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The Powerline Bushfire Safety Program invested $10 million to support the Research and Development (R&D) testing and development of new powerline bushfire protection technology and fault detection capabilities.

Between 2014 to 2019, R&D projects fostered the commercial development of new or enhanced products to further technology that prevents bushfires occurring from powerlines. These included:

  • Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiter (REFCL) 2014 to 2016
  • Vegetation Conduction Ignition Testing 2015
  • Covered Conductor Grant Program 2016 to 2017
  • Early Fault Detection (EFD) System Trial 2017 to 2019
  • Vegetation Detection Challenge 2017
  • Broken Single Wire Fault Return (SWER) Conductor Detection Research Project 2018 to 2019.

Research and Development Round II (R&DII) programs

The second round of grants awarded $1.65 million across 4 projects. It gives leading researchers, universities and electrical distribution businesses the chance to work together to help improve powerline bushfire safety.

The grants explore emerging powerline safety technologies and systems. Its focus is on helping build business capability and foster innovative developments. This will further enhance the safety of electricity assets to protect people and property from bushfires.

Funded projects

Update: October 2022

Positive results mark research completion – reports are now available

The Powerline Bushfire Safety Program’s Round II Research and Development Program results are now complete.

The 4 projects started in 2021 and worked to deliver real-world technologies and research through the pandemic and lockdowns. The projects have each produced tangible results and provided the next steps to improve powerline bushfire safety. Refer to the summaries and reports on this page.

Partnership: IND Technology, AusNet Services and Powercor

Project aim: Design and trial a low-cost, easy-to-install, enhanced Early Fault Detection (EFD) technology on SWER powerlines to find defects before they cause fires.

Funding: $722,000

The project has successfully developed and manufactured a new generation EFD technology called FireSafe SWER EFD. The technology was installed at 299 trial sites across Victoria, with 50 of those sites also trialling add-on weather stations.

Compared to the original EFD system, FireSafe SWER is two-thirds cheaper to deploy. It also increases the sensitivity and accuracy of powerline defect detection and location.

The units installed under this project will continue to be trialled until mid-2024 to gather more data and allow for progressive performance optimisation by software updates.

Fire-safe SWER (Single-wire earth return powerlines) (PDF, 3.5 MB)

Partnership: Powercor, AusNet Services and Victoria University

Project aim: To detect broken SWER conductors and mitigate bushfire starts.

Funding: $500,000

Stage 2 aimed to test that conductor breakage could be accurately detected. 15 transmitters and 5 receivers were installed on 5 SWER networks across Victoria. The transmitters pass on signals to the receivers. The receiver is designed to activate a protection device such as an Automatic Circuit Recloser (ACR) if the signal is lost. The ACR then shuts off the electricity supply.

During testing, the devices were 100% accurate in detecting a signal loss in under a second. As a prototype, the trial sites were not connected to ACRs to cut the electricity. In future, the response time to cut electricity supply could be set to a high sensitivity on high bushfire risk days and low sensitivity on low-risk days.

The trial sites will continue to be observed over the summer of 2022 to 23 to collect more data on the performance of the prototype devices. The project could then integrate with the ACR system and proceed to Stage 3 – Commercialisation.

SWER Broken Conductor Fault Detector – Stage 2 final report (PDF, 1.9 MB)

Partnership: Powercor and CSIRO

Project aim: Develop risk-based models and a hazard tree management system to improve the targeting of vegetation management close to the electricity network.

Funding: $274,875

The project used LiDAR scans from helicopters and ground vehicles to construct new models to analyse vegetation near powerlines. Modelling tools have been developed for the following hazard management activities:

  • Ingest, process and manage LiDAR data
  • Segmentation of individual trees and tree branch structure reconstruction from 3D point cloud data
  • Generate hazard indices on trees to enable risk-based assessment
  • Generate prioritised lists of hazard trees and view information through third-party tools

The final output from the project was not a fully integrated hazard tree management system due to constraints on time and the ability to integrate the newly developed models with existing processes and technologies at Powercor. This integration work was outside the scope of this project but can be completed in future.

This integration work was outside the scope of this project but can be completed in future.

Toward Arboreal Risk Management System (2ARMS) (PDF, 1.2 MB)

Partnership: Deakin University and AusNet Services

Project aim: Develop ways to further capitalise on REFCL fault detection technology, including estimating fault locations and analysing network imbalances.

Funding: $150,000

A REFCL is a Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiter – a form of smart technology that can see faults on high voltage powerlines and prevent them from starting a bushfire.

The project developed a series of algorithms and mathematical models that electricity businesses can use to complement REFCLs. The project completed research in the following areas:

Construct a new algorithm to identify the location of a fault detected by a REFCL.

  • Analysis and risk ranking of different factors affecting the voltage at the fault location.
  • Develop a method using real-time measurement to estimate ‘damping’ (energy loss from resistance on the network) on REFCL networks.
  • Develop a modelling framework to identify the network imbalances caused by sub-transmission lines sharing the same poles with distribution lines.
  • These project deliverables can help identify the location and voltage of faults on electricity networks with REFCLs installed. The voltage at the fault location is important for accurately assessing the risk posed by the fault. Electricity businesses can use the results of this project to improve the performance of REFCLs.

Performance analysis of compensated distribution networks in bushfire-prone areas (PDF, 2.7 MB)

Page last updated: 13/10/22