Qld rebuild to make smarter power grid

Qld rebuild to make smarter power grid

Summary: The Queensland flood disaster may have a silver lining: accelerating the transformation of Queensland electricity network into a smarter, more automated entity.

TOPICS: Outage, Networking

The Queensland flood disaster may have a silver lining: accelerating the transformation of Queensland electricity network into a smarter, more automated entity.

"In some ways, it'll give us opportunities," Energex spokesperson Danny Donald told ZDNet Australia.

Over the past five years, people would have seen little antennas sprouting up on poles holding up electricity lines, he said. These are used to enable wireless remote switching of the network.

Energex is spending $1 billion to bring its network up to the point where it will restore power faster after storms by carrying out switching on the network at the touch of a computer key. The newer equipment can also identify where on the network faults have occurred, so that technicians don't have to search manually.

Given the floods, which have affected 20 per cent of the electricity network, this upgrade will be brought forward, according to Donald.

"Any network that has been torn down, we'll be replacing with state-of-the-art equipment," he said.

Overhead or underground

The amount of the network affected could have been reduced if there had been less underground cabling, according to Donald.

According to Donald, 30 per cent of the network is underground, with that portion seeing a lot more damage than the overhead sections. It is also going to be more difficult to find and repair the faults than in overhead sections. For every one line Energex currently lay overhead, there are another seven underground, he said.

The choice basically came down to "visual amenity", according to Donald, but in some areas it wasn't the best option.

The National Broadband Network could face this issue sometime in the future, with NBN Co planning to have a combination of overhead and underground wiring.

Getting houses back online

Even as Energex works to get the network repaired, people's homes that were immersed are being asked to get their electrical wiring inspected before their electricity is connected again.

This means that 25,000 to 30,000 homes, minus those which have serious structural damage and don't need to be connected yet, will need to have visits by certified contractors.

The National Electrical and Communications Association (NECA) said that this could take as long as six months.

NECA's spokesperson Dominic Feenan said that the association backed the government's safety first approach, but said that getting electricians out to the homes was going to be a challenge.

The organisation has been contacted by over 250 electrical contracting businesses from across Australia, which employ over 500 electricians, offering to come to Queensland and help out.

Unfortunately, licences for contractors are state-based, meaning that they can't help unless the law is waived. NECA is working to make it possible for the contractors to lend a hand.

(Front page image credit: Electricity image by Oleg Zaytsev, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Topics: Outage, Networking

Suzanne Tindal

About Suzanne Tindal

Suzanne Tindal cut her teeth at ZDNet.com.au as the site's telecommunications reporter, a role that saw her break some of the biggest stories associated with the National Broadband Network process. She then turned her attention to all matters in government and corporate ICT circles. Now she's taking on the whole gamut as news editor for the site.

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  • So a sparky from Vic or NSW that wants to help can't because state laws don't recognise their licences?
    Time to get rid of the state system, or better yet the states completely
  • Couldn't agree more, different legal jurisdictions and laws, different road rules, different education systems and the list goes on. For 20 odd million people it is pretty sad. As always self interest is what builds a nation. Federation was just a compromise so the states could get rid of the services they didn't want while keeping everything else.
  • Underground v overhead - interesting!
    I kow u/g is several times more expensive than o/h.
    But why is a buried cable network going to be more damaged by being buried in [very] wet soil compared to an overhead line where the pole could have been washed away or bent over etc. Is it something to do with the dirt being washed away and cables being stretched?? Surely dirt washing away would cause the same issue of damage whether it had cable underneath or strung on a pole on top?
    Presumably o/h lines are more dangerous as the food water rises as clearance distance underneath decreases as the water rises so need to be switched off for safety in many cases to prevent possible elctrocution. U/G cables are insulated by design.