Early detection of faulty powerlines proves critical

Tuesday, 23 June, 2020

A faulty powerline has been detected before it fell in a high fire danger area of Victoria.

The high-tech early fault detection (EFD) system had been installed on a 13,000-volt powerline at Porcupine Ridge near Daylesford, and located a broken conductor strand that was promptly repaired by Powercor’s line crew.

This is the third powerline at risk of falling that an EFD has found during a small-scale government-funded trial covering less than half a per cent of Victoria’s high fire-risk powerlines. The results of this trial indicate that all 30,000 km of Victoria’s single-wire powerlines in high fire-risk areas could have EFD monitoring installed for about $30–40 million.

The trial finished 12 months ago in mid-2019 but IND Technology has kept the trial systems running. Both AusNet and Powercor are taking over ownership of the trial systems on their networks and are committed to keep them running as they consider future use of EFD systems.

“The EFD system covering the Porcupine Ridge powerline first picked up indications of trouble in mid-April and we confirmed the breakage when we visited the site in mid-May. We alerted Powercor, which immediately sent a crew to make the conductor safe, so it couldn’t fall or unravel further to create an electrocution risk from hanging strands of wire. They came back and fully repaired it two days later,” said Dr Alan Wong, CEO of IND Technology (IND.T), which develops and sells EFD systems around the world.

Local landowner Michael Thorne said that if the strand had kept unravelling, someone could easily have walked into it and been killed.

“If a fire started under this powerline in the peak of summer it would likely run up the hill to destroy our property and others further along Porcupine Ridge. An afternoon wind change would then likely drive it into the state forest only a few hundred metres away. The outcome could be very bad,” Thorne said.

The line had been inspected just a few months earlier and would not have been inspected again until after two more fire seasons. Broken conductor strands like this one were implicated in Victoria’s worst-ever powerline fire disaster, the Kilmore East Kinglake fire which killed more than 120 people on Black Saturday.

Trials of IND.T’s EFD technology in California have also demonstrated early detection of broken and damaged powerline conductors as well as many other types of powerline faults that are known to cause fires. Early results there illustrate the potential for EFD to cut California’s wildfire risk. Trials are now underway or planned by seven US utilities in four states, as well as one European utility and an electric rail network in China. NSW network owner Endeavour Energy is installing a small trial of EFD on selected Blue Mountains powerlines.

Power industry research continues to report utility powerline monitoring using visual inspection at multi-year intervals is mainly driven by the incidence of conductor falls and that a reliable and cost-efficient means of assessment of the likelihood of conductor fall is urgently needed.

The EFD technology produced by IND.T uses pole-mounted sensors every five kilometres. It continuously monitors powerline networks to detect problems before they create serious safety risks, such as bushfires, locating them accurately within 10 metres so crews can go directly to the problem and repair it. It was developed by IND.T with support from Deakin and RMIT Universities.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/BillionPhotos.com

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