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Reports released on REFCLs

A cost benefit analysis and a separate performance report have been released on a key technology that keeps Victorians safe from catastrophic bushfire.

Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiters (REFCLs) were a recommendation from the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission. They detect faults in powerlines and cut the power. If the fault is ongoing (such as a fallen or broken powerline), the REFCL instructs the circuit breaker to switch power off to the entire powerline until it can be repaired.

Victoria’s use of REFCLs for bushfire prevention in rural areas with long lines, difficult terrain, and high vegetation cover is a world-first.

Distribution Businesses, including Powercor and AusNet Services, have implemented REFCLs in their networks under the supervision of Energy Safe Victoria (ESV). REFCLs now protect 22 electricity networks and once the roll-out is complete in May 2023, will cover close to half of Victoria.

ESV commissioned the independent reports – a cost benefit analysis and a performance report:

Cost benefit analysis

The REFCL Cost-Benefit Analysis by the Nous Group found that the benefits of REFCLs are much higher when ‘community costs’ are included in the overall cost of a catastrophic bushfire. Community costs include mental health impacts, alcohol and drug misuse, chronic disease, family violence and environmental impacts.

As REFCLs prevent bushfires, these costs are avoided, therefore increasing the benefits of REFCLs.

The report concluded: “the REFCL program is likely to be a prudent investment in mitigating future catastrophic fire damage caused by powerline failures in extreme conditions”.

The report also found that although the cost of the program was higher than originally forecast, that the costs of implementing REFCLs is genuine and reasonable in order to meet regulatory obligations.

Performance Report

The REFCL Functional Performance Review by Power Systems Consultants Australia Pty Ltd found REFCLs have proven to be effective at keeping Victorians safe from catastrophic bushfire and reducing the risk of electrocution and burns from contact with high voltage powerlines.

The report:

  • found that ESV and the DBs have been appropriately pragmatic in managing technical challenges as they have arisen and when determining compliance,
  • did not identify a compelling reason to amend the regulations or the current delivery program,
  • found that all risks to the program are being managed effectively.

Further, the report said that as the technology matures DBs will take advantage of opportunities to increase the benefit to the community.

More information

Read more on Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiter (REFCL) reports.