Powercor is installing leading-edge technology across our electricity network as part of a Victorian Government program to reduce the likelihood of powerline-related bushfires.
Known as Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiters (REFCLs), the technology works like a large safety switch on our electricity network, reducing the risk of fires starting from powerline faults.
Between 2017 and 2023, we’re installing REFCLs in 22 of our electricity zone substations across Western Victoria’s highest bushfire risk areas in three Tranches.
Tranche 1 of the program was completed in 2019.
Over the first summer REFCLs have been in service (2018-2019), there were actual examples of the technology working successfully to prevent the risk of fire starts.
To complete installation of the REFCLs safely, it is possible some customers may experience a small number of planned outages. Our team works with the community, business and stakeholders to determine the best time for these planned outages, and we provide information about them via post beforehand.
If you have an enquiry about outages in your area, please call our Customer Contact Centre on 13 24 12.
How does a REFCL work?
A Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiter (REFCL) is technology that rapidly reduces the power in 22kV, multi-wire powerlines when it detects phase-to-earth faults on the electricity network.
The technology works like a large safety switch and reduces the likelihood of a fire starting if a powerline comes in contact with the ground or a tree limb.
When a powerline comes into contact with the ground or a tree, the energy released can cause a large spark. The line can continue sparking if it remains live, increasing the potential for a fire.
While the safety devices are effective all year round, on days of Total Fire Ban they will operate at heightened fault sensitivity, in line with regulatory requirements.
When they operate, crews patrol the line to determine the cause of the fault and ensure it is safe for the community before switching power back on.
There are four stages of testing that the network is REFCL ready.
- Stress testing
Here we test that our network is adequately hardened for the higher REFCL voltages. This testing takes place overnight to ensure the least impact to customers.
- REFCL in service
Once stress testing is complete, the REFCL can be placed into service. Over a few weeks we review the technology to make sure it is working as designed.
- Primary fault testing
During this stage we create faults on the network to ensure the REFCL meets the required performance criteria. This testing is carried out at various locations across the local area. Customers may see minor interruptions to their supply during this stage.
- ESV compliance
The final stage of testing is to demonstrate to the safety regulator, Energy Safe Victoria (ESV), that the REFCL meets the legislated performance criteria. Here we repeatedly create faults on the network to test the REFCL’s performance. Afterwards we prepare a report and submit it to ESV, which reviews the report and issues a letter of compliance. After this the REFCL will be operated as legislated with specific controls utilised on days of Total Fire Ban.
In 2016 the Victorian Government mandated the introduction of REFCLs at 22 of Powercor’s zone substations as part of its Bushfire Safety Program.
The program is aimed at reducing the risk of powerline-related bushfires in Victoria’s highest bushfire risk areas and forms one of the Government’s responses to the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission. We support the initiative in the interests of community safety.
Powercor will install REFCLs at 22 zone substations across regional Victoria. The program has been divided into three tranches. Exact dates may be subject to change. See tranche map above for further details.
REFCL locations were chosen by the Powerline Bushfire Safety Program (PBSP) based on the risk and consequence of a bushfire starting. The locations listed are all considered as high risk for bushfires.
To complete installation of the REFCLs safely, it is possible some customers may experience a small number of planned outages.
Our team works with the community, business and stakeholders to determine the best time for these planned outages, and we provide information about them via post beforehand.
The REFCL technology monitors powerlines up to 40km away from a zone substation. The entire network in this area must be compatible with the REFCL technology, meaning we need to make improvements to the network in town, on the outskirts of town and beyond.
We try to minimise all outage durations but here are some tips to prepare:
- Be prepared to implement your power interruption plan if you are a life support customer reliant on the power supply.
- Make sure mobile phones and other rechargeable devices are fully charged.
- Turn the temperature control on fridges and freezers to the coldest setting for at least two hours before the planned outage and make sure all food is well covered.
- Back-up and switch off computers and fully charge laptops and mobiles.
- If using an electric water pump, prepare a supply of water for household or livestock needs.
- Think about alternative arrangements you or your community could make during planned outages, like excursions or community BBQs, and contact us if we can help make them happen.
- If you have electric hot water, carry out all tasks requiring hot or boiling water in the morning.
- Make sure automatic gates or garage doors can be opened and closed manually.