Commonwealth 245 West Michigan Avenue,
Jackson, MI 49201

Jun 30, 2024

Multi-level architecture makes the IEC 61850 standard somewhat challenging to implement.

Our own Koustubh Banerjee, P.E. and Brittany Chapman, P.E. had the opportunity to address the energy industry by way of a 2023 webinar exploring the IEC 61850 standard and communication-based protection. We invite you to watch that webinar here. It is a great presentation, very much worth your time.

This post is more or less a companion piece intended to look at one aspect of the IEC 61850 standard: its three-level architecture. Note that the standard is actually a communication standard for powering utility systems. IEC 61850 is an entire system consisting of data models, communication protocols, and engineering practices.

The Three Levels

Multi-level architecture makes the IEC 61850 standard somewhat challenging to implement. But its rewards are worthwhile. A properly deployed and well managed system delivers power with minimal risks and increased reliability. With that said, here are the three levels of architecture along with a basic synopsis of each:

1. Process Level

At the process level, we are talking about physical equipment in substations. Think circuit breakers, transformers, voltage regulators, and a full litany of sensors that measure everything from output to resistance. At this level, everything needs to be managed with precision due to the reality that this is where electrical energy is switched and monitored. 

Equipment at the process level interacts with the bay level through intelligent electronic devices (IEDs). The devices can be leveraged with a variety of protocols, such as Sampled Values (SVs).

2. Bay Level

Operations at the bay level are designed to control and monitor process level equipment. Consider the bay level a management level of sorts. It consists mainly of IEDs they continually monitor equipment along with implementing desired functions including control, protection, and data recording.

While bay level operations interact with process level equipment through IEDs, they interact with station level operations through protocols like Manufacturing Message Specification (MMS). Internally, IEDs can interface with one another horizontally.

3. Station Level

The third level is the station level, the level at which operations are run through human-machine interfaces (HMIs). There are also gateways for remote access at this level. Certain process related functions are managed here through control commands.

Interaction between station and bay levels is made possible through a station bus. Both process and station buses are high speed optical fiber internet buses.

Benefits of Implementing the IEC 61850 Standard

Implementing the IEC 61850 standard modernizes power delivery. Utility automation is its secret sauce, as it were. Its embedded data model establishes a common way to represent each of the devices and functions in a substation. Meanwhile, communication protocols define how those devices interface with one another.

The benefits of this arrangement are easily observed in action:

  • Interoperability – Communication is not a barrier even between devices from different vendors.

  • Flexibility – Easy reconfiguration means a system can be modified to meet changing needs.

  • Reliability – The IEC 61850 standard is designed to be a highly reliable system.

Our research here at Commonwealth suggests that a lot of entities in our industry have heard of the IEC 61850 standard, but few have actually implemented it fully. Many organizations are learning about it and its benefits. Others are on the way to full implementation but haven't quite gotten there yet.

From our perspective, the IEC 61850 standard is one of the most important advancements in power delivery automation. It is sure to shape our industry for years to come. The standard increases efficiency, improves reliability, and goes a long way toward maintaining power security. We believe it is well worth the industry's time and effort to drive it forward.

Left arrowBack to All Insights