Melbourne Power Grid Fell at the Mercy of Pole Fires

February 24, 2014

By Miguel Leiva-Gomez - Power Protection Contributor

In the best of circumstances, you have an awesome smart grid running and everyone's happy with their smart meters and everything else “smart” in this world. On the other side of these circumstances lies a constant threat to any electrical power grid: fire. It happens to the best of them and certainly never stops happening to the worst. Fires aren't as big a problem as they used to be, but grid operators must still take the possibility into account when installing equipment. This, however, is a story about everything going wrong in the Australian city of Melbourne.

Last week, a number of Victorians registering in the tens of thousands were left in the dark after a series of fires demolished the entire state's electrical power distribution network. According to some estimates, as many as 50,000 people were hit, and fire crews were working hard to quell the embers from the start of Saturday through Sunday. In addition to the inconvenience of being without power, there’s no telling how much data was lost because home users didn’t have uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) units available to save data they were working on.

According to the two power companies – CitiPower and Powercor – providing electricity to the area, they sent extra personnel to get repairs done as quickly as possible.

The cause of the fire seems to have been a large amount of exceptionally dry weather and dust, which seems to have been sufficiently dangerous to ignite a fire across several different power poles on. Jemena, one of the power suppliers, has had to leave more than 11,500 homes and businesses without any power for the duration of these repairs.

The crews that fought the flames had counted over 30 fires throughout the night. Without meaning to bash these companies, much of the damage could have probably been prevented with some better infrastructure decisions that were more suitable for climates as dry and hot as Australia's.

The lesson to be learned here can be applied to any business model: Do things right from the beginning, and you won't have to suffer embarrassment. After all, you're responsible for how your customers feel about you!

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