Ernest Díaz Lozano
ERICO Latin America

Lightning Damage Protection

Wed, 02/19/2014 - 11:32

The sustained growth of renewable energies in recent years has motivated well-established industrial power and electrical engineering companies to expand their business. One such example is ERICO, a corporation that was born 110 years ago as Electrical Railway Improvement Company. “ERICO started out in the railway sector by supplying electrical continuity for railroads and their safety signs, a market in which we still participate, and we later developed the exothermic welding procedure,” explains Ernesto Díaz Lozano, Director of ERICO Latin America. “ERICO is renowned as a leader in product innovation. We set the bar for lightning and surge protection, grounding systems and other product lines.” The company’s expertise in providing protection for electrical systems is particularly valuable for Mexico’s wind farms, because wind generators are vulnerable to damage from thunderstorms. ERICO has developed a protection system that is installed inside the turbine’s blades, which have the highest impact risk as they are the tallest points in an open field, with receptors placed in the parts of the turbine that are most likely to be hit by a lightning strike. “We protect turbines by using internally connected receivers that pass the power through the rotor to the grounding system. This design has been tested in laboratories owned by the blade manufacturers,” Díaz Lozano explains.

Given the damage that lightning can cause when it strikes a wind turbine, having effective lightning protection systems installed is crucial to ensuring the continued operation of a wind park. “Unfortunately there is no way of predicting the exact point at which lightning will strike,” says Díaz  Lozano. Although science cannot accurately predict when and where lightning will strike next, there are maps that can help to gauge the likelihood of such incidents in different parts of the country, using variables such as the average number of storms per year and the number of lightning hits per square kilometer (a factor known as isodensity). Without a more precise method for predicting where lightning will strike, protecting wind farms from lightning remains a valuable investment. Besides installing lightning receivers and conductors in wind turbines, ERICO also designs grounding systems using their own products like CADWELD exothermic connections, ground enhancement materials (GEM) and ERITECH Ground Rods. The durability and reliability of these grounding systems is especially important because of the implications for occupational safety. “Once the energy that is produced by the lightning has reached the ground it must be correctly dissipated, otherwise the high voltage that is generated can endanger those working on the ground,” Díaz Lozano explains. “Electric currents must be respected, as they can cause fatal accidents.” Investing in grounding and protection systems is also important from an economic perspective, given that the damage lightning can cause to costly equipment will also have a significant effect on the bottom line of the project. “Each wind turbine costs a significant amount of money, and physically replacing them is made even costlier due to the remote location of wind farms and the logistical challenges of transporting such large equipment, with blades of up to 45m in length,” Díaz Lozano warns. He points out that “what makes us different is that we provide our clients with a service as well as backup support. If there is a problem, we apply all of the technology and expertise that ERICO possesses to propose solutions for our customers.” Having been present in the Mexican market for 43 years, and with a large pool of international expertise, ERICO is well positioned to leverage its expertise in the country’s growing wind industry.