If Florida is the lightning capital of the US, the area from Tampa to Titusville is the ‘Lightning Alley.’ Statistics show that the title is well-deserved. According to the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, out of the 93 deaths and 300 injuries caused by lightning annually in the country, Florida leads the pack. It slits the sky on an average of 100 days in a year. In 2014, lightning resulted in four mortalities in the Sunshine State. Lightning may also result in the breakdown of solar panels in Tampa. Your home photovoltaic (PV) system can be damaged even if lightning strikes at a distance. Fortunately, most of the surges can be averted with the proper implementation of system grounding. Here are some effective and economical ways of protecting your solar systems from lightning surges:
Take Grounding Seriously
Grounding is the most essential way of shielding your PV system from lightning surges. It’s not possible to stop this natural phenomenon, but you can always give lightning a straight way to reach the ground or soil, thus bypassing your home solar panels. This way, the surge is safely discharged into the ground. Grounding is an integral aspect of the wiring infrastructure. So, always install grounding systems before or during power wiring. Else, once your solar panels are installed, it’s difficult to install a grounding system. You may even simply forget all about it after the installation process is over.
You can even use lightning arrestors to guard your PV system from lightning. These devices are manufactured to protect your home equipment by sucking up electrical surges resulting from electrical storms. Remember that these devices are not a substitute for effective grounding and can only operate together with good grounding systems. These devices help in bypassing your solar equipment and electrical wiring. Make sure that surge arrestors are installed at both ends of an extended wire run, which is linked to any part of your PV system. This also includes AC lines from your inverter. These devices are designed both for DC and AC voltages. Use the right arrestor for your application. There are affordable arrestors available in the market that provides protection even if the intensity of lightning surges is moderate. However, there are high-quality products meant for larger installations and lightning-prone areas.
The Grounding Process
The primary step to grounding is to build a discharge path where the electrical surge will be bypassed. This is done by interconnecting all structural metal components and electrical enclosures like mounting racks, PV module frames and wind generator towers. You must always use code complaint and region specific materials, wire sizes and methods. Sharp bends must be avoided in ground wires at all cost because intense electrical surges don’t turn stiff corners and tend to jump wiring found in close proximity. Focus more on aluminum structural components, especially the photovoltaic module frames, and copper wire attachments. Always make use of properly labeled connectors and stainless steel fasteners, both of which are responsible for reducing corrosion in the future. Remember that the ground wires of AC and DC circuits also need to be linked to your grounding system.
How Grounding Helps
Effective grounding provides a number of benefits to homeowners with solar systems in the city. Some of these benefits are:
– When lightning strikes or when a high electrical charge is produced, grounding systems provide a secure path for the electricity to discharge straight to the ground instead of the wiring or the PV system.
– It helps in the draining of accumulated charges to ensure that lightning doesn’t damage your PV system.
– Lessens the possibilities of shocks and injuries resulting out of high voltage (AC) elements of your system.
Installing Ground Rods
The pitfall of any installation is the connection to the ground or soil. That’s because it makes no sense to fasten a wire to the soil. On the contrary, you need to bury a rod made of noncorrosive and conductive copper into the earth. Make sure that your ground rod is in contact with conductive moist soil. When a lightning surge flows down the line, the electrons will drain into the moist earth with little or no resistance.
For effective protection against damages, you are required to install one or more ground rods in damp soil, preferably, 8-foot in length. Make sure you use only copper-plated ground rods. Do not use a single copper rod as it may not be that effective if the ground is dry. Bury multiple rods at an interval of 6 feet and connect them with copper wire (bare). Make sure you route a portion of your system into damp areas. It can be a place where plants are watered regularly or where your home’s roof drains.
Consult Certified Solar Installers or Electricians
Building an effective grounding system or installing copper ground rods is a complex process. So, it’s always better to consult certified solar installers or electricians during the installation phase. Too much grounding is not a good idea. Do not forget to ask the installers to use only reliable hardware for effective grounding, and to avoid corrosion. Try using copper split bolts to fix the wires together effectively.
PV Array Wiring
You should use a wire of minimum length when creating a PV array wiring. The wire should be inserted into a metallic framework. Run the wire via the metal conduit. Ensure that positive and negative wires run together where feasible. This method will lessen the introduction of lightning surges. It’s also important to bury extended wire runs instead of using them overhead. For more protection, put them in grounded metal conduit.
Surge Protective Devices
They are used to circumvent high voltages produced by lightning. You can use surge protection devices for additional safety in lightning prone regions where only grounding systems may not be sufficient. These devices can also be used in areas where long lines run to an antenna, pump or between buildings.
To protect solar panels in Tampa, a city vulnerable to frequent lightning surges, use effective grounding systems or devices to prevent sudden and unexpected breakdowns. Always hire a professional installer as grounding is a complex process.