Lightning and solar power systems

Lighting is the number 1 cause of catastrophic failures in solar electric components and systems. The first big reason is that many PV systems are badly grounded and badly protected. This is also the 2nd and 3rd big reason.


The objective of lighting protection is not to prevent the lighting from striking. Yu cannot do that. Lighting protection manages the path of the lighting after it hits. Like it or not, that is about the top you can do. It is not lighting that cause the issue, its lighting going via places you do not want to it.

At any instant, there are more than two-thousand thunderstorms taking place throughout the globe. These storms gather to generate about hundred lighting flashes per second, each one with a potential of up to a billion volts, current ranging up to 200,000 amperes and temperature of over 55,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

100 million feet per seconds is the speed of the lighting streak through the sky. No shock the flash is hard to watch from starting to end; it begins and prevents at almost the same time. Lighting moves 90,000 mi/sec, 10,000 times quicker than sound and therein lies the reason thunder is heard after the flash is viewed. The stroke, which is about 2 inches across and between two-hundred feet and twenty miles long, lasts but a microsecond.

Almost nothing can provide hundred prefect protection from lighting damage or strikes to residential solar installation – but it can reduced 95 percent or more with easy precautions and relatively cost-friendly solar system installation techniques.

What type of damage can lighting cause?

Most electronic and electrical damage in both off-grid and grid-tie solar electric systems is not due to a direct hit. Actually, direct hits are rare. Most damage happen from nearby hits, generally within a few 100 feet. A near-strike can induce 1000s of volts onto the house and PV array wiring if not saved. In a ground hit, it can also spread out and move into buried conductors, such as buried cables and pipes. Contrary to famous assumption, household solar panels themselves are not the bigger victims – controllers and inverters are. The mounts and frames on panels are generally grounded, and that often diverts the lighting directly to ground, saving the panels. Also, the battery banks on most off-grid PV system works as a fairly best surge arrestor if you have best connections and a best ground. If the battery banks is not grounded, problem can be more extreme – it may then leap around all over trying to find a path to ground.

Objects can be directly struck and this impact may outcome in a burn, explosion or full destruction. Or, the damage may be indirect when the current run through or near it. Sometimes, current may enter a building and move via wires or plumbing and destroy everything in its path. Similarly, in urban areas, it may strike a tree or pole and the current then travels to several nearly homes and other structures and enter them through plumbing or wiring. In some cases, lighting can strike the ground and travel up buried energy lines for 100s of yards.

It is very vital to note that lighting does not have to hit directly to cause issue. Actually, because of the EMP ((electromagnetic pulse) linked with big strikes, the electric and static fields that happen cause most of the damage in unprotected electronic and electrical equipment. In a nearby strike, the wiring in a photovoltaic or house system works like an antenna, and if unprotected and/or ungrounded can feed 1000s of volts back into your inverter and other equipment.

Protecting your solar system installation

The objective of grounding

Panels frames and mounts are grounded in order to give the best path for lightning to get to the ground. You would much rather have it go down the mounting pole or your ground rod than downy your wiring to your inverter or controller or new wide screen Television. Without right grounding, lighting can do some truly things can jump around all over while trying to get to earth. If your inverter occurs to be in the way, you will probably be purchasing a new one. You cannot prevent lighting, but you can generally direct where you want it to go.

Single point grounds

The significance of single-point protection ground cannot be stressed enough. All equipment should generally be bonded to one single best earth ground. If you have some equipment on one ground, and other equipment on another ground, it is pretty likely that in a nearby strike that there will be big voltage difference between the 2 grounds. This means that the equipment will be at various voltage, sometimes to enough to get arcing from one to another. There is an exception to this: if you have a panel array that is higher than 50 to 75 feet or so from the rest of the system, it should have its own mount/frame ground (not electrical ground).

Breakers and fuses provide no protection

Circuit breakers and fuses provide no protection at all to lighting strikes. That is not their objective. Lighting generally lasts for just a few microseconds – much quicker than any breaker or fuse can blow. It is pretty unlikely that one-inch fuse area is going to providing much protection from a bolt that is just cut through 2 miles of open air. Yet, the myth persists that a fuse will proving lighting protection. It will not.

A one ground rod is seldom enough

Tests done over the past few years present that in most cases, a single six to eight foot ground rod is not enough, even when the ground is salted to better conductivity.  The issue is, in arid climates with dry soil, it could take as many as dozen rods to get it down to the get down to the twenty-five ohm NEC minimum, you may have to use 2-3-10 foot rods, all bonded combine with six wire and copper wire clamps. Anyway, if you cannot do this, something is amazing than nothing. In some cases, you may have to go so far as to bury lengths of naked copper wire or copper pipe in trenches.

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