Victorian REFCL program status
Major Electricity Companies (MECs) are installing Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiters (REFCLs) at mandated zone substations across Victoria. The REFCL rollout will run until May 2023. This page will be updated periodically until the end of this program.
Network status at 1 May 2021
Delivery and time extensions report
ESV has granted MECs various exemptions and time extensions in relation to the roll out of REFCLs.
These are documented in the detailed REFCL program report, along with program delivery data.
MEC delivery of REFCLs
- AusNet Services has a time extension for four tranche 2 sites (Belgrave, Eltham, Lilydale and Wodonga & Tallangatta Terminal Station – 11 points).
- Powercor has completed delivery of tranche 1 and 2 of the program and is now focused on delivering the final tranche 3 sites.
- Jemena only has two sites to deliver (Coolaroo and Kalkallo) which must be completed by 1 May 2023.
- Kalkallo substation is owned by AusNet Services but supplies three feeders owned by Jemena.
About the program
The 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission (VBRC) found that some of the most devastating fires on Black Saturday were ignited by faulted powerlines.
The Powerline Bushfire Safety Taskforce
In response to the recommendations of the VBRC the Victorian Government established the Powerline Bushfire Safety Taskforce (PBST). The 2011 PBST Final Report identified Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiter (REFCL) technology as a potentially cost-effective way of reducing the risk of 22 kilo-volt powerlines from starting bushfires (representing approx. 80-90% of risk), along with other initiatives to address the risk from powerlines more generally.
The Powerline Bushfire Safety Program
In 2011 the Victorian Government also established the Powerline Bushfire Safety Program (PBSP) to manage a $750 million program of works to deliver the VBRC and PBST’s recommendations.
The PBSP commissioned research and testing of REFCL technology in collaboration with ESV, suppliers and electricity companies to confirm its capability in reducing the risk of powerlines igniting bushfires.
Following successful trials, the Electricity Safety (Bushfire Mitigation) Regulations 2013 were amended in 2016 to require electricity companies to achieve the ‘required capacity’ performance standard across 45 prescribed substations supplying the highest bushfire consequence areas of Victoria. REFCL is currently the only technology that can achieve this performance standard.
Delivery of the REFCL program is prescribed over three tranches, due for completion by 1 May 2019, 2021 and 2023 respectively. In addition United Energy has chosen to voluntarily install REFCLs on three of its networks.
A world first use of REFCL technology
Victoria’s use of REFCLs for bushfire prevention in rural areas with long lines, difficult terrain, and high vegetation cover is a world-first.
As with the implementation of any new technology, challenges were encountered. ESV granted specific time extensions and exemptions to enable resolution of key technical and delivery issues that were beyond the control of the electricity companies who are required to deliver this ambitious program. Despite these extensions, the overall program rollout is on track and delivering the intended benefits to Victorians.
Bushfire ignition reduction
The PBST trials indicated that REFCLs could reduce powerline bushfire ignition risk between 48 and 60 per cent.
Following completion of tranche 1, ESV commissioned two independent reports (Cost Benefit Analysis and Functional Performance Review) into the REFCL program in 2020. The functional performance report found that the REFCLs installed are meeting this expectation. This success has been recognised internationally with trials currently underway in California, USA to address the significant wildfire risk in that region.
How REFCLs work
A REFCL is installed in a substation where the high voltage powerlines it protects originate. It detects when there is a fault on one of the three wires that make up a high voltage powerline and compensates for this by rapidly limiting the energy released into the fault to such a magnitude that a fire is unable to be ignited. If the fault persists it will then instruct a circuit breaker to switch power off to the powerline.
Required capacity is the prescribed performance standard that REFCLs must achieve. This requires fault energy to be reduced so rapidly and to such an extent that a fire is unable to be ignited.
- The 2011 Powerline Bushfire Safety Taskforce Final Report
- The trials and work of the Victorian Government
- The 2020 independent reports into the REFCL program