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New technology keeps power on in rural districts

Media release
4 December 2007

New technology keeps power on in rural districts

New technology is being introduced in New Zealand which has the potential to halve the number of interruptions to rural electricity supplies. Nationally, homes and businesses in rural districts experience six times more power cuts than urban residents and these can last up to ten times longer.

Called a Ground Fault Neutraliser, the Swedish-designed technology has just completed a successful six-month trial by central Canterbury electricity lines company, Orion New Zealand. Orion is now promoting it to other lines companies throughout Australasia.

“This is the most significant technological advance for rural power users in 40 years,” said Orion CEO Roger Sutton at a launch attended by Minister of Energy David Parker in Christchurch last week.

“The way it works is when a tree, for example, hits a power line – the electricity flows down the tree and cuts the power. This new technology is designed to stop that happening and allow the power to keep flowing to customers further along the line.”

Because it literally ‘neutralises’ the fault, Roger Sutton says the Ground Fault Neutraliser greatly enhances public safely in situations such as when a car hits a power pole. The arcing that can result when lines come down is also a frequent cause of rural fires. “We feel very excited about the fact that we will be able to deliver a much more reliable electricity supply as well as making things a lot safer for the public,” he said.

However the most common type of fault occurs when tree branches touch power lines in the wind. This results in short, intermittent faults which are experienced by rural customers as flickering lights and the need to continually re-set clocks, pumps and equipment timers. This can cause problems which aren’t immediately apparent – such as water reservoirs failing to re-fill, loss of data on home computers, and wear and tear on equipment from frequently switching on and off.

These transient faults can be extremely annoying and costly for farmers. Dairy farmers in particular are increasingly reliant on high tech systems for their irrigation and milking sheds where even the briefest interruptions make the cups fall off, sometimes repeatedly, milk gets lost and so is time.

While very smart, Roger Sutton says the Ground Fault Neutraliser can only prevent one power cut at a time in the area supplied by each substation. The system still requires trees to be kept away from power lines for safety reasons.

“I describe it as a ‘male system’ – it can only do one thing at a time. We’re looking around now for a female version,” joked Roger Sutton at the technology launch.


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