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Surging forward

While surge protection is not a mandatory aspect of the wiring regulations, it is still important for contractors to understand it. Tom France, marketing manager for final distribution products from Schneider Electric, discusses the different types of devices available and why this protection should not be overlooked.

Despite being a critical part of any electrical installation in order to safeguard those working in the vicinity, surge and lightning protection are not mandatory requirements of the wiring regulations. However, it is important to always consider this protection from voltage surges when specifying and installing.

So why do voltage surges occur? There are four main reasons, which all cause disruption to electrical installations and loads. These are operating surges, transient overvoltage as industrial frequency, those caused by electrostatic charges and lastly, atmospheric surges. Voltage increases due to atmospheric conditions are caused by lightning, which is a common cause of damage to buildings. In fact, every year the earth is struck by around three billion strokes of lightning, potentially causing fires and posing a risk to buildings and equipment. This can be a significant loss to any business, not only through the repair itself, but also as a result of subsequent downtime.

Surge protectors can help to combat this, but it is important to recognise there are three different styles of device available. ‘Type 1’ only protects an electrical installation from a direct lightening strike to overhead power lines, while ‘Type 2 and 3’ safeguard electrical equipment from the indirect effects of lightning or overvoltages. This can include storms that are some distance away, but still have the potential to damage a power line and consequently affect electricity supplies.

It is therefore important to adopt a coordinated approach and selection process in order to
specify the correct protection device, based on the individual needs of the project. There are three stages that need to be followed. The first step is to estimate the value of the equipment that needs to be protected, for both the cost of it and the economic impact should it fail. This inevitably covers not only large electrical items such as automated heating systems and lifts, but also professional equipment, including computers and servers.

The second step in the specification process is to identify the electrical architecture of the building. Dependant on the size of the premises and the extent of its electrical system, more than one surge protector may be required.

The final stage is to determine the risk of the impact of lightning on the site. Different locations will have varying levels of threat, for example, an urban, low-lying area will be less at risk than a site with a particular hazard such as a pylon, a tree or a high structure.

Looking at these three different aspects of an installation will ensure the right type and number of protection devices will be used. Many manufacturers of surge protectors, including Schneider Electric, will also be able to assist in the specification process for contractors who are not confident in selecting the best option. Once the correct device has been identified, installation is relatively simple and an added benefit is that the equipment can be retrofitted. This means any building can benefit from increased levels of protection, reducing the risk of extensive damage to the electrical system and equipment.

While it is possible future wiring regulations may incorporate clearer rules on the use of surge protection devices, in the current situation it should still always be a high priority for contractors. Not only should they be used, but the right type has to be specified in order to properly protect businesses. This will not only safeguard them against both damage to property and lost minutes, but also offer peace of mind.

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