the way our investments are going and we are working already on the 3rdgeneration of smart substations. For the last 5 years now, we have been the company that has engaged most in this field.”

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