Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiters (REFCL)

Powercor is installing leading edge technology across our electricity network to reduce the likelihood of powerline-related bushfires.

Known as Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiters (REFCLs), the technology works like a large safety switch. It detects when one line out of a three-phase powerline has fallen to the ground and almost instantly reduces the voltage on the fallen line. At the same time, it boosts the voltage on the two remaining lines in service. This means we can maintain power to homes and businesses while substantially reducing the fire risk.

The introduction of REFCLs is part of the Government’s response to the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission. We support the initiative in the interests of community safety.

REFCLs have now been operating on our networks since 2016. Each year, we have evidence they are keeping communities safer by activating when faults occur.

We have also found important other safety benefits, for example, REFCLs have activated when operators of heavy machinery such as excavators or bulldozers accidentally hit overhead powerlines while working – protecting the operators.

The rollout of REFCLs is one of the most technically complex changes to the electricity industry in more than 30 years and will be complete in 2023.

During the construction and commissioning of REFCLs safely, some customers may experience a small number of planned outages. Our team works with the community, business and stakeholders to determine the best time for these planned outages, and we provide information about them via post beforehand.

When they operate, some customers may also find unplanned power outages are longer than usual, especially on total-fire-ban days. That is because our field crews need to inspect the entire powerline affected before power can be restored.

If you have an enquiry about outages in your area, please call our Customer Service Agents for Powercor on 13 24 12.

Frequently asked questions

How does a REFCL work?

When a powerline comes into contact with the ground or a tree, the energy released can cause a large spark. The line can continue sparking if it remains live, increasing the potential for a fire.

The REFCL works like a large safety switch. It detects when one line out of a three-phase powerline has fallen to the ground and almost instantly reduces the voltage on the fallen line. At the same time, it boosts the voltage on the two remaining lines in service.

After a few moments, the device checks if the fault is still active. If it is temporary, then power is restored to the line. If it is a continuing fault, power to all three lines will be shut off to protect against fire risk and make it safe for our crews to fix.

What happens on total-fire-ban days?

While the safety devices are effective all year round, on total-fire-ban days they will operate at heightened fault sensitivity, in line with regulatory requirements.

When they operate, crews patrol the line to determine the cause of the fault and ensure it is safe for the community before switching power back on.

Where are you installing REFCLs?

Powercor will install REFCLs at 22 zone substations across regional Victoria. The program has been divided into three tranches with regulated deadlines set by the Victorian government. See the tranche map for further details.

How were the locations chosen?

REFCL locations were chosen by the Powerline Bushfire Safety Program (PBSP) based on the risk and consequence of a bushfire starting. The locations listed are all considered as high risk for bushfires.

Why am I impacted by REFCL work when I live in the centre of town?

The REFCL technology monitors powerlines up to 40km away from a zone substation. The entire network in this area must be compatible with the REFCL technology, which means we need to make improvements to the network in town, on the outskirts of town and beyond.

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