Dissipation array system wards off lightning

Jerome Kerr
Lightning Eliminators and Consultants Inc.

Lightning: those dramatic bursts of white-hot voltage from the heavens that can instantly ignite fires and knock out power and communications lines. Each year lightning causes massive damage to business facilities.

The danger of a lightning strike is exacerbated by so-called “prevention” devices: lightning rods and early streamer emitters, which are designed to collect and channel the force of a strike to the ground. This 200-year old technology was never intended to protect modern high-tech automated facilities, but rather barns and other wood structures of that era. These devices actually bring millions of volts and thousands of amps into close proximity of sensitive electronics systems and flammable products. No matter what claims are made about such devices, using them only increases the risk of lightning-related damage.

An electrical storm contains clouds called thunderheads–electrically charged bodies suspended in the atmosphere. The air serves as an insulator, separating the cloud’s electrical charge from the ground or other clouds. These charges continue to build during the storm, inducing a similar charge of opposite polarity onto the earth. The earth charge is concentrated at the surface just under the cloud, establishing a strong electrical field between the cloud and ground.

As the storm intensifies, charge separation continues within the cloud until the air between cloud and earth can no longer act as an insulator and a strike occurs.

When structures sit between the earth and the clouds, they are likewise charged. Taller structures tend to collect strikes from storm clouds in adjacent areas and trigger additional strikes as well. The larger the structure size, the greater the hazard of lightning impact. A 50-mile stretch of transmission line in central Florida could expect as many as 1,500 strikes per year.

Dissipation Array System (DAS) is being touted as one solution for lightning protection. It’s based on a natural phenomenon known to scientists for centuries as the “point discharge” principle or charge transfer. A sharp point in a strong electrostatic field will leak off electrons by ionizing the adjacent air molecules, providing the point’s potential is raised 10,000 volts above that of its surroundings. This principle is demonstrated by what scientists call natural dissipation. The ionization produced by trees, grass, towers, fences, and other structures can naturally dissipate up to 90% of the total energy generated by a storm, thereby preventing the formation of lightning.

The DAS employs the point discharge principle by providing thousands of points with specific point separation which simultaneously produce ions over a large area, thus preventing the formation of a streamer, which is the precursor of a lightning strike. This ionization process creates a flow of current from the point(s) into the surrounding air. Under storm conditions, this ionization current increases exponentially with the storm’s electrostatic field, which can reach levels as high as 30,000 volts per meter of elevation during a mature storm.

DAS prevents strikes by continually lowering the voltage differential between the ground and the charged cloud to below lightning potential, even in the midst of a worst-case storm. (This differential has been measured at up to 6,000 percent.)

Because it prevents rather than redirects lightning, DAS is a solid solution to lightning strike problems. Lightning Eliminators and Consultants Inc. (LEC), based in Boulder, Co., has long been at the forefront of DAS development. In the three decades since LEC introduced DAS into the U.S. marketplace, the system has accumulated over 20,000 system-years of history with a 99.7 percent reliability.

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The Clarion Energy Content Team is made up of editors from various publications, including POWERGRID International, Power Engineering, Renewable Energy World, Hydro Review, Smart Energy International, and Power Engineering International. Contact the content lead for this publication at Jennifer.Runyon@ClarionEvents.com.

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