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Electricity distributor Powercor has announced a trial to install innovative smart devices along its powerlines to reduce faults and improve reliability in a high fire-risk community.

Powercor crews will install 25 new-generation Automatic Circuit Reclosers (ACRs) on powerlines protected by bushfire safety devices known as Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiters (REFCLs).

Most of these ACRs are set to be installed by the end of 2022.

The first of these advanced ACRs has been installed at Blackwood, a community supplied by a powerline that experienced a series of outages in March.

The new ACRs aim to improve restoration times by narrowing down fault locations, reducing field-crew patrol times, and allowing network controllers to switch the power back on for customers who might be on unaffected parts of the line.

Powercor said its investigations found that the REFCL protecting the line was accurately detecting a defective fuse on a pole and activated as designed to switch off power along the 250km powerline, disrupting supply for more than 2,000 customers each time.

REFCL devices are being installed in high-fire-risk locations around the Powercor network and act like a giant safety switch, reducing voltage levels within milliseconds to mitigate the risk of fire if a tree strikes powerlines or lines hit the ground.

During the declared fire season and, in particular on days of Total Fire Ban, REFCL devices are placed in their most sensitive setting, which can lead to more frequent power outages for customers.

Victorian electricity distribution businesses pioneered the use of REFCL technology for bushfire mitigation several years ago. The technology was implemented to fulfil a key recommendation of the Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission, with networks required to complete a state-wide REFCL rollout by 2023.

Powercor is ahead of schedule and set to complete the installation of its 19th REFCL at Hamilton later this month. Three more REFCL installations in the Geelong and Surf Coast area will complete the rollout by the end of 2022.

Powercor Network Reliability Manager, Daniel Smith, said the trial of the new-generation ACRs was the next phase in the network’s operation of the sophisticated REFCL technology.

“REFCLs have operated on our network for several years now and are undoubtedly keeping communities safer,” Mr Smith said.

“This next phase is about optimising our network and introducing new technology, like these new ACRs, to get the best out of the REFCL system and improve the experience for our customers.”

Mr Smith said Blackwood was a suitable location for the start of the rollout, following earlier pilot sites near Ballarat, the Otways and in other parts of the Central Highlands (including Trentham and Gisborne).

“We understand what the Blackwood community and other communities along that line went through in March and we’re doing everything we can to improve reliability, while also maintaining safety for the area,” Mr Smith said.

Powercor will be holding a community roundtable discussion with Blackwood and Trentham community representatives on 20 May 2022 to discuss electricity reliability and resilience.

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