Lightning strikes and other over voltage threats require surge protection

Lightning over Araraquara HVDC station, Rio Madeira link, Brazil

As a Product Marketing Manager for surge protection, I experience daily the curiosity and the mystery around lightning.

A big question that emerges is just how to protect installations when we see firsthand how lightning and other forms of over voltages can damage equipment.

Let’s face it: In the modern world, downtime on one of our computer systems due to electrical surges can have near-catastrophic consequences. Idle operations, service downtime, vanishing data and productivity losses often result in costs that far exceed the price tag for equipment that protects against over voltages.

2 million strikes annually in France

First, a little background. Lightning strikes aren’t uncommon. In France alone, more than 2 million lightning strikes occur annually, on average.

And in a survey in the United Kingdom by the Institute of Engineering and Technology, a third of failures in industrial equipment result from large over voltages, either from lightning discharges or from switching operations. This is the biggest culprit for failures, before lack of maintenance (25 percent) and theft and vandalism (22 percent).

About 30 percent of the time, we face huge surges, like those from lightning or power-company grip switching. Transients, or sudden variations in current, voltage, or frequency, from such events can lead to equipment failures, with long-term disruption of business and expensive replacement.

Premature equipment failure, data losses

The other 70 percent of the time, we experience repetitive small surges. These transients are generated by internal sources, things like load switching such as motors, lifts, air conditioning, and transformers. Such occurrences lead to premature equipment failure and potential data losses.

Given this background about lightning strikes and other kinds of over voltages – and their impact on industrial equipment – a clear question emerges: How do we choose the correct Surge Protective Devices to make our switchboards and installations safer from all types of surges?

Fortunately, customers have numerous options to protect their equipment – and their livelihoods. Here are some recommendations.

Get the right equipment

To be able to respond to these two types of events – massive surges associated with lightning strikes and repetitive small surges that wear on equipment – there are two types of Surge Protective Devices.

They’re easy to remember, since the people who named them were pretty direct: One is called IEC standard Type 1, the other one is called Type 2.

Type 1 products have been designed and tested to divert huge surges like those from lightning strikes. These products need to be robust to be able to divert huge amounts of energy. ABB has developed a solution with spark gap technology.

Type 2 products, meanwhile, are made to respond to indirect lightning strikes, those instances when lightning hits close to a building or close to an electrical line connected to the building that also can produce voltage surges that are harmful for the end equipment.

Type 2 products are also designed to deal with transients generated by internal sources, things like load switching. Their main purpose is to limit the over voltage to a level the end equipment can accommodate without suffering damage.

ABB solutions protect even most-sensitive equipment

To respond to this challenge, ABB has developed Surge Protective Devices made with varistors that can quickly absorb transient current, protecting even the most sensitive electronic equipment.

If you wish to know more I highly advise you to read the second chapter of our practical guide called “general information on SPDs.”

I also recommend you use our App called OVR Wizard, the simplest way to make your SPD selection!


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About the author

Bertrand Berges

After completing my bachelor’s degree in electrical and electronics engineering at the University of Hertfordshire, I joined ABB in 1999 as technical support for the AF contactor range. From 2009 until 2016 I was manager of Surge and Lightning Product Marketing. The opportunity to deal with natural phenomena adds a special spark to my engineering job. I am now Segment Marketing Manager for Rail, Marine and Food and Beverage segments. Always looking for new solutions to benefits our end customer’s needs.
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