New power safety trial kicks off in the Macedon Ranges

21 December, 2021

New technology which adds an additional layer of bushfire protection to the powerline network is being trialled in the Macedon Ranges.

Electricity distributor Powercor has installed a pilot device near Woodend to test the technology called SWER Broken Conductor, which aims to instantly detect a broken powerline and cut electricity before the line hits the ground.

The technology operates on Single Wire Earth Return (SWER) powerlines, which make up about a third of the electricity network and are typically found in rural and remote areas.

Powercor is leading the technology trial, which has received $500,000 from the Victorian Government as part of the Department of Environment, Land Water and Planning (DELWP) Powerline Bushfire Safety Program.

The program’s grants explore emerging powerline safety technologies and systems to further enhance the safety of electricity assets to protect people and property from bushfires.

Powercor Asset Engineer Joe Vinci said the technology would complement other safety devices already installed on the SWER network and the broader network to keep communities safe.

“We are always exploring new ways to boost the safety and reliability of our network and we are testing if this device may provide another layer of protection on SWER powerlines,” Mr Vinci said.

“The technology is designed to respond instantly when a powerline conductor breaks, sending a signal to cut the power to that line before it even hits the ground.”

Powerlines can break for a range of reasons, including lightning strikes and trees or branches hitting them during extreme weather events.

Mr Vinci said the technology would work in a similar way to the Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiter devices that protect the broader 22kv three-phase network in high bushfire risk areas, with both technologies acting as a ‘safety switch’ and reacting to faults on the network to avoid fire starts.

The $1.2 million program is the second stage of the SWER Broken Conductor trial, following a successful research component led by Victoria University and Melbourne-based distributor United Energy in 2018.

The new phase of the trial runs for 13 months and involves a focus on the communications systems, with devices now installed near Woodend, before new installations near Castlemaine and Ballarat occur in 2022.

Powercor is working with DELWP, Victoria University and fellow distributor AusNet Services as part of the trial.

Powercor’s SWER network is already protected by several different technologies, like more than 1200 enhanced Automatic Circuit Reclosers (ACRs) installed across western, northern and central Victoria as part of a $140 million, eight year program following recommendations out of the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission.

For more information on SWER broken conductor research, visit DELWP’s website.