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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, finds a new report from IMS Research.

Security concerns and federal governmental oversight have motivated rapid adoption of next-generation communications technologies in transmission assets in the U.S., according to the research firm. North American Regulatory Commission (NERC) Critical Infrastructure Protection program compliance, for example, has been an especially strong driver for rapid action by transmission organizations and their vendors.

Likewise, in global markets outside North America, IEC 61850 adoption has spread to medium-voltage assets operated by large, often-nationalized utility organizations. The report says these organizations have made firm decisions to rationalize their equipment stock toward 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, the report says. Much of the automation equipment currently installed in the medium-voltage networks has been in the field for only a few years, or has not been integrated into broad protection and control schemes supporting new applications.

“The projections for all of the Americas indicate increasing rapid adoption of IEC 61850 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,” says Donald Henschel, senior analyst at IMS Research. “These new standards are coming, but supplier and utility experience indicates that DNP 3.0 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, the report notes.

At issue is the demonstrable business value of some of these next-generation networks and protocols.

“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,” adds Henschel. “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.”


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