Prepared for the challenges of climate change

ABB's grid automation improves power reliability in Finland

Elenia Oy, Finland’s second-largest electricity distribution system operator (DSO), saw the benefits of grid automation early on. ABB’s pioneering solutions are playing a significant role in a multi-billion-euro investment boom, as Finnish DSOs rebuild and improve their distribution networks.

In 2011, two severe winter storms raged through Finland, tearing down millions of cubic meters of trees, which in turn took overhead wires with them as they crashed to the ground. Finland has the most forests in Europe, with 23 million hectares of the nation covered by trees – that’s 74% of the country. As a result, there were significant risks for outages all over – a dangerous prospect, given Finland’s winters, where 2-digit minus temperatures are the norm. Added to the fact that there were summer storms in 2010 that also had a marked effect on the power grid, this was a wake-up call.

Finnish politicians realized they had to make sure the country’s power supply was reliable, leading to the new and very strict Electricity Market Act in 2013. This law stipulates that outages may last no longer than six hours in urban areas, or 36 hours in rural areas. Distribution system operators have to be able to guarantee they will meet these limits by 2028.

This means that the majority of Finland’s power cables have to go underground – a tough goal, given that the country is sparsely populated and the power grids were built decades ago. With only about 10% percent of the nation’s medium-voltage grid underground in 2012, safe from falling trees and other storm hazards, that percentage needs to rise to 60–70% by 2028.

As a result, there is currently 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.

The work had already begun

ABB’s Finnish partner Elenia was the first to start working on a project for an extensive distribution network with underground cabling and automation, years before the new Electricity Market Act became law.

The company wanted to improve the security of supply of its distribution network by weatherproofing it and by utilizing distribution automation and smart grid technology. They believe digitalization, automation, and mobile applications all improve the efficiency and quality of their operations, thus, improving the customer experience and keeping customers satisfied by offering them innovative digital services like automatic outage communication and electricity consumption monitoring.

ABB: a pioneer in digitalization

This is of course where ABB comes in. ABB has been anticipating significant changes since the world was electrified, and as a true pioneer it can already provide distribution system operators with the smart solutions needed for the future.

In addition to the requirement for a reliable power supply, the regulations are providing incentives to guide grid improvements. For example, the Energy Authority measures power quality by monitoring the frequency and duration of outages. This encourages companies to not only replace overhead lines with underground cabling, but also to automate the grid so that the power supply isn’t interrupted.

ABB has been helping Elenia automate its network for several years now, thanks to its underground cabling, smart compact secondary substations, automatic fault location, isolation, and restoration (FLIR) to secure the power supply – along with an Arctic technology-based communication system with strong cybersecurity that uses public mobile networks.

Elenia has been utilizing mobile communication in its distribution automation solutions for ten years. The performance has been validated in multiple storms, and Elenia has always found it very reliable.

Extensive underground cabling makes earth faults harder to detect and locate compared to overhead lines. But Elenia’s compact secondary substations have top-of-the-line fault indicators, thanks to ABB’s award-winning earth fault detection method. This is based on multi-frequency admittance calculation that can reliably identify any type of fault in both overhead lines and underground cables – something that earlier methods couldn’t do.

Power markets facing change

Electricity generation is going through significant changes. Combating climate change means increasing renewable energy production, such as solar and wind power. 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 is facing, and they will all require a great deal of smart automation in the power grid to make sure that operation is reliable. 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. As a constant pioneer, ABB is of course already working on the solutions to meet these challenges.


ABB’s grid automation improves reliability in Elenia’s network

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About the author

Bruno Melles

I am the head of ABB’s Medium Voltage Products business and I am fortunate to work for a pioneering technology leader like ABB, which has a 125-year history of innovation. Today, my team and I continue to create innovative products that ensure a safer, smarter and greener power distribution network.
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