Media Release: Annual testing to begin on bushfire safety technology

13 May 2020

Electricity distributor Powercor will conduct annual testing of bushfire mitigation devices in Camperdown and Winchelsea next week as part of ongoing work to keep communities safer.

Testing of the Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiter (REFCL) devices is designed to validate that the technology is continuing to operate safely and effectively, reducing the risk of fires starting from powerlines.

Safety regulator Energy Safe Victoria (ESV) will observe the testing remotely, rather than in person, due to workplace practices in place during COVID-19.

The process involves Powercor creating controlled faults to simulate a fallen powerline on the local network without actually taking any customers off supply.

This allows the team to test and verify how the devices operate and perform. REFCL Technical Director Andrew Bailey said REFCLs and associated infrastructure were inspected and maintained as part of Powercor’s regular maintenance program.

“Annual testing is critical to ensuring the REFCL technology is operating as designed and is providing communities added safety protection,” Mr Bailey said.

“While it is highly unlikely communities will experience unplanned outages during our testing programs, we will have crews ready to respond and restore power as quickly as possible if they do occur.”

Camperdown and Winchelsea REFCLs have been in operation since 2018 as part of Powercor’s first stage of the rollout. Meanwhile, the final stage of testing of the Colac REFCL device will take place on 18, 19 and 20 May.

The testing is to demonstrate to ESV that the REFCL meets the legislated performance criteria.

While the device was first switched on in June last year and has been operating in its most sensitive setting on Total Fire Ban Days since, the ESV compliance approval process marks the final stage of the Colac installation.

The REFCL works like a large safety switch.

It is able to detect when one line out of a three-phase powerline has fallen to the ground and almost instantly reduces the voltage on the fallen line.

At the same time, it will boost the voltage on the two remaining lines in service.

This means we can maintain power to homes and businesses while substantially reducing the fire risk. END