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The shocking truth about lightning
It’s that time of year again, the time when South Africa experiences its greatest rainfall. The period from October to April brings more than 80% of rainfall for the country, and also ushers in the intense lightning activity experienced on the Highveld in particular.
“Thunderstorms across the Highveld are fierce, irregular and, mercifully, usually brief,” says Paolo Miglietta, ITB VP for southern Africa at Schneider Electric. “The average duration of these intense storms is from around half an hour to several hours. The biggest challenge associated with these storms is the havoc that can be caused by the related lightning activity.”
Lightning contains billions of volts and tens of thousands of amps. It rapidly heats the air in its immediate vicinity to about 20 000 °C – approximately three times the temperature of the surface of the sun. The leader of a bolt of lightning can travel at speeds of 220 000kmph and can reach temperatures approaching 30 000 °C.
“Hardware loss and power outages are the main contributors to the loss of revenue linked to lightning activity,” he explains. “Fortunately though, there are measures that both companies and individuals can take to lessen the impact of what can be a highly destructive force.”
Miglietta maintains that while some people use a reliable surge suppressor or uninterruptible power supply (UPS) to protect their PCs, many do not understand the need to protect themselves from “back-door” surges, such as those from communication lines and computer peripherals.
“APC by Schneider Electric recommends power protection for PCs and peripherals including printers, telephone/fax lines and cable modems as well as other sensitive household devices such as televisions, stereo systems, DVD players and satellite dishes.”
Power protection begins with combating surges and spikes that can be caused by lightning strikes. The first consideration should be to keep the hardware itself safe from damage.
“Bear in mind that when purchasing a surge protector, the lower the let-through voltage rating, the better your equipment will be protected,” he says.
For a complete power protection solution, he recommends choosing a UPS, a battery backup that helps to save data by keeping computer systems running with no interruption in the event of a brownout, which is a lowering of AC power voltage for some period of time.
Brownouts can be very harmful to electronic equipment if sustained for long periods, causing flickering or dimming on computer screens. A UPS allows the user to complete a transaction, save ongoing work and gracefully shutdown the equipment.
“With summer almost upon us, it is critical for users to consider the best way to protect all of their equipment as well as their household devices, keeping them safe from what can be an extremely expensive season,” Miglietta concludes.