What could IEC 61850 mean for your network?

Andreas Reckers Mar 23, 2020

Easier management and monitoring of smart grids– but keep an eye on compliance

The need for smart substations  

The old power utility model, where energy is centrally produced and transported over vast distances to end-users, is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Today’s electrical grids and supporting infrastructures are complex, often distributed across large areas, using different power production approaches, and capable of distribute power to and from a multitude of small sources. High-voltage grids are required in urban areas. To realise and manage all of this effectively, it is essential to collect data from each device on the grid and manage the entire infrastructure from remote locations.

Today, substations in centralised and distributed smart grid architectures increasingly act as connectivity hubs and data aggregation points. More and more conventional power substations are being replaced with intelligent substations with facilities for control, measurement and monitoring. These intelligent substations are interconnected and linked to the central station using modern communication networks. In the energy sector, this has resulted in the creation and definition of communication standard IEC 61850: a common language for working with digital substation technology.

Enabling grid interconnectivity and data exchange

As communication on electrical grids becomes more important than ever, IEC 61850 defines special requirements for data exchange between different Intelligent Electronic Devices such as controllers, PLCs, measurement devices, switchgears or Ethernet switches. An increasing number of smart grid applications rely on this standard for intelligent data exchange. IEC 61850 not only defines TCP/IP Ethernet as the basis for all digital communications, making other protocols, such as Motbus or 485, obsolete but also describe special requirements for data communication among power networks.

IEC 61850 brings harmonised protection, control and communication technologies to power networks. This allows grid owners to combine equipment from different vendors in an efficient, highly reliable, standardized network. The standard defines how all connected devices should communicate with each other, with a central station or even between stations. All networked devices in a smart grid, from switches and controllers to sensors can speak with each other and interact with a central SCADA. Devices that are not yet equipped with IP can be cost-effectively connected to networks and managed with Industrial Ethernet switch I/O modules. Industrial switches can manage and receive alerts from simple non-Ethernet devices by using the same technology described in IEC 61850. Energy providers and distribution system operators can manage all network elements and optimize administration and monitoring by taking a standardized approach. This allows easier building of reliable, self-balanced energy infrastructures and makes it possible to manage them in the most efficient way.

Design and implementation considerations

However, to enable fully automatic or remote operation of facilities, IEC 61850 poses specific requirements for the data network design and its components..The standard describes different type of requirements, which are, in part, related to communication and operation environment. In an IEC 61850 based network, Ethernet switches are dedicated to data exchange between IEDs, standardized services and network devices. Communication between these takes place according to requirements described by IEC 61850 in the following parts: 6, 7, 8-1, 9-1 and 9-2. This describes the wide range of communication requirements, including SCL (Substation Configuration description Language), required for seamless modelling and operation of substation automation, common data classes, data modelling, prioritisation, special communication services and much more. It is absolutely critical that switches and other network components used to transfer data in an electrical grid environment are not only compliant with IEC 61850-3, but also comply with the communication requirements of IEC 61850-6, 7, 8 and 9.

The largest share of industrial Ethernet switches currently on the global market complies to IEC 61850-3 only – the general requirements related to construction, design and environmental conditions. Using network devices that are ONLY compliant with this part doesn’t allow the building of reliable grid infrastructure.

Ensuring switches work

Managed industrial Ethernet switches offer a robust solution for today’s communication networks in mission critical smart grids applications. Standard switches without the correct communication functionality described in the standard can’t operate in an IEC 61850 environment. Since 2009, Nexans has been providing Ethernet-based systems and switches for use in IEC 61850 environments. Our LANactive switches support all required parts of the IEC 61850 standard. The LANactive range, developed to meet energy sector challenges, include the industrial multiport iGigaSwitch range with KEMA/DNV-GL-approved IEC 61850 functionality and industrial grade passive components providing copper and fibre cabling for harsh environments. If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch. Our experts are always ready to discuss your unique situation and solutions!

About the author

Andreas Reckers

Andreas Reckers is Sales Manager with Nexans Advanced Networking Solutions as part of the Data & Telecom Business Group. Andreas has over 30 years extensive experience in the field of innovative and future proof Fibre technologies and his knowledge and insight have truly shaped the research and development of Nexans pioneering Fibre To The Office Solution. During his career he has held several roles in product marketing, technical sales and project management. Andreas holds a master’s degree in electrical engineering.

Contact us

Topics on which you wish to get more informations:

Required fields*

Please check your entry and try again.

An email address must contain a single @

Personal data protector

You have the right to object to the processing of your personal data and/or their use for direct marketing or commercial purposes

Thank you!

Thanks for contacting us. We will be in touch with you shortly.


An error occurred. Please try again.