ABB inaugurates Smart Lab for Smart Grid products and networks simulation

2012-02-14 - New laboratory at ABB’s facility in Dalmine, Italy uses real components to simulate the operation of electricity distribution networks.

Dalmine, 14 February 2012. ABB the leading power and automation technology group, has recently inaugurated a new Smart Lab at its Dalmine facility in Italy to simulate and study the behaviour of components in low and medium voltage intelligent networks. Bruno Melles, ABB’s Medium Voltage Products Business Unit Global Manager, attended the inauguration.

The ABB Smart Lab has been created to help address the new efficiency and stability challenges facing electricity distribution networks as they adapt to rapidly growing energy needs, the increasing penetration of renewable energy sources, the geographic dispersion of sources and the unpredictability of supply and demand are putting the efficiency and stability of electricity networks to the test.

Using the specially designed laboratory, ABB engineers will now be able to answer key questions such as how to determine the exact configuration of a protection system and the tripping logic? How can we increase the reliability of an electricity network? How to test the functionality of a new protection relay or an automation function for a particular network configuration? How to test the behaviour of a communication device in the distribution network?

The Smart Lab uses real components to simulate, a medium voltage electricity distribution network with meshed configuration has been simulated, which including medium voltage/low voltage substations with connected loads and generators.

This type of configuration is extremely complex as it is difficult to determine the internal flows of energy. However, even the most complex cases, such as connections in distributed generation systems, primary and secondary substations, industrial users and other scenarios can be simulated in the Smart Lab.

The Smart Lab will aid Smart Grid developments

Current distribution networks are predominantly characterized by a radial configuration in which electricity is taken from high voltage transmission networks and subsequently delivered to final users, with unidirectional power flow.

Now through the significant growth of distributed generation is completely changing the management of electricity distribution networks from “passive” to “active”. This evolution is identified by the internationally recognized term Smart Grid, to indicate highly automated and innovative networks which, by ensuring a system with a superior level of reliability, flexibility and accessibility, are able to tackle the numerous problems associated with the mass penetration of distributed generation.

The basic equipment found in distribution networks is installed in the Smart Lab; medium and low voltage switchgear, protection relays, current and voltage sensors and the relative communication devices, in addition to the monitoring system that controls the network. It also includes inverters for photovoltaic plants and a monitoring device for distribution transformers.

The fundamental feature of smart grids is the widespread use of communication for measurement and remote control. The protocol used is IEC61850, the international standard for electrical system automation that enables communication, via G.O.O.S.E.1, between the various devices in the network, both horizontally (for example, between the relays of the same substation and between the relays of different substations) and vertically towards the system (for example, with the control room of a substation).

The new laboratory will be an excellent testing ground where integration between new telecommunications technologies can be put to the test. The use of these technologies is of vital importance to the efficiency and control of modern intelligent networks and equipment for the fault detection, interruption and disconnection of medium and low voltage electricity lines. The main technical features of these solutions can be verified and also used to test the safety features of the communication networks used in actual projects.

Using a simulation model designed and created in collaboration with the Polytechnic of Milan, numerous situations can be simulated and the behaviour of protection and automation devices studied when faults occur in various sections of the network lines.

The layout of the laboratory network is also aimed at communication between several substations. The purpose is to simulate a limit of reliability that goes well beyond the capabilities of current distribution networks, but which will be increasingly relevant in networks of the future.

In the event of a fault on a peripheral branch of a conventional network, the tripping of protection devices may be propagated to branches at a higher level; this leads to the shutdown of large areas of the distribution network with a subsequent increase in the time required to restore the service and an increase in penalties (SAIDI2, SAIFI3) issued by authorities controlling the quality of the energy distribution service. Today this problem is all the more evident and important for energy distribution companies in view of the greater number of interconnections and the contributions from distributed generation systems which, in the event of a fault, may interfere with or compromise the entire electricity network.

In the Smart Lab it is possible to simulate how the protection and automation devices may act on switching devices to detect and isolate only the section of network affected by the fault and promptly restore the “healthy” portion of the network by using a selectivity logic programmed inside the network control and automation devices. These automated systems are made possible by real-time communication systems that are able to handle large quantities of data in a few seconds.

The IEC 61850 standard provides a communication model that allows information to be exchanged between devices at the same level and, at the same time, permits monitoring or diagnostic information to be transmitted to the management and control system.

To ensure an even more reliable electricity distribution network, the techniques for using IT technologies must be studied further and verified before they are used in real projects. The Smart Lab will provide a communication structure based on the Ethernet 100 Mbit over a copper network with wireless technology, making it possible to verify the efficacy of automated protection systems and network selectivity using different means of communication. Wireless Mesh technology is used for the wireless communication, which also monitors the 82 kW photovoltaic plant installed at the facility and the video surveillance system.

The Smart Lab provides a structure that allows components and configurations to be tested in a flexible and dynamic way, enabling ABB and its customers to simulate real network conditions and study specific situations by simulating different energy flows or fault conditions and, finally to, understand which components to use and what choices to make to ensure the greatest accuracy possible when managing electricity distribution networks.

1 Generic Object Oriented Substation Event.
2 System Average Interruption Duration Index (SAIDI).
3 System Average Interruption Frequency Index (SAIFI).

ABB ( is a leader in energy and automation technologies that enable utility and industry customers to improve performance while lowering their environmental impact. The ABB Group of companies employs approximately 130,000 people in over 100 countries.

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