RMIT technology on track for China

RMIT University

By Greg Thom, RMIT
Thursday, 28 January, 2016



RMIT technology on track for China

Technology developed at Melbourne’s RMIT University to detect powerline fires before they happen may be adapted for China’s extensive, and 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 Electrical and Computer 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,” said Wong.

“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. RMIT would share in any profits from the venture.

Since that time, four units have been extensively tested by Victorian power company United Energy, which 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 underway 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 field-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,” said Wong.

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.”

Image courtesy of Thanate Tan under CC BY 2.0

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