Game-changers: New technology could reduce bushfire risk, save lives

The pole that started the Black Saturday fire in the Wimmera. Electrical experts are examining the potential for devices called Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiters to prevent fallen or faulty power lines from sparking bushfires. Picture: PAUL CARRACHER

The pole that started the Black Saturday fire in the Wimmera. Electrical experts are examining the potential for devices called Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiters to prevent fallen or faulty power lines from sparking bushfires. Picture: PAUL CARRACHER

AN INVESTIGATION into new technology could save lives by reducing the risk of power lines starting bushfires. 

Energy and Resources Minister Russell Northe said electrical experts were examining the potential for devices called Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiters to prevent fallen or faulty power lines from sparking bushfires.

He described them as potential game-changers.

Mr Northe said the devices could reduce a current almost as soon as dangerous faults occurred.

He said the State Government had invested $1.8 million into the research.

Country Fire Authority District 17 operations manager Dale Russell said power lines had caused fires in the Wimmera.

“Our Black Saturday fire in 2009 was started by a power line dropping to the ground,” he said.

“We do have failures from time to time which cause fires – it isn’t a regular thing, but it does happen.

“We also have issues with bigger birds flying into power lines and the electricity shorts out between the two lines, so the birds are electrocuted and drop to the ground on fire.”

Mr Russell said it was an issue across the state.

“If we look back to other major fires, such as Ash Wednesday in 1983, a lot of power line failures contributed to that.”

Mr Russell said the electrical industry was looking into the issue.

“Hopefully they will come up with some means to reduce the instances of power lines causing fires,” he said.

Mr Northe said current limiters were a promising means of mitigating bushfire risk because they acted within milliseconds of an electrical arc being emitted from a fallen or faulty power line.

He said the ground-breaking research had the capacity to save the lives of people living in the highest risk bushfire areas, particularly in regional and rural Victoria.

“The difference between these devices and previous technology is that power is not cut once a fault occurs,” he said.

“We know that electrical arcs are capable of sparking bushfires in dry vegetation and extreme conditions, and this technology could be a game-changer in the way bushfires are managed in the future.’’

He said research would be completed this year and, if successful, the technology could be rolled out by electricity distribution businesses from 2016.

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop