Introduction to IEC 61850 and zenon

IEC 61850 specifies communication protocols for intelligent electronic devices (IEDs) operating at digital substations. When integrated with COPA-DATA’s zenon software platform, this standard has the transformative potential to streamline and fortify energy automation systems. This harmonious integration enables unparalleled operational data transparency, ensuring robust system interoperability and real-time, reliable control. Designed for flexibility and scalability, the IEC 61850 and zenon synergy unlocks efficiency in power system management, offering an elevated level of sophistication in handling complex energy networks. Whether in grid automation or substation management, this partnership promises to enhance performance while adhering to global compliance requirements, setting the stage for a new era of energy distribution intelligence.


Future-proofing utility operations with digital substation technology


The digital substation market is expected to grow by over 7.3% from 2022 to 2028, driven by the benefits of more accurate and reliable data, faster response times, and cost savings on property and infrastructure. However, transitioning from traditional to digital substations can be challenging due to end-user reluctance and limited know-how. COPA-DATA's zenon Energy Edition offers an HMI solution to enable smarter and interconnected substations, resulting in time savings, reduced workload, and a lower risk of errors. Effective staff training and innovation in testing protection relays are critical to addressing these challenges.


In this article, we examine the advantages that IEC 61850 provides for utility companies, with a particular emphasis on its capacity to optimize operations, interoperability, flexibility, and efficiency with zenon. We focus on the capacity of the standard and how it enhances grid management, decision-making, and data exchange. Additionally, we also underline how this standard underscores its capabilities in zenon to adjust to evolving demands, thereby circumventing expensive retrofitting procedures via investment security of the zenon software platform. Furthermore, we emphasize the role of the standard in monitoring, controlling, and automating power systems, which contributes to decreased outage, enhanced asset management, and improved reliability to facilitate smart grid functionalities and advanced applications, thereby establishing a pathway towards a more resilient and sustainable energy future.


Flexible digital communication replaces equipment cabling. Digitization using IEC 61850 allows flexible, software-based energy systems.

Key connectivity features of IEC 61850 in zenon


zenon’s detailed support and compatibility with the main IEC 61850 communication protocols is key to the successful realization of a digital substations.


IEC 61850 MMS Client


Connect with IEDs, gather detailed monitoring data and issue control commands. zenon IEC 61850 can connect to devices of any type and brand. zenon´s IEC 61850 MMS Client is compliant with Edition 2.1 of the IEC standard.





IEC 61850 MMS Server 



Provide data to upstream applications, such as RTUs, data concentrators or SCADA control rooms.





IEC 61850 GOOSE Publisher and Subscriber



Integrate into communication streams among protection units and flexibly validate and complement protection features. 





In conjunction with IEC 61850, zenon covers various solutions on different levels. Due to the high level of integration, solutions can be simply built at any scale and combined with any other system.



Local and Remote Operations of Digital Substations

Powerful solutions enabled with zenon in Digital Substations


The zenon Software Platform builds the foundation to realize a number of innovative tasks and solutions in digital substations:


Station Control System and Substation HMI


Full situational awareness and safe control are major requirements to modern substations. zenon can connect to any type of hardware using flexible MMS and GOOSE drivers. Edition 1 and Edition 2 devices can be simultaneously integrated, regardless of their actual data model. Any state or measurement is retrieved and clearly indicated, for example in single line diagrams or custom mimics. Pre-configured commands can be issued by the authorized operator. Custom interlockings, as well as automatic interlockings based on the substation topology protect the system from damage. Next to IEC 61850, zenon supports numerous other communication protocols, which helps to build solutions even in heterogeneous and legacy environments.


Substation Gateway


Central monitoring via regional or national control rooms is a major requirement in many projects. zenon enables this feature with its integrated process gateway. All relevant protocols, such as IEC 60870, DNP3, IEC 61850, MODBUS or OPC UA and many more are available. The connection allows to fully monitor and consistently control substation equipment. For this purpose, the gateway software can mediate flexibly between control center and substation devices, even in case that different protocols are being utilized.


GOOSE Communication Monitoring and Substitution


 It may seem unusual for an HMI/SCADA package to come with IEC 61850 GOOSE protocol support. However, it opens a wealth of possibilities. With a GOOSE subscriber, GOOSE messages can be monitored and supervised, leading to better availability and more confidence in this new technology. To replace missing GOOSE messages - for example due to component failure - the GOOSE Publisher can be used. This allows GOOSE messages to continue to be made available until the component failure is resolved.


