Digitisation and Security: the challenge of modernizing high-voltage electrical infrastructures

Published on 18 December 2023

In transmission and distribution (T&D), digital substations are changing the way power networks are maintained.

To give an example, sensors monitor the operational values of high-voltage switchgear, such as time of operation and operational currents, while providing performance data, allowing us to learn how infrastructure ages over the years.

 As resources, both high-voltage infrastructure and the maintenance team become critical, this will be invaluable. Here in the Netherlands, grid operator TenneT is upgrading its substations to IEC 61850 standard (see “Zoom in”) governing the operation of smart grids. 

As contractors, we face two main problems:

  • Firstly, to upgrade substations, we need to do it while they are in operation. 
  • Secondly – and more seriously – there is a lack of trained staff on the market. This is a real bottleneck going forward. Essentially, engineers need to have a combined knowledge of high-voltage infrastructure and networking/IT. 

In the past this was not the case, where a deeper knowledge of high-voltage infrastructure was sufficient. Think about it this way, this is like transitioning from a traditional landline to smart phones, but for critical energy infrastructure. At SPIE, we are responding by forming a new team of highly skilled professionals who can help our customers to install and maintain the new substations. We also offer training to client teams: our aim is always to enable them to be able to maintain their infrastructure in the longer run. In that sense, we see ourselves as training wheels on a bicycle. In addition, with the roll-out of digital infrastructure, grid operators will have to pay increased attention to data security. After all, digital substations generate, store, and transmit huge amounts of sensitive grid data which must not fall into the wrong hands. That’s why we’re working towards an ISO 27001 cybersecurity certification for SPIE Nederland.


Digitisation promises considerable savings in maintenance and critical resources.”
SINDHUJA VIJAYARAGHAVAN, Manager in the Station Automation Department, SPIE Nederland

Interview with SINDHUJA VIJAYARAGHAVAN, in charge of the Station Automation department at SPIE Nederland. She explains the complexity of digitizing substations.

I’m Sindhuja Vijayaraghavan, I work in the division of Smart Cities and Energies for SPIE Netherlands.
The business unit that I work in is called ‘High Voltage Substations’, where we build complex high-voltage and medium-voltage substations for our customers.
What are your challenges in the Transmission and Distribution (T&D) market?
We have two big challenges. The first one is the electric net condition, where the net is full because everybody is trying to connect to the net to supply energy and everybody is also trying to connect to the net for the demand, for example with electric cars. The other problem that we have is a lack of skilled personnel who can help expand the grid or maintain the grid.
How do you help the digital transformation?
SPIE is responding to the challenge in the market by building a team of skilled personnel for building digital substations, where we have experts who can advise the customers, design and implement digital substations for the customers, to enable energy transition. What is the value add for the industry? With digital substations, we are able to collect more and more information from the field, which also means that we will be able to do a lot more predictive maintenance, where we will reduce the burden on the grid and also reduce the burden on the skilled personnel that are required to do the maintenance work.
How do you secure your substations?
Collecting more and more data also means transferring more and more data to a remote location, which also needs to be done in a secure way. So we are implementing cyber security measures at every level, starting from ISO27001 certification until role-based access control in our substations.