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Surge Protection, Grounding, Lightning, extension cords
So, got a call from a guy in Florida who says the solar and inverter back up system I helped design and install got zapped big time by lightning today. His spendy Outback inverter is fried!!. I did warn him to place surge protection and beware of lightening. I wish I’d warned him to use a AM radio as a lightning surge detector and shut the whole system down.  Ive been thinking of getting a old AM radio for EMI detection. 
  His stationary system is  different than a mobile system as his system is in a open carport but there are some comparisons. They had a extension cord going to a newly erected building. I often have extension cords slung about camp. And he had no surge protection devices. Most mobile systems have none. 
 After listening to the description of the damage it sounds like the surge came from the new building and extension cord backfeeding the panel and inverter AC side. At first I assumed the rooftop solar panels and DC side was the culprit. Nope, he says charge controller works. 
 So if I’m camped around lightning I’m going to unplug all extension cords and turn off breakers. Having said this I read a comment online saying a 8 foot gap might be required in some cases of surge. And sometimes the static build up from distant lightning can damage equipment. Not sure about that but that sounds bad. 
 Another comment said a very long ground is recommended in areas of high lightning. Basically a couple hundred feet of buried wire. Combined with good surge suppression it can be effective. He had one 8’ ground rod and no surge suppression. Obviously was not sufficient. 
 He said there was a very loud explosive bang. Sounds to me if the lightning is that close then something is going to be toast. 
 I haven’t looked much into how lightning rods are designed. I’ve read they have large cables going to ground. Where I live it is so rare no one thinks about lightning much. Is there some way to trick the surge to go somewhere else and damage something of no value. 
 Come to think of it I vaguely remember reading a article about artist putting a rod in the sand and making glass sculptures. 
 Has anyone else experienced lightning damage? I suppose other surges are relevant topics also. Thanks
Hopefully someone will chime in here with some technical info on lightning and surge protection. I can speak to some first hand experience.

Surge suppression can work with AC spikes from short circuits. Something as simple as a 200 watt outdoor flood light burning out can trigger a circuit breaker to trip. A fast suppressor can direct that surge to ground and not trip the breaker. Lots of variables here, but it will work until it does not. Reassuring  Sad  

I have not seen nor heard of anything that will keep a lightning strike away from any grounded electrical wiring. It's too quick and too strong, in layman's terms. I've witnessed many florida lightning strikes over two miles away from a fenced in property and within a half-second the electric gate openers would activate. Then close when another flash appeared. Knowing what caused the power surge we'd just unplug them and eventually they fried when we were away for the weekend. I could not afford the price of a "might work fine" suppressor the electrician wanted to sell me to eliminate lightning surge damage. Lightning rod, yea, ok, maybe....... never a guarantee though. Just buy insurance and cross your fingers.

However, I defer to the older and wiser when it comes to lightning, if a thunder storm was approaching unplug it if you want it to work when the lightning is gone. 

Just my ol 2¢
[-] The following 1 user says Thank You to Matlock for this post:
  • rvpopeye (06-13-2019)
Thanks ML. 
 That’s really wonky when the gates start opening and closing. I imagine there’s good business replacing gate openers and inverters in Florida. 
 Interesting how surge suppressors work. Someone said they opened a delta surge suppressor and there is sand in there. $40 for sand lol. Maybe it was the artist playing with lightning who made the Deltas.  The artist who put the rods in the beach to make glass sculptures. A product inspired by art or art inspired by a product. Maybe neither. Just someone trying something.  
 As you say protection may or may not work may well.  At over $100 for either the AC or DC Midnite suppressor it’s a small fortune for something that may not help with lightning. But the article I read said combining a good quality suppressor with good ground can prevent damage from most surges. 
 And I’m more wary of extension cords now. And as you say it might help with other types of surges. 
 Yes, maybe someone with more technical knowhow can chime in. I remember reading the better suppressors have a special type of capacitor. I forget what it’s called. 
 Here in USA the grid seems pretty good comparatively. Standing on a balcony in Panama City I remember hearing BOOM.....BOOM...........BOOM every few minutes as transformers popped. Then as I was sitting waiting for a chicken bus a transformer blew about 15 feet from me and half the people sitting on the wall fell off including me. I get a headache just thinking about it.
Surge protectors are fine if you are looking for something that allows you to do nothing and feel ,,,,,,sorta safe.
Many times this method has failed. The surge protect devices all have limits to the size of surge stopped .
OH and BTW , they sacrifice themselves or are at best weakened by each smaller surge.
A rich man's game IMO.
Devices and insurance vs. just being smart about the reality of a force beyond most peoples imagination....

I can't tell you the amount of times I have been asked this Q.

