Professor Tony Marxsen

By Ms Nancy Van Nieuwenhove | June 2021

Professor Tony Marxsen

Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering (ECSE), Monash Faculty of Engineering

Chairman, Monash University Grid Innovation Hub
Chairman, IND Technology Pty Ltd

tony marxsen

Professor Tony Marxsen graduated in electrical power engineering 1968 and PhD from Monash University 1977. During his career in the Victorian electricity industry, he worked in all aspects of electricity transmission and distribution engineering and business management. He accumulated strategic and operational expertise in electricity grids and information technology and has a long-term involvement in powerline bushfire safety. Tony is always thinking about the “what ifs” to make sure electricity keeps our lights on and keeps communities safe.

Professor Marxsen, Chairman of the Monash Grid Innovation Hub, was lead researcher in Victoria’s R&D program to cut bushfire risk associated with rural powerlines and remains involved in oversight of the roll-out of Rapid Earth Fault Current Limiters to the State’s highest risk networks and modern ACRs to all of Victoria’s SWER networks. For Tony, “the concept of sustainability is providing a liveable community, having our environment and people in their everyday lives and quality of life supported. And an essential part of that is public safety”.  About 90% of deaths in the Black Saturday Bushfires (2009) were from fires caused by powerlines. “Any day of strong wind in Victoria usually has not less than twenty and often more than a hundred powerline faults across the State. There will always be powerline faults, the trick is to prevent them starting fires – and our new technology is making serious inroads in this. Powerlines should not start as many fires as they do, and those of us who work in the field feel a moral duty to get in and fix it”.

Professor Marxsen is Chairman of IND Technology Pty Ltd, an award-winning Melbourne based start-up that offers innovative solutions for early fault detection on electricity distribution, transmission and electric rail networks, and plays an active role in the development of Early Fault Detection (EFD) technology to help prevent faults on rural networks. EFD is now being adopted in Australia, China and the US.

When a fault happens on a powerline, what technology best prevents fires from starting? To be able to answer this, we need to consider the different types of powerlines between your home and the electricity generators, and the voltages at which they operate. Tony outlines this for us. Victoria has two powerline types known to cause serious fires: Single Wire Earth Return (SWER; 12700 volts; 30,000 km of lines in rural Victoria) and Polyphase (two-wire or three-wire configurations, 22,000 volts, 50,000 kilometres of lines in rural Victoria). Ten to twenty per cent of the bushfires ignited by powerlines in Victoria are from faults on SWER lines. Technology options for SWER lines include smart Automatic Circuit Reclosers (ACRs) and the new Early Fault Detection (EFD) technology, as well as conventional undergrounding or insulation and the costs and benefits of each vary widely. For polyphase lines, ‘REFCLs’ – automated systems that reduce the voltage carried by a faulty line, with a response time of about a twentieth of a second, can prevent faults on two and three-wire polyphase powerlines from starting fires. Victoria is three years into a seven-year roll-out of REFCLs across its 45 highest fire-risk rural networks. Results to date confirm the research findings: REFCLs are effective in prevention of the most common types of fire-starting powerline faults on polyphase powerlines, even in Code Red conditions as occurred on 21/11/19. The VIctorian Government has this year awarded a grant for the further development of EFD for SWER networks to facilitate wider adoption of this radical new technology.

Professor Marxsen with other researchers from Monash Energy Institute's Grid Innovation Hub are undertaking studies into how additional renewable energy can be connected to our electric grid, with funding from ARENA as part of ARENA's Advancing Renewables Program. The studies are focusing on grid stability issues, and will explore a variety of techniques to manage them. Tony says the goal is to find a more systematic approach to connecting large renewable energy sources to power Australia’s future, from coast to coast, sustainably and affordably.

Professor Marxsen was the recipient of the Medal of the Order of Australia for services to Engineering. This award recognises Tony’s leadership in electrical engineering; in technologies related to powerline bushfire safety, and in innovation for more renewable penetration in weak grids. He will receive his medal at an investiture ceremony at Government House later in 2021.

I and the wonderful team at the Monash Energy Institute and the Monash Grid Innovation Hub are extremely happy and proud to that Professor Tony Marxsen, OAM, is a leading member of the Monash Energy research community. Tony has been instrumental in bringing many key initiatives to life to Monash and the Monash Energy Institute. As a veteran entrepreneurial energy industry professional Tony has been using his industry knowledge and research background (PhD in Electrical Engineering at Monash 197X!) to help us connect AEMO, Ausnet Services, and Hitachi ABB and others into the Energy Institute’s growing range of industry collaborations. And Tony and the Monash Energy community are just getting started! Congratulations Tony

— Professor Ariel Liebman
Director, Monash Energy Institute

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