The Benefits of Virtualizing Electrical Substations

Companies are increasingly interested in virtualizing electrical equipment because it offers a range of benefits for their operations. Firstly, virtualization reduces the need for physical infrastructure, which can result in cost savings, reduced maintenance requirements, and increased safety. In this article, we talk about the benefits of separating hardware and software in Substations.

Smart Grid
Written by:
Miren Zabaleta

What is Virtualization of Electrical Substation?

Virtualization of an Electrical Substation refers to the creation of a digital replica or simulation of an actual substation using virtualization software. Virtualization works by abstracting the hardware from the software.

The separation of hardware and software in electrical equipment has significant implications in terms of design, development, and maintenance. The main reason behind this separation is to allow for greater flexibility, upgradability, and ease of maintenance.

Hardware components are typically designed to be robust and reliable, but they can also be expensive and difficult to modify or upgrade. Separating hardware from software allows for the software to be updated or modified without affecting the hardware, thereby reducing the need to replace expensive hardware components.

Software, on the other hand, can be easily modified or upgraded without affecting the hardware. This allows for greater flexibility in terms of adding new features or fixing bugs in the software, which can be done remotely without the need for physical access to the equipment.

The big contribution lies in deploying algorithms asa software as opposed to firmware. As virtualization takes place at a software level, it allows for easy reconfiguration. The physical hardware can remain the same, but the virtual hardware can change with time, different customers or users, new applications.  

Related content: EPICS platform by REDEIA: flexible and scalable implementation of automatic systems

Red Eléctrica and Elewit's EPICS project: Creating a Flexible and Scalable Hardware and Software Platform for Various Applications

Red Eléctrica and Elewit are working on the EPICS (Edge Protection and Intelligent Control Solution) project, which aims to create a flexible, scalable, replicable, manageable, programmable, cybersecure and adaptable hardware and software platform that can be used in many different application environments.


  • Hardware is viewed as a commodity, so the solution implemented at EPICS does not depend on a certain manufacturer's exclusive hardware or on a limited range of available products.
  • Software is viewed as a service, so EPICS is a platform based on a micro-services ecosystem that is easily replicable, scalable and adaptable to different application domains.
  • The platform will have orchestration layers and services which will ensure the correct performance of the micro-services. EPICS node clusters provide extremely high availability and a greater services integration capacity that is currently not possible in traditional solutions.

Virtualization in Electrical Substations

Virtualization can be used to simulate various scenarios such as fault conditions, equipment failures, and load fluctuations, which enables engineers and operators to test and optimize the performance of the substation under different conditions. The benefits for virtualizing are primarily:

  1. Flexibility: Virtualization allows for greater flexibility in the operation of the substation, as it enables remote management and control. This can result in faster response times, increased reliability, and reduced downtime.  Operators on an ongoing basis can deploy improvements on their algorithms as opossed to one shot only.  Besides, virtualisation  improves computational efficiency by obtaining real-time data analytcis.
  2. Training and Skill Development: Virtualization software can be used for training and skill development of substation operators. It allows them to gain experience in various scenarios, within the Substation using software simulations.
  3. Predictive Maintenance: Virtualization can be used to deploy predictive algorithms This allows operators to plan maintenance activities in advance and avoid unplanned outages.

Reasons to virtualize electrical equipment

  1. Cost Savings: Virtualization reduces the need for physical equipment and infrastructure, which can result in cost savings in data transmission.
  2. Improved Efficiency: Virtualization technology enables companies to optimize the performance of their electrical equipment by monitoring and controlling it in real-time, identifying potential issues before they occur, and making data-driven decisions for maintenance and repair.
  3. Flexibility and Scalability: Virtualization enables companies to easily scale their electrical systems as needed, without the need for physical upgrades or expansions. It also allows for greater flexibility in managing and controlling the systems remotely.
  4. Cybersecurity: Since data is controlled from a local element i.e. it is not  leaving its original location, the risks for illegal access or theft are reduced dramatically.
  5. Data Ownership: Data sovereignty is guaranteed. Data never leaves the Electrical Substation.

What are the main challenges of Virtualization in Electrical Substations?

While virtualization technology offers numerous benefits for energy operators, there are also some challenges to implementing virtualization in the energy sector. Some of the main challenges include:

  1. Legacy Infrastructure: Many energy operators have legacy infrastructure that may not be compatible with virtualization technology. This can make it difficult to integrate virtualization solutions into some existing systems and processes.
  2. Cybersecurity: The infraestructure must ensure that virtualized systems are secure and protected from potential cyber threats.
  3. Reliability: Virtualization technology must be robust to provide the level of performance required for critical infrastructure.
  4. Skillset: Implementing and managing virtualization solutions requires a specialized skill set that may not be readily available within a TSO. Personnel with expertise in virtualization technology to successfully implement and manage these solutions is required.

What´s next? Edge Computing in Electrical Substations

Edge Computing plays a key role as the enabler of the solution, as it helps businesses to monitor, manage and control their field assets without causing latency and bandwidth issues, as would happen with fully cloud-based systems.

Barbara offers a Thin Edge Technology to avoid vendor lock in. Its Technology is cybersecure by design and is used in highly critical sites, establishing peer-to-peer interoperability between sites, running automated AI processes in situ, and sharing sovereign data between stakeholders.

Barbara´s interoperable Edge Technology stack incorporates all widespread industrial protocols southbound, freely runs any dockerised process or micro-service concurrently on the same devise and includes all connectivity options northbound. Edge Nodes and their AI algorithm lifecycles are maintained by our cloud-based tool, Barbara Panel, also available as API.

Related content: The challenges and opportunities of Edge Computing for the Energy Sector