Trend Overview

Electrical substations are the building blocks of an energy grid. They are responsible for regulating and changing voltage levels as electric power flows from generating station to consumer. Many were built decades ago when switching, adjustment, and data collection were done manually, but digital protection and control devices have become more intelligent. New Intelligent Electronic Devices (IEDs) can collect and record diverse system information, process complex logic in microseconds, and decide whether to send control commands to switches and breakers to clear faults. The increase in information allows for better evaluation of system health, prediction of potential problems, and a quicker analysis of faults.

Automation Tasks

Substation Automation (SA) uses data from IEDs, control and automation capabilities within the substation along with control commands from remote users to control power-system devices. Data is collected in the form of measured analog current or voltage values, or the open/closed status of contact points. This data can be used locally within the collecting device, sent to another device in a substation, or delivered to multiple databases for use by operators, engineers, planners, and administration.

Computer processes and personnel use the data from IEDs to supervise and monitor the conditions of the power system. Operators and engineers can monitor the information remotely or locally, using the device.

Traditional supervisory control and data acquisition systems rely on operators to supervise the system with commands coming from an operator console on the master computer. Automation allows these command messages to be sent to a device to operate the instrumentation and control (I&C) and power-system devices. Field personnel can also control devices using front-panel push buttons or a laptop.

As the utility grid becomes more automated and digitized, the reliance on the supporting digital network infrastructure becomes even more critical to the reliability and efficiency of the grid. Expanding grid digitization means a bigger cyber security threat. Traditional substation security approaches fall short due to lack of visibility and centralized security policy enforcement.  Regulators and utilities strive to continuously increase their security posture to improve visibility and respond to new threats.

Cisco Point of View

Based on more than a decade of collaboration with the utility industry, Cisco has developed solutions to digitize, automate, and secure substations. Over the past six months, Cisco has released the next generation industrial routing and switching platform designed for grid modernization and substation automation. They align with the five ‘Internet of Things’ essentials for next-generation substation:

  • Performance at scale – Utilities are being asked to connect more systems at higher capacity with more devices that are streaming more data.
  • Asset visibility and cyber threat detection – Using the built-in security capabilities of the industrial Catalyst platforms,it allows the substation network to be a security sensor.
  • Enterprise-grade management and automation – Substation operators are increasingly managing their substations utilizing the deep knowledge and capabilities of Cisco’s industry-leading network security and management tools.
  • Support for industry protocols – The industrial Catalyst supports industry protocols, including PRP & HSR for redundancy PTP timing and automation protocols suchas IEC61850, IEC104, DNP3 and Modbus, that are essential to substation operations.
  • Application hosting and edge computing –Substation operators are looking for ways to run applications locally in their substation LAN environments to expedite decisions and reduce bandwidth on the network. The industrial Catalyst is designed with this need in mind, with support for Cisco IOx to power both Cisco Cyber Vision and the utility’s own applications within the substation LAN. Examples include virtual RTUs, security applications, and more.


As utilities become more operationally reliant on digital power system end points, they are realizing that a disruption in accessing these end points and their data is a risk to grid reliability. Cisco can help utilities support the business and technical requirements of the modern electric grid by providing a secure, scalable, and highly available foundation including network, compute, and security.


For more, visit cisco.com/go/utilities.


Jeffrey Tufts

Global Energy Solutions Leader

Cisco Industries Solutions Group