High availability networking with PRP


PRP (Parallel Redundancy Protocol) is an industry standard which provides seamless failover against any failure of any network component. All Ethernet based communication protocols in zenon, such as IEC 61850 MMS Client and Server, as well as GOOSE can be utilized on basis of PRP.



Unified management of disturbance records


High precision oscillography and status data is captured by IEDs and protection equipment and stored into so called disturbance records. Via the so called File Transfer function, zenon collects these files from the network of IEDs, making them available for central investigation with expert systems. Moreover, zenon is equipped with an integrated COMTRADE viewer (Common format for Transient Data Exchange for power systems), which allows to directly visualize disturbance records according to IEEE C37.111 in the local HMI.


Commissioning support (FAT/SAT)


During FAT and SAT (Factory and Site Acceptance Testing), plant components or devices are often missing. To simulate these, zenon offers extensive tools to create virtual processes. So at least the existing part can be pretested in combination of the simulated part. For the SAT further functions are needed like the variable diagnostic list, which gives a filterable overview of all communicating data points. In addition, the system screen (coms-screen) provides information about the connection status of the connected devices. For the trial operation, alarm statistics can help to find the hotspots of necessary rework.


Device exchange and equipment validation


During regular operation, protection devices must be validated in regular time intervals. In classical, hard-wired plants, this has been a labor intensive procedure. In fully digitalized substations with Process Bus according to IEC 61850, however, dedicated functions can be used in order to perform in-system tests, without the need of physical intervention. Here, zenon can help to clearly indicate the operating mode of the plant and it´s components. By interpreting the IEC 61850 information, the test engineer can transparently identify which parts of the plant are isolated or in test mode. zenon helps to reset all relevant settings consistently and to re-arm the protection devices, once the tests have been finished.


Moreover, defective substation equipment needs to be replaced fast and must be thoroughly tested before switching back to regular operation. zenon offers solutions for a quick replacement of an IED in case of a breakdown. With the use of an alternative datapoint driver, values can be instantly routed to a replacement device, regardless of type and model.

Benefits for a highly-efficient engineering workflow


MMS Client – Data acquisition from IEDs


The IEC 61850 MMS Client driver comes with exceptional feature support and compliance to the standard. It supports Edition 1 as well as Edition 2.1 of IEC 61850-8-1 and is continuously enhanced according to the evolution of the standard. It is possible to upload data models from IEC 61850 servers as well as adopt them from SCL-files. Configuring the MMS client is done with the help of clearly structured dialogs which allows to adjust every aspect of the drivers functionality. Templates and automatic configuration tools can be utilized for large and standardized systems.

The driver supports static, as well as dynamic datasets for Reporting. In addition, special attention is paid to redundant HMI systems in terms of reports, so that continuous operation is guaranteed, even if a system part should fail. All in all, zenon´s IEC 61850 MMS Client helps the engineer to proceed with ease through bottom-up scenarios, but also promotes the realization of efficient top-down engineering workflows.


MMS Server – Providing data and services to higher level clients


An integrated IEC 61850 MMS server in an HMI can be utilized in various ways. It can be used for data aggregation, unification of communication, as a gateway or as a simulation and test utility. To achieve maximum flexibility, the IEC 61850 MMS server is integrated into the IEC 61131-3 (Soft PLC) environment of zenon. Thus, it is possible to adapt individually to an infinite number of configuration possibilities. Nevertheless, the basic rules of model description are also applied here. To start setting up the MMS Server´s data model an external SCL file can be imported. The entire data model and advanced server configurations are arranged with the help of an integrated configuration tool.


GOOSE Publisher and Subscriber


GOOSE configuration in zenon Logic is primarily achieved through SCL files. The description file of an instance typically provides information on publishing GOOSE messages and is typically part of the IEC 61850 server's description. To configure subscriptions, the respective sections of other publishing entities are loaded. This method is simple, yet highly effective for GOOSE configuration in zenon.


Automatic HMI configuration – save up to 90% engineering time!


