Leveling Up: Strategies for the Future of Protection Testing
Protection testing trends, standards, and technology are constantly changing. To avoid disruption to team and operational performance, here are five tangible ways power and utility companies can elevate their protection testing performance
1. Boost your cybersecurity defenses.
According to Utility Dive, two-thirds of utilities have increased security budgets in response to the rising risks of cyberattacks, but 38% of companies still have issues to address. While it may seem basic, zeroing in on fundamentals, which can get overlooked in the daily shuffle, is one of the best ways to invigorate a utility’s cybersecurity program.
Verizon data shows 80% of hacking-related breaches are the result of weak or compromised passwords. Prevent access into a device altogether with a password refresh. To make passwords harder for hackers to guess, include several different character sets and aim for 8-12 characters in length. Avoid auto saving your passwords and change your passwords at least every 90 days to limit hackers’ ability to infiltrate your network. Implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA) is also recommended to significantly reduce the likelihood that a stolen password can access company assets.
Investing in the right technology also goes a long way in bolstering cybersecurity. Look for testing and field devices that minimize cybersecurity risks by design. Tap tools that automatically patch and update software and operational systems so you never miss a beat. Transient devices, such as testing laptops and tablets, which have regular contact with critical assets, are prime spreaders of malware. Tap a partner to help you configure your controls to limit this risk across your work processes and maintain compliance with critical infrastructure protection standards, such as NERC CIP-003-8 which expands transient cyber asset requirements to low impact substations.
2. Automate burdensome compliance processes.
Ensuring compliance with industry standards all too often comes at the expense of getting real work done. To satisfy PRC-027-1 requirements, for example, protection engineering teams will need to swiftly produce reports, revisit system models, pull the latest settings data, and individually document and validate protection schemes across all BES facilities. Without the right approach, completing those steps can be incredibly time-consuming and error-prone, and prevent teams from focusing on problem solving and higher value initiatives.
If keeping up with compliance mandates feels overwhelming and complex, you may want to consider tapping automation to help streamline the process. For PRC-027-1 specifically, there are tools out there that can automatically perform computations and analyses of existing models, pull in settings data, develop and verify new relay settings, and generate documentation. It’s worth finding a system that does the leg work for you and ensures it’s error-free.
3. Train and proactively develop your workforce.
The best way to counteract current piecemeal training approaches is to ensure your team has a strong and holistic technical foundation. Technical training programs that cover relay protection philosophy, new and old technologies, and evolving implementation strategies lay this valuable foundation. Specific training that teaches substation network concepts and communication protocols is also becoming mission critical.
Utilities can only build out their digital infrastructures as much as they have the people internally to support those investments. Data analytics, for example, is becoming a key skillset for the future of energy, but only 23% of organizations say this role exists internally, according to quality assurance and risk management company DNV. Graduates coming into the power industry have degrees that go beyond engineering to include computer science, data science and more. Give them the space to put those skills to good use. The smarter, more capable and empowered your team gets, the better and faster you can evaluate new technologies and modernize your operations.
4. Think big and consistently look toward the future.
Utilities are already adapting to changes brought on by digital substations and renewable energy technologies. But most efforts related to renewables to date have been focused on where there’s a connection between a renewable facility to the grid. Where can you speed progress and make similar investments on the transmission corridor? Where can you apply technology and energy storage to increase hosting capacity on distribution feeders?
Other trends – the Internet of Things (IoT), rise of 5G, electric vehicle batteries, and skyrocketing electricity consumption – will also use high-speed transactions and increase demand and load on the grid. What can you start doing today to prepare? Are your line ratings strong enough to handle an influx? Where do you need to invest in your existing infrastructure, or upgrade your facilities, to boost capacity? Are the instruments you’re using to test your range of assets compliant with the latest digital and high-speed standards? If you’re unsure of the answer to any of these questions, now is the time to start making moves. Find a partner who can enable you on your journey and position your team to be able to take advantage of these opportunities.
5. Focus on data management, control and standardization.
Every power and utility team needs to be confident in the accuracy and reliability of their testing and maintenance equipment, data and reporting. Companies can face an array of challenges in managing diverse test equipment, software applications, device and test configurations, and data formats. A data management software that integrates with disparate systems, spreadsheets and files can alleviate the burden of organizing and consolidating critical information.
A well-implemented, quality asset and test management system automates information sharing across applications, enabling better tracking of maintenance across assets. Look for comprehensive work management features and reporting that supports the needs of key stakeholders. The right system will offer configurability for your data organization needs and preferences. At the end of the day, clarity over asset health metrics should be provided by built-in analysis tools that present inspection and test result trends and other important details. Tools that administrators need for user access privileges, data clean up, mass updates and so forth should be in their hands and available directly from the interface.
Action today for tomorrow’s piece of mind
The future of protection testing hinges on implementing future-forward strategies today. Implementing these aspects into your organization now can help your team avoid operational challenges in the future and continue to move strategic initiatives forward. To ensure long-lasting and high-performance protection testing, make sure your team is taking the right steps today.
For more on the new paradigm of protection testing, check out our latest e-book.
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