Australia– A new system that neutralises electrical currents will help avoid a repeat of Black Saturday.
The risk of high-voltage power lines sparking deadly bushfires will be reduced by up to 90 per cent by world-first technology to be installed on Victoria’s electricity distribution network.
Power lines have been blamed for sparking some of the deadly bushfires on Black Saturday including the Kilmore East fire which killed 119 people.
A record class action resulting from that fire cost distributor Ausnet $378 million.
The Andrews government on Monday will release regulations that require all power distributors in the state to install new Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiters.
The world-first technology has been developed in Victoria in response to the Black Saturday Royal Commission.
The limiters, installed at sub-stations, stop an electrical current within milliseconds of a power line coming into contact with the ground or vegetation.
But the compulsory installation of 45 limiters over the next seven years will see power bills for residents in three distribution areas rise, Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said.
Customers in the AusNet distribution area will see bills rise between $22 and $30 a year, Powercor customers will see a $14-$17 rise while Jemena customers will see just a 22 cent rise.
The Bushfires Royal Commission recommended a series of measures to combat electricity-ignited fire including underground powerlines and improving inspection frequency.
Lead Researcher Dr Tony Marxsen said the system was triggered when a tree fell on a power line or a cable hit the ground.
The limiter then drastically reduces the voltage to a current flow that is not enough to spark a fire.
The technology has been used in Europe for public safety measures but this is the first time anywhere in the world that the limiters have been applied to bushfire risk reduction.
“We believe there is a 90 per cent reduction in risk,” Dr Marxsen said.
“It limits the current to a negligible flow that will not cause a fire.”
The state government contributed $5.5 million to the research and development of the new technology, which has been extensively tested more than 2000 times, including in Black Saturday conditions.
“Trials have shown the technology can reduce by 10 times the likelihood of a bushfire starting from high voltage powerlines,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.
“It is quite remarkable.”
The seven year project will cost about $300 million and be rolled out in 53 of Victoria’s 79 local government areas.
The installation of the limiters will complement programs in areas of acute bushfire risk where electricity distributors are required to progressively replace their powerlines by insulating the cables or burying them underground.
The previous Coalition government began work on putting power lines underground as part of a $750 million project to reduce fire risk across the network.
“These new safety standards and world-leading technology will help make Victorian communities safer from bushfires and increase the reliability of our state’s power supply,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.