COPA-DATA Professional Services


In order to achieve the best possible results for your digital substation solution our team of experts supports you with more the 30 years of experience in substation automation. Services range from basic architectural concept studies and the creation of ergonomic HMI template designs to the creation of wizards and analysis of available data models for the automatic generation of projects. For more information, see: zenon Professional Support Services - COPA-DATA



Investment security through professional industrial software


Selecting substation automation technology is crucial, since it has to reliably work under critical conditions for many years. A considerable number of utilities and energy companies all over the globe, who successfully trust in zenon enjoy invaluable benefits which contribute to the fulfillment of their responsibility and open new potential for business success:


Build on long term compatibility and excellent IEC 61850 support


The zenon Software Platform is specifically designed to operate in the context of the critical energy infrastructure. Reliable operation is brought in line with being capable to enhance and update the solution along the entire lifecycle with reasonable effort. The IEC 61850 standard for digital substations is constantly enhanced. COPA-DATA is dedicated to drive this evolution and provide excellent support for future enhancements of the standard. So, for instance, devices which support different versions – Edition 1 and Edition 2 - of the standard can be equally integrated into the same solution with zenon. The IEC 61850 MMS Client in zenon has officially been certified according to Edition 2 of the international standard (Certificate issued by DNV GL).


Succeed with digitalization in legacy environments


Digitization and refurbishment projects typically have to consider legacy equipment, standards and interfaces. zenon is vendor independent and offers out-of-the-box connection possibilities to IEDs and systems of any type. This enables the invention of IEC 61850-based solutions even in the context of heterogeneous environments.



Improve and scale your solution with ease


zenon can be utilized in applications at any scale. Ranging from small scale applications with few feeders to large scale O&M applications for substation fleets, the solution is driven by a fully integrated set of engineering and runtime components, which create high synergy during all phases of the project. zenon´s unparalleled networking technology allows to create modular and secure architectures, backed by optional redundancy features.

Detailed IEC 61850 capabilities in zenon


IEC 61850 MMS Client

  • Compliant with Edition 1 and Edition 2.1 of the IEC 61850-8-1 standard
  • Edition 2 certification: Tested against 1.000 concurrent IEDs
  • Concurrent communication with devices of each type (Edition 1 and Edition 2) is supported.
  • “Direct operate” and “select before operate“, in normal and in enhanced security, integrated in command control
  • RTU time stamping and RTU quality used in entire system
  • Online browsing and selective import of IED data model from engineering environment
  • “Autodescription” during association with IED (matching to current state of IED data model and services)
  • Offline browsing and selective import from SCL files
  • Support of Dynamic Datasets for Reporting
  • File transfer support
  • Definable originator category (“orCat”)
  • Individual trigger options for reports (for devices requiring that from client)
  • Support of all Common Data Classes (CDC) and private types, and arrays
  • Support of Service Tracking, Setting Groups
  • User definable variable names in the HMI application
  • TLS encryption (IEC 62351-3)
  • ACSE authentication (IEC 62351-4)
  • Support of PRP (Parallel Redundancy Protocol)


Note: Formal Edition 2.0 test procedure accomplished with optional test case “cBr33” for Edition 2.1 compliance


IEC 61850 MMS Server and GOOSE (integrated driver)


The driver is integrated in the IEC 61131-3 Logic Service of zenon and supports both, MMS and GOOSE communication.

  • Support of Edition 1 and Edition 2 of the IEC 61850-8-1 standard:
    • Client-Server communication via MMS
    • GOOSE publishing/subscription and supervision combined in a single IED configuration.
  • Driver supports connections to multiple 850-clients
  • Support of online browsing of the data model by clients (logical devices, logical nodes, data objects and data attributes)
  • Command handling: Flexible realization of any control models through IEC 61131-3 based scripts
  • Support of Buffered and Unbuffered Reporting
  • Reading and writing of values
  • Reading and writing of Data Set values
  • Dynamic creation and deletion of Data Sets
  • Support of Setting Groups
  • File transfer support
  • Support of IPv4 and IPv6
  • TLS encryption (IEC 62351-3)
  • ACSE authentication (IEC 62351-4)
  • Support of PRP (Parallel Redundancy Protocol)
  • Direct application of IEC 61131-3 (Logic), for calculations and special control procedures


Future trends and development in IEC 61850 and zenon


While analyzing the role of IEC 61850 and zenon, it is important to keep future trends and developments in mind. Coping with increasing requirements, due to growing dynamics and demand for electrical energy, requires utilities to future-proof their assets and advance their operational effectiveness. As cybersecurity plays a bigger role in digitalized systems, the power industry must ensure protection against cyber threats. Additionally, the increased global emphasis on sustainability and zero-emission policies highlights the need to shut down traditional fossil energy sources in favor of distributed renewable ones. zenon is well positioned to tackle these challenges, with user interface development and smart grid solutions at the forefront of its development. We are excited to see what the future holds for our customers, IEC 61850, and zenon.


For more detailed information about the capabilities and implementation conformance of IEC 61850 related drivers and functions in zenon, please contact