If you like the idea of "guaranteed protection" just unplug from the pole.
Still no guarantee cuz a close hit can still fry things on just static .
I've heard stories from people of little balls of fire exiting outlets and floating around so unplugging is your best bet and even that has it's limits.
(Some say put the plug in a glass jar to protect from the fire balls , too far ? You decide your own level of participation.)

ME ? I always unplug.

It's like rolling up the awning to protect it from sudden gusts...while away OR not.
And shutting off the water spigot in case a leak decides to appear while you're out and turn your rig into a garden water feature.......

And of course all my methods cost much less , a minute of your time.
Stay Tuned

Weirdo Overlord  YARC 
15 "Stinkin'Badges"  a "Full Monty Badge" 2 "Just Ignore Me" clusters  10 "Pine Cone" clusters  , one "Stinkin' Badger" and 8 of the coveted "Flying Manure Spreader"awards
(What a "Stinkin' " honor !)
[-] The following 1 user says Thank You to rvpopeye for this post:
  • Roadtripp (06-12-2019)
Thanks, unplug. That’s my plan for the road. As I mentioned where I’m from no even thinks about lightning or static. We leave everything plugged in and on.
The best defense is a good offense. Unplug whatever can be unplugged when a storm is approaching.

(BTW you can buy lightning detectors: )

Next is lighting protection, a good lightning rod or two that can carry the charge directly to ground and DISSIPATE it into the earth.

Third is corona protection or charge dissipation... those often look like chimney sweep brushes.

Over the years I have lost some equipment, in the ham radio hobby, since we often have antennas up in the air.

I use DC shunt-grounded antennas and grounding antenna multiple 8 foot ground rods into the soil.

It's now been probably 10 years since I lost any equipment to lighting strikes.
                                                                 LIVE! from the apocalypse!
[-] The following 1 user says Thank You to tx2sturgis for this post:
  • Roadtripp (06-12-2019)
Spelling Correction:

It's now been probably 10 years since I lost any equipment to lightning strikes.
                                                                 LIVE! from the apocalypse!
Thanks, glad to hear you’ve not lost more equipment. I’m not sure what DC shunt ground and antenna groundswitches are but it sounds good. 
 I guess my beef is that surge protectors seem overpriced. The stupid sand in plastic container ones should be $5-$10 not $35-$50. And the special capacitor ones are over $100!!. A inexpensive one could be replaced every year or two. Or have multiples of them. Maybe there’s a market opportunity here??
 It’s a bit of gambling really. High stakes or low stakes.  Nice expensive equipment risked or inexpensive equipment risked. I understand better why a lot of folks go inexpensive with their electric power systems and equipment. Theft risk is another factor with expensive equipment.  I’m beginning to lean toward using inexpensive equipment in my new van conversion.   
 I’m leaning towards cheap mobility. If it’s raining, drive like hell to the sunshine. If it’s lightning, get out of Dodge. Leave it unlocked with the windows down but a bumper sticker saying this vehicle is not worth the prison term. Protected by pet skunk.  I detest keys.
Surge protectors are not on the list of lightning protection methods.

They provide NO protection from direct lightning strikes.

They MIGHT provide SOME protection against nearby and near-field spikes in the power lines, they usually do this by what is generally called 'clamping'....MOV's or other arc-plug type solutions that short or shunt moderate, transient, voltage spikes that occur across or along the conductors. 

Don't beat yourself up over this, any more than if an earthquake had hit the area and the building that you built falls down. It sounds like the main installation survived mostly intact.

But, shit happens, and nature can be a bad ass when it wants to.

The owner of the equipment should take some responsibility for the damage (electrical cords out, and no lightning protection) since they had something to lose during a known or unknown storm, and if they are insured, they should call the insurance agent.
                                                                 LIVE! from the apocalypse!
Hmmm, thanks, I don’t know if he has the system insured. He may be doing things on the property under the radar of the planning department. So I’m guessing it’s not insured. 
 The equipment in my van is not insured. That I do know. 
 Well, maybe the thread could have been on sudden natural disasters. One of the most common in the low desert might be sudden dust storms, wind, sandblasting. Ive only done one Winter down in the desert and only had one wind event trash a kitchen tent. Winter of 2017-2018 was mild compared to this past one from what I read online. 
 I think a thread could also be how not to loose your home when full timing. Avoiding catastrophe. Is there a thread on fire prevention and suppression. I’ve seen  a lot of burned RVs. I read charging a wireless speaker caused a fire. Charging devices in general maybe best done on a metal tray or something similar. As I look at the phone charging on my bed. A pile of tinder. 
 One catastrophic event can be disaster for a full timer. So maybe I’ll reconsider some form of insurance but detest that notion so probably won’t. 
  And insuring custom vehicles is not straightforward. When they discover it was altered they may deny the claim. So essentially a insurance policy on a custom vehicle is a expensive piece of paper to show officers of the law hoping not to get ticketed. It’s a conundrum...grrr. It ain’t right.

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