Charting the 40-Year History of MicroSCADA Power Automation
This technology profile covers MicroSCADA’s 40-year evolution, from its origins as an early power automation innovation to an advanced next-gen platform serving thousands of substations worldwide.
In the early 1980s, seven software developers built an advanced system to streamline remote and local control operations at substations, disconnector stations, and power plants. The system could also automate the remote control of district heating and power distribution networks. As an early automation pioneer, the software integrated critical power management functions, from monitoring to protection and control to reporting.
MicroSCADA X provides electrical power control centers with real-time operational data across the network. Image used courtesy of Hitachi Energy
Forty years later, MicroSCADA helps manage the electricity supply of more than 10% of the global population, with a footprint covering 170 countries. The product provides real-time monitoring and control for primary and secondary equipment at transmission and distribution substations, allowing engineers to interact with protection and control intelligent electronic devices (IEDs) from their workspace.
MicroSCADA has been used in more than 10,000 substations to date, with 15,000 systems delivered. It helps manage power grids, ports, airports, data centers, and industrial operations—supporting a range of automation needs in the “Industry 4.0” era by combining automatic data management with supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) functionality.
Video used courtesy of Hitachi Energy
For power grids, MicroSCADA can address technical challenges in the energy transition as more countries rush to integrate intermittent renewable energy and distributed energy resources. With volatile energy supply and demand, the intermittent nature of renewables causes load fluctuations that lead to more dispatch incidents, weakening the grid’s reliability. Platforms like MicroSCADA help mitigate this effect with automatic grid monitoring and management.
MicroSCADA’s Expansion Over Time
Power automation was still a relatively young field in the late 20th century, but MicroSCADA helped forge the market as an early adopter of several technologies, including windowing displays, programmable keys, and object-oriented programming languages like Smalltalk. Today, all of these innovations are ubiquitous across industrial society.
Originally named Strömberg Control System (SCS), the platform was developed by Finnish electrotechnical firm Strömberg Oy, which later merged into Swedish-Swiss tech giant ABB. It’s now under the wing of Switzerland-based Hitachi Energy, which acquired ABB’s power grid unit in 2020. SCS’s first customer was a hydropower business in Finland. The company—now Stora Enso, a packaging producer—still uses MicroSCADA as a control system across nearly two dozen sites worldwide.
SCS’s developers continued to expand its versatility to support the demand for seamless control, monitoring, and power management. By the late 1980s, the team had scaled the program to a complete distribution automation system, allowing control rooms to remotely operate protection parameter settings and substation relay monitoring. It delivered one such system to a Swedish electricity network operator, combining substation automation and network control operations.
Over the years, the team kept the control software separate from the hardware, programming languages, and communication and operating systems. The product’s forward and backward compatibility remains a major selling point for customers, as it maximizes the product’s lifetime and lets them use new versions with their existing systems.
MicroSCADA X system. Image used courtesy of Hitachi Energy
MicroSCADA X is used in a range of applications today. One of India’s top aluminum producers deployed it in 2021 to monitor and control power distribution at one of its plants. In the utility industry, MicroSCADA operated a battery management system, converter, and system optimizer for a battery storage project in Switzerland. In another example, MicroSCADA monitored secondary substations equipped with remote terminal units at a major Southeast Asia airport.
Next-Gen MicroSCADA Features
The latest generation cloud-based MicroSCADA X features a browser-enabled human-machine interface that streamlines the overall experience. Users can monitor data as it moves across the power network.
Some of MicroSCADA’s key features include:
- Manual and automatic control oversees breakers, disconnectors, and tap changers in combination with other critical functions. For example, MicroSCADA can use an automatic sequence to connect or disconnect a line from the busbar.
- Optimized maintenance monitors breaker operations and circuit breaker conditions.
- Power quality monitoring uses data from the protection and control IEDs to identify harmonic distortions and voltage drops and peaks.
- Disturbance analysis features include event logging, time synchronization for protection and control IEDs, and fault analysis.
- MicroSCADA Historian collects and archives process data from embedded sensors and intelligent devices while centralizing troubleshooting, system maintenance and planning, and risk mitigation teams alongside other operations.
The software combines SCADA functionality with an advanced distribution management system (DMS), providing several useful features for network control and distribution management customers. For example, the Volt-VAr Management tool optimizes capacitors and reactive output settings to lower energy losses and peak demand, boosting the distribution network’s efficiency.
The world map feature. Image used courtesy of Hitachi Energy
Hitachi claims the DMS features can reduce outage times from hours to minutes by quickly identifying fault locations. The system uses multiple sources to pinpoint faults, including impedance data from protection and control IEDs, fault indicators, and feeder terminal units. Operators can then guide service crews to the fault site to perform manual switching. Alternatively, crews can access the system through mobile devices.