Bushfires could be prevented using new technology

Bushfire season in Australia can be devastating, particular the south. We all know the effects Black Saturday had on the people of Victoria in 2009 – ramifications that are still felt even today, seven years on. Australia faces another bushfire season soon, and the brave firefighters are bracing themselves for a busy and heart wrenching time.

The State Government has announced the new regulations with the aim of halving the risk of powerline-ignited bushfires across Victoria. Powerlines have previously been blamed for sparking some of the state’s most deadly bushfires.

What is this new technology?

Under the new regulations, electricity distributors will have to install world-first technology across their networks that stops an electrical current within milliseconds of a powerline coming into contact with the ground or vegetation – stopping a fault before it can start a fire. These vital milliseconds can mean the difference between a safe summer, and a devastating one.

The Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiter (REFCL) technology was developed in Victoria in response to the recommendations of the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, intended to make powerlines safer in bushfire risk areas.

Final testing in Kilmore in October found the REFCL technology reduces the likelihood of a bushfire starting from a high voltage powerline fault by ten-times. The technology has undergone more than two thousand tests with oversight by local electricity companies and international technology experts.

In areas of acute bushfire risk, Victoria’s five main electricity distributors – Citipower, Jemena, Powercor, AusNet and United Energy – will also be required to progressively replace their powerlines by insulating the cables or burying them underground.

Minister for Energy and Resources, Lily D’Ambrosio, said: “These new safety standards and world leading technology will help make Victorian communities safer from bushfires and increase the reliability of our state’s power supply.

“The need to improve safety technology in our high bushfire risk areas is driven by the tragedy of the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires. We are committed to doing everything we can to improve safety standards across Victoria’s power network to help protect Victorians from the risk of bushfires.”

How does the REFCL work?

The Victorian State Government released a comprehensive report detailing the benefits of the REFCL.

“Tests confirmed REFCLs dramatically reduce energy release in ‘wire on ground’ faults. They very rapidly reduce fault current by allowing the voltage on the faulted conductor to collapse as soon as fault current is drawn from the network. This reduces arc current, which hastens arc self-extinction (shortens arc duration). It also results in shorter, straighter arc ’thread’ length which further reduces arc power.

The overall result of REFCL action is a dramatic reduction in energy release from the fault.”

  • REFCL Trial Report, page 39

Basically, the REFCL acts as an ignition retardant should a powerline hit the ground. Although only a game of milliseconds, the effects this could potentially have in bushfire season are dramatic. This world-first technology has the chance to save thousands of homes – and lives.

Watch below for a real-world demonstration on how the REFCL works:

Compare electricity providers

Share this article