Photovoltaic plants: security against electrical storms - AT3w
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Photovoltaic plants: security against lightning storms in the solar energy sector

Investment in renewable energies has experienced an exponential increase over the last decade, spurred on by ecological awareness of climate change. Among the different clean energy sources, photovoltaic is the one that is growing the most year after year. In order to protect the strong investment that a solar park requires, Aplicaciones Tecnológicas S.A. has a portfolio of smart solutions for the protection against electrical storms, the effects of which pose a serious risk to the operation of solar plants.

The solar energy sector is a strategic industry and has a crucial role in the energy transition, a role that is expected to increase in the coming years. Photovoltaics is currently the most installed energy source worldwide among both renewables and non-renewables, representing according to IRENA data 40% of new global capacity in 2020, with a total of 843,086 MW installed worldwide [1].

Like any open-air installation, solar plants are highly sensitive to inclement weather, especially lightning strikes. If a lightning strikes a solar panel directly, it can cause significant damage to the panel. In addition, it can overload the electrical system and damage electronic components, including charge controllers and inverters, or generate a temperature rise on the surface of the solar panel, which can cause cracks or breaks in the glass and the solar cells.

The development and commissioning of a photovoltaic park require a significant investment that takes years to pay off. The components of solar panels are particularly sensitive to any kind of energy loss. Installations with a capacity of 100MW or more may be connected directly to the electricity grid, so the impact of a lightning strike can affect the installation and the grid.

Aplicaciones Tecnológicas S.A. has a portfolio of technologically advanced solutions in lightning protection and grounding systems. These solutions are designed for the integral protection of solar farms, to improve safety, optimise operating efficiency and reduce the costs derived from lightning strikes as much as possible.

Photovoltaic plants: preventive protection

ATSTORM® is a smart thunderstorm early warning system, designed to activate and deactivate temporary preventive actions that minimise risks derived from a possible lightning strike. The ATSTORM® thunderstorm detection system is a solution supported by IoT technologies, based on the evaluation of conditions of an area to be protected and multiple data that support the expert algorithms.

ATSTORM® uses dual sensing technology to provide reliable and objective stop alerts. On the one hand, sensors measure the local electrostatic field to provide warnings of storm formation in the area. In addition, it includes electromagnetic field sensors, which extend the detection area for approaching active thunderstorms.

The collected data goes to the cloud where expert algorithms accurately and precisely identify the conditions of a forming storm or an approaching storm in the area. The processed information is sent to the user as alerts, allowing sufficient time in advance to initiate preventive actions.

External protection in photovoltaic plants: PDC lightning arrester and smart lightning counter for real-time status and discharge information

The smart lightning conductor DAT CONTROLER® REMOTE is a device with self-diagnosis of its head and communication via IoT (Internet of Things) of the result, to supervise the correct operation of the equipment remotely. The DAT CONTROLER® REMOTE allows daily self-testing of the lightning conductor status, without the need to disassemble it or use auxiliary lifting equipment.

The results of its autonomous test are sent via M2M communication to a receiving device (mobile phone, tablet, computer). This information can be consulted on its web portal along with other customised notifications, thus facilitating correct preventive maintenance and cost reduction associated with late repair of any component.

Every lightning strike and its effect on lightning protection systems, from interception to earthing, is different. Therefore, it is essential to know the detailed information of each discharge in order to anticipate inspections and make critical repairs to ensure that it will continue to operate efficiently.

SMART LIGHTNING LOGGER continuously monitors electrical activity in down conductors of a lightning protection system in which it is installed. When a discharge occurs, the device collects the following information:

  • Amplitude
  • Polarity
  • Duration
  • Charge
  • Specific energy
  • Date and time

All this data is sent to the AT-CLOUD, where expert algorithms process it to provide real-time alerts via the CONNECT platform. This allows the urgency to be determined and an early repair to be scheduled in case of a claim.

Overvoltages – Specific surge protectors for photovoltaic plants

Electromagnetic fields caused by lightning can affect lines and therefore the equipment, even if a lightning protection system is in place to intercept the direct strike.

Lightning strikes cause transient overvoltages that can damage equipment. Surge protection for photovoltaic power plants is customised for every installation to provide maximum protection for photovoltaic cells and any other elements that may be integrated into them.

Components used for surge protection:

Surge protector – ATPV series

Custom-designed protective enclosure of photovoltaic plant with the most adequate protectors for photovoltaic cells and invertors of each installation.

Surge protector – ATVOLT Series

Protection for DC supply lines in modules with coordinated protection for a pair of wires. Capable of withstanding a peak current of 20kA per pole with a 8/20 μs wave and a residual voltage of less than twice the rated nominal voltage.

Surge protector – ATSUB Series

Single-phase protector capable of withstanding currents of tens of kiloamperes with 8/20μs wave and with residual voltages between 1 and 2kV. Different models available.

Surge protector – ATSHOCK Series

Single-phase protector capable of withstanding a peak current of 50kA per pole and 10/350 μs wave with a residual voltage under 4kV.

Surge protector – ATCOVER Series

Protector both in common mode and differential mode. Capable of withstanding a peak current of 30kA per pole and 8/20 μs wave with a residual voltage under 900V. Includes visual warning and connection for remote warning.

If you would like to find out more about the safety and cost-saving advances our devices provide in the solar energy sector, please contact us via this link.
You can also attend any of our webinars on lightning storm safety in the PV industry by clicking this link.


[1] Solar energy chart 2011-2021. International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)

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