Project: Future Fires

Quantifying catastrophic bushfire consequences for energy network providers

Electricity networks face a number of competing challenges, including the regulatory requirement to deliver a reliable, modernised system that can operate under a changing climate. It is therefore important that energy providers consider the impacts of natural events such as bushfires in their risk management planning, and importantly, how networks will adapt in the future to increase the resilience of electricity networks in the context of major and cascading events.

Energy networks need to quantify the exposure from potential bushfires to develop strategies and initiatives aimed at building and sustaining resilience in the energy sector. In particular, the ability to predict where the highest risks are to the network and surrounding assets is important for determining where management actions can be implemented in an attempt to reduce those vulnerabilities. Electricity network owners play a vital role in minimising risk and contributing to hazard resilience in the community.

Project aims

The aim of this project was to develop and test a standardised methodology for energy networks across Australia to assess the tangible and intangible costs that would occur as a result of a major bushfire. This project was developed to demonstrate the value of combining bushfire modelling with economic analysis to estimate risk exposure of network assets, taking into consideration tangible and intangible impacts.

Methods

We developed a standardised methodology for assessing potential costs to electricity networks from major bushfires by combining fire behaviour simulations, economic analyses and Bayesian Network modelling. A series of case studies from south-eastern Australia were used to test the effectiveness of the methodology, and its ability to capture regional variations in topography, land use, and economic assets.

The project delivers a rigorous, evidence-based methodology which has been co-designed between industry and researchers, to better model the impacts of bushfire mitigation and drive future investment decisions. The methodology developed during this project brings together a series of different analyses (Figure 1) to determine fire risk to and from the energy networks.

Conceptual diagram of the research approach used in this project.

Results

The methodology enabled users to identify the assets which are contributing most to the risk for each region; the spatial location of the assets at risk and the source of the ignition risk. House and life loss were the main contributors to risk across all case studies regions. Annualised risk varied between regions, and it was important to be able to capture this variation in a meaningful way. Variations in risk could be attributed to differences in housing densities, weather, topography, land-use, location of forested fuels across the case study regions.

The methodology was effective at providing: annualised costs per asset, per region; a spatial representation of these costs; relative and absolute costs associated with each asset in each region; and options for comparing risks and values between regions. The methodology is national in scope and has been designed to be scalable and applicable in any region in Australia, with the potential to be updated with new information as it becomes available. This methodology will support energy networks business operations, justifying ongoing commitment and investment to bushfire risk mitigation activities.

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