Powerline Bushfire Safety R&DII

Progress update: March 2022

Fire-Safe Single-wire Earth Return (SWER)

The operational trial of Fire-Safe has begun, with the installation of 300 Early Fault Detection (EFD) devices on power poles across the state.

The trial will directly monitor more than 1,200 kilometres of Single Wire Earth Return (SWER) powerlines and find defects before they cause a fire. The EFD devices will be monitoring the powerlines to detect network asset damage or deterioration, vegetation interference and other electric faults that may eventually cause a fire, supply outage or both.

In addition, fifty devices will have add-on weather stations to collect information on potentially harmful weather conditions, assess fire safety and the benefits of gathering weather data.

The government funded portion of the trial will end in June 2022, with a report on the initial results. The operational trial will continue until mid-2024, with a final report analysing two years’ worth of data.

Powerline Bushfire Safety

Research and Development Round II (R&DII) Programs

The Powerline Bushfire Safety Program (PBSP) R&D-II grant program has awarded $1.65 million across four projects giving leading researchers, universities and electrical distribution businesses the chance to work together to help improve powerline bushfire safety.

As Australia’s largest powerline safety project, the PBSP has significantly reduced the risk of bushfires caused by electrical assets and delivered on recommendations 27 and 32 of the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission.

PBSP’s R&D-II grants explore emerging powerline safety technologies and systems, focusing on helping build business capability and foster innovative developments to further enhance the safety of electricity assets to protect people and property from bushfires.

The successful projects will be delivered by early 2022 and include:

IND Technology, AusNet Services and Powercor

Fire-Safe Single-wire Earth Return (SWER)

Operational trial of Early Fault Detection Technology on SWER lines across 300 sites, to find defects before they can cause fires. Fifty sites will have add-on weather stations to collect information.


Powercor, AusNet Services and Victoria University

SWER Broken Conductor Fault Detector – Stage 2

Development of a prototype device to detect conductor faults. If the system detects a broken conductor, a linked safety device instantaneously stops the electricity supply before it can start a bushfire.

Powercor and CSIRO

A system for the identification and management of hazardous trees to mitigate bushfire risk

Developing a risk-based model and management system to improve targeting of vegetation management close to the electricity network.

Deakin University and AusNet Services

Performance analysis of Compensated Distribution Networks in bushfire-prone areas

Developing ways to further capitalise on REFCL fault detection technology, including estimating fault locations and analysing network imbalances.


Related information:

The PBSP Progress Report 2012-19 shows the program’s achievements to date, including network infrastructure upgrades and reforms to state-wide legislation.

Research and development programs

The Powerline Bushfire Safety Program (PBSP) invested $10 million to support the testing and development of new powerline bushfire protection technology and fault detection capabilities. It did this in partnership with Victoria’s electricity distribution businesses.

The aim of the following R&D projects was to foster commercial development of new or enhanced products to further technology that prevents bushfires occurring from powerlines. These are:

Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiter (REFCL) 2014 - 2016

During 2014-2015, the Victorian Government undertook a program which conclusively demonstrated the capabilities of a range of fully optimised REFCL technologies. Research confirmed the use of REFCLs reduce bushfire risk as a result of powerline faults or breakages.

This research at Kilmore South was conducted in partnership with Victorian electricity distributors, confirming and refining the findings of the 2014 Frankston South REFCL trials.

More information on this research can be found in the Network Assets Program.

Vegetation Conduction Ignition Testing 2015

In 2015, the Victorian Government undertook research on over 20 vegetation species (native and non-native) to determine their fault signature and how easily they started a fire from electricity conduction in the Victorian environment.

Powerline faults can start in a variety of ways. The least known and most challenging ignition process is ignition through conduction of high voltage electricity through vegetation.

This world-first research into fault signature detection technology, provides a legacy of information for:

  • Identifying which plant species are found around or under powerlines in Victoria, and are the most and least likely to start a fire through the conduction of electricity; and
  • Delivering a reference database of related fault signatures to drive the development of fault detection technology.

Findings from this research is publicly available, to foster further:

  • research
  • innovative solutions; and
  • business enterprise

to improve detection equipment and technologies to prevent bushfires from powerlines.  The Vegetation Conduction Ignition Report provides further information.

The full authorised data set including 300GB of photos, videos, test logs and report, is available on the DataVic website.

Covered Conductor Grant Program 2016 - 2017

In April 2016, PBSP opened a grant program for business and research institutes to develop an innovative technology to reduce the risk of bushfires from powerlines.

Bendigo engineering firm, Groundline Australia, was awarded a grant to develop a safer and lower cost conductor solution to replace bare-wire powerlines to reduce the risk of bushfires starting from powerlines. Its final report, Covered Conductor Research and Development Project, was published in September 2017.

image of powerline

Early Fault Detection (EFD) System Trial 2017 - 2019

The PBSP approved a grant program in December 2016 designed to learn more about powerline fault detection technology on the SWER network. The project involved putting hardware devices on the network to report back to Victorian electricity distribution businesses when a fault was detected.

Two trials took place on the electricity network in the north and west of Victoria. Half-way through the trial, two hard-to-detect faults were identified by the Early Fault Detection (EFD) system. Further trials validated making powerlines safer an reduce bushfire risk. The findings in the final report show the ability to bring this EFD system to market.

Vegetation Detection Challenge 2017

The objective of the 2017 Vegetation Detection Challenge competition was for participants to develop an algorithm and concept identifying what particular plant species was likely to cause a fault when touching a 22 kilovolt SWER powerlines.

The Vegetation Detection Challenge focused on three particular plant species:

  • Salix Species (Willow) – high fire probability
  • Franxinus Angustifolia (Desert Ash) – medium fire probability
  • Schinus Molle (Peppercorn) – low fire probability

A consolidation of the fault signature data for the above three species is available on the DataVic website – Vegetation Detection Challenge data

From a shortlist of four scientific teams, the winner of the Challenge was announced on 1 December 2017 to Melbourne-based mechanical engineering and computer science team, Yidan Shang and Nan Li.

  • Learn more about the short-listed concepts by each team in this video.

Broken Single Wire Fault Return (SWER) Conductor Detection Research Project 2018 - 2019

The PBSP approved a grant in April 2018 for the development of a protection device to detect a break in a Single Wire Earth Return (SWER) overhead conductor. It had to send a trip command to de-energise the circuit before the conductor hit the ground.

The objectives of the grant were to:

  • Develop a prototype to ascertain whether the device is capable of detecting a break in a SWER overhead conductor; and
  • Speed up the development of a potentially cost-effective project that may be commercialised and used on the Victorian network.

This project was a collaborative effort between United Energy, Victoria University and DELWP. Simulations and testing undertaken in the laboratory utilising a prototype protection system demonstrated that it could potentially perform well on a real SWER network.

Further development is now required to install the prototype protection system on a real SWER network in order to monitor and improve upon the design.