Elenia, the second-largest electricity distribution system operator in Finland, was the first to begin an extensive distribution network underground cabling and automation project, years before the new Electricity Market Act and regulations came into force.
“We want to improve the security of supply of our distribution network by weatherproofing it and by utilizing distribution automation and smart grid technology. Digitalization, automation, and mobile applications all improve the efficiency and quality of our operations. We can improve the customer experience and keep our customers satisfied by offering them innovative digital services like automatic outage communication and electricity consumption monitoring, for example,” says Elenia’s Chief Operating Officer, Jorma Myllymäki.
Myllymäki believes that sophisticated grid automation is needed for distribution system operators to be able to respond to the challenges of distributed energy production and to develop a new kind of electricity market.
“In the future, DSOs will be able to provide a neutral, open, and efficient technology platform that providers of services for Distributed Energy Resources (DER) and other market players can utilize when creating new, consumer-facing business,” says Myllymäki.
Pioneer in digitalization
Elenia has been automating its network for several years already, using the latest ABB technology. In addition to underground cabling, smart compact secondary substations, automatic fault location, isolation, and restoration (FLIR) are used to secure the supply of electricity, along with a communication system with strong cybersecurity that uses public mobile networks and is based on ABB’s Arctic technology.
“We have been utilizing mobile communication in our distribution automation solutions for ten years. The performance has been validated in multiple storms, and it has always been very reliable,” says Myllymäki.
A consequence of extensive underground cabling is that earth faults are harder to detect and locate compared to overhead lines. Elenia’s compact secondary substations are equipped with top-of-the-line fault indicators. ABB's award-winning earth fault detection method, based on multi-frequency admittance calculation, can identify any type of fault reliably in both overhead lines and underground cables – something that earlier methods could not do.
Elenia has been one of ABB's long-term partners in developing the new fault indication technology.
At Elenia’s control room.
Society does not tolerate power cuts
The winter storms of 2011, named Hannu and Tapani, were a wake-up call for Finnish politicians to ensure the reliability of the power supply, leading to the new and very strict Electricity Market Act in 2013.
The law stipulates that outages may last no longer than six hours in urban areas, or 36 hours in rural areas. Distribution system operators must be able to comprehensively guarantee by 2028 that the length of any interruption in their distribution network will be within these limits.
In a sparsely populated country with the power grids built decades ago, this requirement is a tough one. In 2012, only about 10 percent of Finland’s medium-voltage grid was cabled underground and safe from falling trees and other storm hazards. Predictions show that underground cabling will rise to 60–70 percent by 2028.
In addition to the reliability of supply requirement, various incentives that are related to regulations serve to guide grid improvements. The Energy Authority monitors, for example, power quality developments like the frequency and duration of outages. This encourages replacing overhead lines with underground cabling and automating the grid to ensure uninterrupted power supply.
The act and the regulation model have spurred on an investment boom in Finland, the value of which is up to 9 billion euros ($9.6 billion) in 2014–2028, according to the Energy Authority.
Power markets facing change
As the grids are going underground, they are being made even smarter to meet the challenges of today and the future.
Electricity generation is going through significant changes. Combating climate change will mean an increase in renewable energy production, such as solar and wind energy. Distributed generation, its intermittent nature, energy storage, multi-directional power flows, electric vehicles and smart homes with demand flexibility are all challenges that the grid will face, and they will all require a great deal of smart automation in the power grid for reliable operation. Smart grid control is based on real-time data gathered by the automation systems, which means the network communication system plays a very important role.
ABB has been anticipating these significant changes since the world was electrified, and it can provide distribution system operators with the solutions of the future, already today.
ABB's Medium Voltage Products business unit provides utility, industrial and commercial customers with safe, reliable and smart technologies for electricity distribution. ABB’s extensive global offering includes distribution automation products, switching, limiting, measuring and sensing devices, switchgear, modular substation packages, and related services.