NERC PRC-027-1: Helping utilities meet new security standards
North American Electric Reliability Corporation’s (NERC) Protection Relay and Control (PRC) regulation NERC PRC-027-1 calls for utilities to establish processes for developing new and revised protection system settings for bulk electric system (BES) elements to assure the protection systems operate in the intended sequence during faults. The three specific requirements for utilities under this regulation include the following:
- Establishing a process for developing new and revised protection system settings
- Performing a protection system coordination study periodically as determined by the options provided in the standard
- Developing or revising protection system settings based on the process identified in the first requirement
The Effective Date for the first requirement was April 1, 2021. Utilities should be taking an in-depth look at their relay settings processes and procedures, as well as their short-circuit model. And with implementation deadlines coming in April 2027, and possible fines for non-compliance, we’ve identified a few areas that utilities should consider to ensure the timely completion of meeting each requirement.
Evaluate current processes and documentation
Utilities that have protection systems to detect and isolate faults on BES elements can expect a thorough review of these systems, likely more so than those performed to meet previous NERC regulations. While utilities should review their protection system settings to see if they align with the new requirements, they should also keep in mind how this impacts other processes, especially for utilities that comprise several operating companies. Some questions for utilities to ask themselves:
- Do our protection standards comply with PRC-027-1?
- Do our protection standards conflict or not integrate with those in our other operating companies?
- Do we have any systematic and efficient processes and procedures for performing an initial area coordination study?
- Do we have a short-circuit model that contains our updated settings?
- Do we want to perform protection system coordination studies and/or compare existing fault current values to established baselines?
- Can we consolidate processes to be more efficient?
- Are these processes scalable to keep up with our growth or expansion?
Addressing these questions will minimize reporting errors, alleviate administrative burden, and reduce the time for system protection design and relay setting development.
Review data availability and accuracy
Under PRC-027-1, utilities are required to collect and verify accurate system information to prepare a comprehensive short circuit and protection model. Utilities will want to review their models to make sure they are working with accurate information. This is no small order, as utilities may need to review tens of thousands of records for data accuracy, storage, and ease of collaboration. Utilities should keep a few things in mind when determining the usefulness of their data:
- Are relay settings available for accurate studies?
- Is there a single centralized database where data is easily accessible?
- How is data maintained and communicated to other utilities?
- Are data attributes such as naming conventions and file format defined and commonly used throughout the utility?
- Do we have a repository to track and organize the above compliance documentation for several years?
Addressing these questions will allow easier data exchange between utilities and other entities, and a smoother audit period with regulators.
Dedicate staffing and time to ensure compliance
It is a large undertaking to document processes, perform studies, and create and update relay settings – one that requires successful planning and project management along with management buy-in. The level of effort differs among utilities depending on available manpower and how processes are utilized. Some utilities have a “task force” for regulatory compliance, while other utilities may have only a single engineer to address these concerns. Regardless of internal commitment and schedule, utilities need to carefully consider how to address PRC-027-1 compliance:
- Who will be available to support the audit compliance process, and for how long?
- Who will manage this effort (including making a schedule, assigning tasks, escalating concerns, and implementing plans)?
- Who will review and update the protection system model?
- Who will review and update coordination studies’ base cases, including fault current baselines?
- What does the utility prioritize if they have constraints on budget, labor, or schedule?
- How does the utility define success?
- How will efforts be reported to leadership?
How can Leidos help?
Leidos has assisted several utilities in preparing for the PRC-027-1 Effective Date and to meet Implementation Deadline requirements. Whether reviewing or developing relay settings processes, establishing fault current baselines, or performing wide area coordination studies, Leidos is experienced in delivering the expertise, tools, and processes that increase efficiency and avoid compliance issues. Leidos has a dedicated team of relay setting and automation engineers that bring deep expertise when working with and providing relay settings for utilities. For example, our team recently supported the following projects:
- Analyzed and modeled updated settings across 1,500 relays for FirstEnergy, one of the largest investor-owned utilities in the country. Our work spanned power lines on both the BES and sub-transmission system as well as transformer settings. Leidos also created an automated process for testing the relays, which increased efficiency when parsing trip equations for relays – what would have formerly taken 30 minutes per relay now takes 2-3 seconds per relay. FirstEnergy can generate reports detailing coordination of BES relays and maintain a clear view of their power system.
- Migrating relay setting files and calculation documents for 15,000 Eversource BES devices from several data sources used by their legacy operating companies in New Hampshire, Connecticut, western Massachusetts, and eastern Massachusetts. Eversource now has a single enterprise software database that stores the relay settings files and calculations for all BES and non-BES elements.
With more than 70 years of experience providing reliable power expertise to investor-owned utilities, municipal, and coops, Leidos helps utilities prepare to support new regulations and requirements, as well as developing longer-term strategies.