IEC 61850 Adoption Slow in North American Distribution Automation Market

Security concerns and federal governmental oversight have motivated rapid adoption of next-generation communications technologies in transmission assets in the U.S. NERC-CIP compliance


IMS Research (acquired by IHS, Inc.)IMS Research forecasts newly-installed distribution automation (DA) electronics in the U.S. and Canada will continue to rely on DNP 3.0 LAN for years to come, even as IEC 61850 adoption becomes more mainstream in the transmission grid in North America and in all aspects of the grid in Latin America.

Security concerns and federal governmental oversight have motivated rapid adoption of next-generation communications technologies in transmission assets in the U.S. NERC-CIP compliance, has been an especially strong driver for rapid action by transmission organizations and their vendors. Likewise, in global markets outside North America, IEC61850 adoption has spread to medium voltage assets operated by large, often nationalized utility organizations. These organizations have made firm decisions to rationalize their equipment stock towards these new communications standards and have the capital and manpower to accomplish decisive change.

By stark contrast, medium voltage assets, from the distribution substations through the advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), are under the authority of a range of state and regional authorities in North America. Understandably, standardization has been slower to develop under these circumstances. Much of the automation equipment currently installed in the medium voltage networks there has been in the field for only a few years, or has not been integrated into broad protection and control schemes supporting new applications.

Source: IHS, Inc.

IMS Research Senior Analyst Donald Henschel comments, “The projections for all of the Americas indicate increasing rapid adoption of IEC61850 for distribution-level automation in the coming years, but a fair part of that shift will be driven by Latin America’s new equipment installations, as opposed to retrofit of existing North American distribution networks. These new standards are coming, but supplier and utility experience indicates that DNP3 LAN has substantial ongoing opportunity for the next several years.”

U.S. utility organizations were deeply affected by the passage and payout of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), and many hurried to make substantial changes in their medium voltage and metering systems during that period. As ARRA funding is winding down, some utility organizations, accustomed to long equipment lifecycles, are understandably cautious about moving to any new technologies or standards for the short term.

At issue is the demonstrable business value of some of these next generation networks and protocols. Henschel continues, “The opportunity for Ethernet-connected devices continues to grow in North America’s medium voltage networks, but what utilities decide to do with these new assets and how they go about extracting maximum value from this equipment remains to be seen. We know that they will be more demanding of their AMI and DA solutions than during the ARRA days, and look forward to observing a new wave of need-based automation improvements.”

This market analysis comes from a combination of studies produced within IMS Research and IHS. Annual shipments of new feeder and distribution substation automation equipment, including reclosers, protective relays, capacitor bank and voltage regulator controllers, etc. are analyzed first for Ethernet vs. serial communications usage at the install point, then for Ethernet protocol adoption.

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