CitiPower begins Melbourne underground power upgrade

Man in CitiPower uniform and white hard hat in one of Melbourne's underground power network tunnels (upgrade)
CitiPower Major Projects Project Manager Mal Harrison

Victorian electricity distributor CitiPower has begun the first phase of a major power upgrade to Melbourne’s underground power network as the city’s growing population forecasts greater power demand in coming decades.

Crews have begun works on one of the city’s largest underground tunnels, which carries high voltage cables powering large parts of Melbourne’s CBD.

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The tunnel, first built in the 1930s and stretching 80m beneath Little Queen Street, is receiving an upgrade to secure the structure for another century, while also allowing room for greater power flows as the city grows.

The tunnel upgrade is a precursor to a larger three-year revamp of the nearby zone substation that will provide greater capacity and flexibility to support both planned new developments in the city and greater electrification of existing customers across the CBD.

This comes after a major upgrade to our network in the east of the CBD was completed in 2021, following a multi-year upgrade in and around Chinatown.

CitiPower head of network planning Andrew Dinning said demand across Melbourne CBD was expected to increase by at least 60% over the coming decade, with demand set to grow from its current peak of 470MW from recent years to over 700MW.

“Melbourne is growing and we are continuing to develop the infrastructure that is essential for powering our city into the future,” Dinning said.

“This major upgrade will allow us to maintain the reliable, flexible and secure power supply that is critical to our city’s economy, future growth and clean energy transition.”

Residential growth in Melbourne illustrates the changing nature of the city, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics recording nearly 12,000 people living in the city at the time of the 2001 Census, compared to over 40,000 at the time of the 2021 census.

And with greater electrification, and as well as electric vehicle sales now almost 10% of all new vehicles sold, CitiPower is planning to meet greater electricity demand into the future.

CitiPower major projects project manager Mal Harrison said the works to upgrade the tunnel beneath Little Queen Street would be complete within a month, before the broader power upgrade project could begin.

Harrison, who notches up 35 years in the industry this year, said CitiPower has dozens of specialist underground crews who a specially trained to work at high voltages beneath street level, which also gives them a rare view of Melbourne’s CBD.

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“We’ve found some amazing things on the job, from old tram pulleys, to forgotten railways, old horseshoes—it’s incredible,” Harrison said.

“There are parts of Melbourne’s underground that nobody knows exist, and we get to work in them every day, so it’s not a bad office.”

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