Building a Comprehensive Platform for Standardizing Your Testing Program
Maintaining consistency despite change is critical now more than ever when it comes to electrical system reliability testing. Overcoming novel challenges presented by modernization and the evolving regulatory landscape require well-developed test standards and adaptive maintenance processes that can absorb impacts from periodic technological and operational disruptions.
However, organizing and implementing uniform, all-inclusive procedures that combine requisite tests and workflow steps is complicated. Case in point: protection system testing and maintenance. Protection systems are vital to system reliability but have numerous variations that come into play when devising test procedures. For instance, protective relays vary by model and type depending on how they are applied and whether they are older mechanical devices that require calibration and cleaning or computer devices that require intensive programming verifications. Examining the physical device and ensuring the integrity of the wired connections it shares with instrument transformers, station batteries and communications equipment is also part of the job.
In stations that operate at or above 100kV, or which could otherwise affect the Bulk Electric System (BES) as specified by NERC standards, testing and performing maintenance on relays and other components of protection systems must include the careful recording of auditable information, like the dates when testing occurred and proof that relays have the correct settings applied to them. If BES relays are computerized devices, NERC classifies them as cyber assets which invokes a slew of cyber security requirements. Very quickly and with tremendous force, regulatory mandates such as those from NERC, impose changes that must be incorporated into test and maintenance procedures in a timely and thorough manner every time they occur.
If relays sense a given voltage or current condition being met, they trip which causes a circuit breaker to operate via DC current supplied by station batteries. Concerning relay settings, most mechanical devices have a dozen or less setpoints reflecting expectations directly related to power system conditions. Computerized relays, however, have more settings that go beyond protection operations to include, for example, functions for control network communications. Though relays, regardless of type, do the same thing (cause circuit breaker operations in the event of power system faults), they have different physical properties that dictate their use and how they should be tested.
Protection system test equipment entails instruments for testing batteries, current transformers (CTs), voltage transformers (PTs/VTs), and relays, not to mention those used for testing other system components like recloser controls, transducers, and metering equipment. The lion’s share of protection testing is done with power system simulators that challenge relays in nearly infinite ways. The control software that goes together with these instruments gives users an interface for executing tests of their own design and even assembling them into repeatable test plans.
Keeping standards and processes up to date in the protection testing arena is an enormous effort made greater by the sundry of test plans different personnel create, and perhaps the different test software they use to create them. Power and utility companies need consistency, but due to workforce circumstances and the variety of physical relays and settings they deal with, there are many opportunities for uniform test practices to be compromised.
In these circumstances, an advanced test management system is needed. The critical piece to look for is a relational database architecture that enables flexibility for accommodating test standards and work processes as they evolve. The ideal system would manage test template data separately from data that is unique to each device. By only combining those datasets at runtime but otherwise keeping them separate, the system would allow easy version control of the test templates without affecting device data.
Aside from being a non-disruptive solution for perfecting test plans over time, the template-device separation will enable standardized testing among users system-wide by allowing there to be one template from which all devices of a given type are assured to be tested. The template should offer the ability to incorporate human performance/manual entry steps in addition to device tests that involve test instruments.
With the right system architecture, the test management system with a template-device feature should also provide a user experience that is organized and intuitive. Test creation and execution features should compute fault values based on applied settings to ensure only one template is needed regardless of the different settings per device in the population of devices that share that template. It should offer features for importing settings data automatically and support different test equipment universally, whether by manual or automated means.
Lastly, a system like this should not only provide benefits to field workers but also to other users from supervisory or compliance areas as well. Look for tools in the application that simplify the tracking of new versions of test plans, device settings, device firmware and device data layouts. It should have facilities for bulk editing and for consolidating or disseminating updates. It should keep lifecycle version histories and also offer cyber and physical security features. By consolidating data easily, it should support numerous possibilities for reporting and simplify compliance audit readiness.
Without central test management from the right database architecture, power and utility companies gather differently formatted records one-at-a-time which is cumbersome and error prone work. Additional manual work is put on field workers and support staff in the effort to ensure that required elements of a testing program are completed. Accidental oversights become severe issues whether in terms of protection system failure or compliance audit penalties, or both.
Doble RTS™ is a universal test system that offers significant test and data management features. The database tracks test procedure templates (aka Library Routines) separately from device data (aka System Routines) which ensures edits to procedures will not affect device histories. Companies can leverage this feature to preserve and evolve their standards and processes easily. The underlying architecture enables database-to-database merging which promotes standardization while also centralizing data for consolidated reporting.
Doble RTS was created so that companies could have one relay testing system despite there being different relay testing equipment in their fleet. From where it began decades ago, RTS today is as much a manager’s tool as it is a technician’s tool. For example, the NERC PRC-005 standard requires test and maintenance evidence involving relay, CT/PT, battery, DC control circuitry and communications equipment. In response to this need for protection system test record management, RTS offers the PRC Data Control™ which is a forms package that allows for custom data entry forms to be built, preserves the use of existing company field forms, and retrieves test results from third-party test systems.
These features can be used to augment any RTS Library routine so that companies can have sustainable procedures that reflect their requirements and philosophies in how they test any power system component, and remain standardized over time.
- Product: RTS
- Product: Doble PowerBase™