There are 14 000 substations in the US and over 1 300 in Canada. The average age of the transformers in these substations is about 45 years old. There is also the impetus of green energy and smart grid. For these reasons all of these substations are going have to be rehabilitated, retrofitted, or replaced over the next decade. In addition with the expected buildout of new transmission and distribution capacity, new substations will have to be built. All of this is happening when the electric power utility industry is facing a serious manpower challenge. The average age in many utilities is over 50 and experienced electric power designers are retiring faster than younger workers can be hired and trained. In response utilities are turning to technology to improve the productivity of their design staff. I blogged previously about Duke Energy which has implemented an integrated substation design system including 3D design that will reduce design time by at least 50% for both greenfield and brownfield projects just at the time when the company is accelerating its smart grid deployment.
Designing a substation involves a quite complicated design process requiring the collaboration of different disciplines such as electrical engineers, protection and control engineers, civil engineers, environmental engineers, and often transmission engineers. The workflow typically begins with a concept drawing, which is used by the different teams to prepare detailed engineering drawings of the electrical, protection and control, physical and environmental aspects of the structure. From the detailed drawings, a bill of materials (BOM) is compiled which is used to prepare job estimates. This is a critical and time consuming part of the design effort, because the engineers in all disciplines need to avoid underengineering, which can result in outages, and overengineering, which is expensive.
Substation Design at Nashville Electric Services
Nashville Electric Services (NES) is a publicly owned, nonprofit company that serves more than 355,000 customers in a large service area in Tennessee. According to a recent article in Utility Products in 2007, NES decided to focus on improving substation design productivity. NES has been an early adopter of 3D technology and has been using it to improve the susbstation design process for many years. Now with model-based design, for existing substation rehabilitation and when building a new one, designers create a digital model of the substation. The model-based design application enforces design standards and automates parts selection. Having a digital model makes the design process more efficient. For example, designers are able to generate BOMs up to 80 % faster, because the software automatically tracks part types and material quantities during design and designers can generate BOMs and export them directly as spreadsheets for procurement. Digital models also help operations after the substation construction or rehabilitation is complete. NES's goal is to have digital models for all of their 60 primary substations in their network because it will help them respond to operational needs faster and more proactively.
NES recently compared the time-to-completion for a project before an after implementing model-based design and found that with the new design approach, the project was completed in half the time.
Substation Design at Autodesk University
I believe that both Duke Energy and Nashville Electric will be presenting on their substation design solutions at Autodesk University Nov 30 to Dec 2.