For most of the last century, utilities have manually drafted their designs. The 1980s and 1990s brought a paradigm shift with CAD. Fast forward twenty-five years to the evolution of 3D, and we now have utility specific tools such as Substation Design Suite™ (SDS) for creating intelligent substation designs.  

Jack Hopson of SBS recently hosted a roundtable webinar with three utility companies to discuss the value of intelligent substation design, including design efficiency, time and cost savings, and total shareholder return (TSR). As these companies shared their experiences utilizing SDS, it became clear that they’ve realized substantial benefits. Dave Mueller from Lincoln Electric System summarized it this way: “Once you dip into this world of intelligent design, the benefits of it far outweigh any risks.” Let’s take a look at some of these real benefits.  

“Once you dip into this world of intelligent design, the benefits of it far outweigh any risks.” Dave Mueller, Lincoln Electric System 

Design Efficiency 

Utilizing intelligent substation design automates certain substation-specific modeling tasks with specialized design tools. Ameren has noticed the benefit of automating design because they’re as-builts come back with fewer errorsIn addition, with their intelligent drawings, changes made in one area incorporate through all the other drawings. According to Don Sanders, “That’s definitely a benefit on the as-built side.”   

Time Savings 

But the benefits continue on the design side with significant time savings as well. Ameren shared that utilizing intelligent design changed their project time from 132 days to 57 days. That’s a time savings of seventy-five days!   

A Southern Company design project slated to take twelve months was finished in seven months with intelligent substation design. Scope changes that normally would have taken them months to change in basic AutoCAD were fixed in fifteen minutes utilizing Substation Design Suite!  

Lincoln Electric System reiterated that intelligent substation design offers considerable time savings. Their drawing packages (fence and foundation, steel and bus, grounding plan, etc.) that might normally take a month or more to finalize are now completed in a week and a half.  

But there’s more. Intelligent substation design also reduces the amount of time taken by staff to complete standard checks. SDS optimizes work hours by automating time-consuming design tasks. As Bill Gordon shared, “No more going out to check stuff back and forth for weeks on end. You eliminate some of those checks based on…automated checks that are in the tools we’re able to use. Great savings!” 

Cost Savings 

Time is money. And time savings equate to cost savings with intelligent substation design. An Ameren job that would typically take two designers was done by one. That kind of efficiency can save companies anywhere from $50,000 to $300,000 per project. And the savings don’t stop there. Many utility companies send projects out to consulting firms, but with intelligent substation design, companies can now keep more projects in-houseAmeren has built eleven to thirteen complete substations in the past several years. “Depending on the size of the substation,” Sanders stated, “that can get up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.”  

Total Shareholder Return (TSR) 

Utility companies aren’t the only ones to realize the value of intelligent substation design. Both Ameren and Southern Company elaborated on how improved efficiencies and savings benefit customers and shareholders too. By keeping design costs down and operation and maintenance costs flat, the customer enjoys better rates. That in turn improves the earnings per share or total shareholder return (TSR), which brings the stock price up, and “TSR continues to grow and to grow,” said Gordon.  

Companies can now double the design and substation projects in a year’s time, using investment money to create a more reliable grid for the future. Implementing intelligent substation design can double or even triple your production rate. Simply put, you can do more with your dollar. 

Sanders summarized it perfectly, “It’s all part of the intelligent process… [It] takes time to build, but you see the benefits at the end.” 

If you are interested in hearing the full roundtable discussion, please visit our YouTube channel at