“Automation is going to take centre stage in the future”

Interview with ABB’s Ahmad Khan

ABB Limited’s MicroSCADA X, an advanced easy-to-use automation solution with SCADA software and end-to-end cybersecurity, has proven to be a successful offering with an installed base of more than 14,000 systems globally. At the recent launch of MicroSCADA X for the Indian market, Ahmad Khan, senior vice president, ABB Power Products and Systems India Limited, spoke to Power Line about the company’s new technology offering and its benefits for utilities. Excerpts…

What are some of the trends impacting the power automation/SCADA market in India?

Over the past three decades, the generation profile in India has undergone a significant change, from being largely based on conventional energy to adding renewable energy power plants and distributed renewable energy systems. Further, with the emergence of use cases such as e-mobility and metro rail, the demand is expected to increase. Consumers have also become more demanding in terms of reliability and availability. As the demand and complexity of the grid increase, it moves beyond the human operator’s capability in terms of quick response. In this regard, asset management and SCADA are making it possible to take decisions and actions for optimising power delivery in real time. For example, when there is a fault situation that requires the grid to be isolated, the operator can quickly restore the non-faulty section through an alternative section. This can be enabled and delivered only through automation and SCADA. This way the outage time of the electrical network reduces.

How do these trends impact the development of products and solutions?

Considering that the demand for quality power is going up tremendously, our asset management products are helping utilities manage the consumption points and assets in their wider networks. By digitalising the primary equipment, such as transformers and circuit breakers, and with the use of sensors and asset management software, we can support our customers who would like to move from periodic to condition-based maintenance schedules. For distributed generation, the tapping points in the grid, where the power is injected, are increasing. ABB Power Grids offers a host of solutions for the automation of the grid, such as SCADA, asset management software, primary equipment like transformers and circuit breakers as well as technologies such as Flexible Alternating Current Transmission System (FACTS). For example, we have the Northeast-Agra high voltage direct current (HVDC) line for bringing in distributed energy from over a 1,000 km to the consumption point in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, while the generation takes place at hydropower plants and other renewable generation plants in the north-eastern region. ABB’s solutions have been a part of the evolving electricity generation and consumption patterns globally over the past 130 years. We were responsible for bringing technologies such as HVDC to the market, scaling up transformers, and providing power quality solutions, network control and protection, among others. In addition, we have a role in the generation, utilisation and end distribution of energy. In India, we have a huge play in the railways market. A significant part of the Delhi metro and several other metro rail networks in the country are running on our MicroSCADA solution.

How does ABB help its customers address some of the challenges with power automation?

The primary challenges for utilities or large industries include availability and quality of power, intermittent uptime, and high operations and maintenance costs. Another interesting challenge, especially in India, is that many of these assets were built some decades ago and we now have new regulatory and grid requirements that customers have to align their existing assets with. This is where we offer them our automation and software solutions. Asset management at the transformer level has become an incredibly important requirement, for which we have introduced sensors and our Ellipse Asset Performance Management (APM) software. Further, we have introduced solutions such as Digital Enterprise, which takes care of the system at the enterprise level, managing all the assets of the customer. The scale at which most large utilities and industries are running networks is so huge that mere human interaction will not be sufficient for optimising costs and getting the most out of assets; hence, the need for sophisticated automation solutions.

What is MicroSCADA X? What are its unique characteristics?

MicroSCADA X is an apt example of how ABB introduces technologies in the market and then keeps improving and investing in them over decades. MicroSCADA is a product that has been around for over three and a half decades and it is as contemporary today as it was in the 1980s. It has more than 14,000 satisfied customers globally, including utilities, transmission and distribution, transportation companies, and industries including oil and gas. MicroSCADA X allows automation at the substation and network control levels and optimises distribution management. It is extremely important to localise a fault and act in real time to ensure that the outage is restored. For this, distribution management is crucial. MicroSCADA offers a unified human-machine interface (HMI) so that operators can see all the data that they have in their networks in one place, enabling drawal of power from various networks. It presents the operator with options to deal with outages and allows it to take quick decisions. A key element of MicroSCADA X is its mobility, which provides greater safety to personnel. In addition to the traditional centralised large control rooms that are still very important, MicroSCADA X allows operators to access the same information on their tablet or laptop, which can be used for supervision and control.

Have you deployed these solutions for your customers in India?

MicroSCADA X has been introduced to the Indian market at Elecrama 2020. The earlier versions of MicroSCADA have a large installed base in the country in industries including urban rail and airports. ABB is the leading provider of SCADA solutions in these markets. The MicroSCADA X legacy customers are now keen to try out and see how it can benefit them. We are going to work with them and see how the upgraded version could be relevant to them.

How is MicroSCADA X different from its previous versions? What is the X in SCADA about?

So, the X really is the mobility piece along with a couple of finer details. It features a seamless web HMI, which can be used anywhere and any time – across desktops, laptops and hand-held devices. It is about creating a user-centric product that provides a unified experience of live as well as historic data with an interactive Map view. Cybersecurity is, of course, paramount and inbuilt to keep the networks safe. It also features the intercontrolcentre communications protocol (ICCP) facility. The ICCP allows data exchange without having to route it through a centralised control room, making it much faster. Moreover, almost all the solutions we deliver are customised as per the needs of clients. The time that a project takes to get up and running and the technical risk element are both minimal because clients get proven solutions.

What is the time required for the implementation of MicroSCADA X?

Along with new customers, we are also in discussions with our existing customers, who want to upgrade from the previous versions. The upgrade scenario is very attractive as our customers who have been using the solution for the past 10 or 20 years have customised software tuned to the existing hardware and networks. All those settings are retained as we upgrade, thereby involving zero risk for the customers. We keep all their network-specific know-how intact and bring in all the features of the MicroSCADA X. From customers’ standpoint, it is an ideal scenario because they no longer need time to stabilise their plants after investing in a new solution. Thus, MicroSCADA X is a great fit for all our customers.

What are some of the key trends in the energy market in India?

The trends in India are driven by what the customer is demanding. Smart cities, distributed energy, e-mobility, high speed trains and freight corridors are all emerging trends. It is an exciting time for us as a supplier and as an equipment manufacturer. Like MicroSCADA X, where we deploy domain know-how locked in libraries, we also have smart city applications and distributed energy technology solutions. Germany is leading in terms of renewables integration and is ahead of other major economies. We have a lot to learn from Germany and these learnings can be deployed in the Indian scenario. In some cases, what is happening in India is almost in parallel with what is happening globally. For example, e-mobility and fast charging solutions are being rolled out in Switzerland and in India simultaneously. We recently signed an MoU with Ashok Leyland, under which we are bringing state-of-the-art European technology to India. We are really in a sweet spot.

For ABB, what is the future of automation in the power sector?

We will leverage some really robust systems that we have on the hardware side, whether it is high voltage equipment, GIS, transformers or our protection and control devices. We will integrate them with the software platforms. In addition to MicroSCADA X, which is on the SCADA functionality side, we have the Ellipse APM, Enterprise Asset Management (EAM), and Workforce Management (WFM), which help improve customers’ operational efficiency. Moving forward, we would be leaning more towards predictive and prognostic asset management. We will introduce machine learning elements in our solutions to adapt better and its implications are immense. For us, automation is going to take centre stage in the future.

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