Technology developed at RMIT to detect power line fires before they happen may be adapted for China’s extensive very fast rail system.
Originally inspired by the behaviour of electric fish, the innovation is capable of detecting and locating electrical discharges originating from defects on overhead transmission and distribution lines, underground cable systems and substation terminal equipment.
Associate Professor Alan Wong, from RMIT’s School of Engineering, said the system was currently being assessed on a section of Hong Kong’s railway network.
“China has thousands of kilometres of high-speed rail track and is now opening up the system into Asia to reach countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand,” he said.
“The business potential for us is huge.”
With the help of private investors, Wong established IND Technology nearly two years ago in a bid to commercialise the smart grid early fault detection technology, with RMIT sharing in any profits from the venture.
Since that time, four units have been extensively tested by Victorian power company United Energy, who planned to officially switch them on in time for the bushfire season.
Wong said this followed the early detection of two fires in January and February last year.
“The system gave them warning of an abnormality, which is what is supposed to happen,” he said.
Discussions are also under way with power utilities in Western Australia, with Wong confident another two systems will be installed this summer.
The team drew on inspiration from electric fish when conducting their research, which was based on wireless sensing and high speed Filed-Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) signal processing technology.
"The electric fish produced intermittent electrical discharges that were of a similar nature to the discharge from the overhead equipment," Wong said.
Until the advent of this technology, power and rail companies have relied on labour intensive maintenance and inspection programs to safeguard their networks.
Wong said if electrical discharges were detected early, then disasters could be averted.
“This system delivers a cost effective, 24-hour, remote monitoring solution that will reduce unplanned power outages, catastrophic failures such as pole-top fires and subsequent penalties in distribution networks.”
Story: Greg Thom