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101 renewable - surge protection with arc fault circuit interruption

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Last Updated
7th of January, 2020

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Surge Protector Device

A lightning strike to nearby grounded structures (including the lightning protection system), and inter- and intra-cloud flashes that may be of magnitudes of 100 kA can cause associated magnetic fields that induce transient currents into PV system DC cabling. These transient voltages appear at equipment terminals and cause insulation and dielectric failures of key components.

Long runs of exposed wire that can pick upsurges from lightning they do need surge protection. Therefor all PV power plants and wind turbines, power generators qualify for such a solution. These power surges can damage sensitive electronic monitoring equipment, charge controllers, and inverters. It is necessary to install surge protection on photovoltaic and wind power generation equipment.

Proper grounding is absolutely necessary for lightning protection in order to direct the excess of overcurrent to ground. In the event of a direct strike, damage may occur, even with surge protectors installed. Type 1 heavy duty surge protectors are recommended when a direct lightning strike is possible on the installation.

In PV Installations we talk about two type of arc faults: serial or parallel arching:~

A parallel arc:~

It occurs when an insulation system suffers a breakdown. Two conductors of opposite polarity in the same DC circuit are often run near to each other. The insulation between the two wires can become ineffective due to animals chewing on them, UV breakdown, embrittlement, cracking, moisture ingress and freeze-thaw cycles.

A series arc:~

It occurs when a connection is pulled apart while the PV is producing current. Any intermittent connection in the DC circuit could produce a DC arc fault. These connections may include soldered joints within the module, compression-type wire connections or the connectors that are commonly used on the wire leads attached to PV modules.

To extinguish a series DC arc, power production must be ceased and current flow in the DC circuit must be reduced to a very low level. It is preferable to reduce the DC current flow to zero to guarantee that the arc is extinguished.

A parallel arc requires the opposite action. The two DC conductors must be shorted together to bring the array voltage to zero. Once the voltage is near zero, the arc extinguishes. The protective device must be capable of carrying the array short-circuit current indefinitely.

Most of the time we use a different type (brands) of SPD Surge Protector Device to do this job for us.

Article 690.11 Arc-Fault Circuit Protection (DC Side):~

PV systems with DC source and/or output circuits on or penetrating a building operating at a PV system maximum system voltage of 80 volts or greater shall be protected by a listed (DC) arc-fault circuit interrupter, PV type, or other system components listed to provide equivalent protection.

The PV arc-fault protection shall comply with the following requirements:~

(1) The system shall detect and interrupt arcing faults resulting from a failure in the intended continuity of a conductor, connection, module, or  another system component in the direct-current PV source and output circuits.
(2) The system shall disable or disconnect one of the following:
>> a. Inverters or charge controllers connected to the fault circuit when the fault is detected
>> b. The system components within the arching circuit.
(3) The system shall require that the disabled or disconnected equipment be manually restarted.
(4) The system shall have an annunciation that must be manually disabled.

SPDs' Checklist:~

In spite of the high lightning risk that many PV installations are exposed to, they can be protected by the application of SPD's and a properly engineered lightning protection system.

Effective SPD implementation should include the following considerations:
>> Correct placement in the system.
>> Termination requirements.
>> Proper grounding and bonding of the equipment ground system.
>> Discharge rating.
>> Voltage protection level.
>> Suitability for the system in question, including DC versus AC applications.
>> Failure mode.
>> Local and remote status indication.
>> Easily replaceable modules.
>> Normal system function should be unaffected, specifically on non-power systems.
>> Note: SPD = Surge Protector Device Attached: PV Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupter Whitepaper from SMA-America.
>> PV Arc-Fault.
>> Circuit Interrupter.

About the author of this article:
View Michael Comsa's profile on LinkedIn

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