IN SPAIN we have to deal with many different problems from those we experience in the UK in our everyday living; some unique and some that are very unfamiliar and alien to us.
We all know how much we take electricity for granted, until it goes wrong. As an electrician working in the electrical contracting industry in the south east of England for over 20 years, I rarely installed a power surge protection device and I never fully appreciated their importance until I moved to Spain. Here on the Costas I am regularly contacted to install surge protection in homes and commercial premises, normally after the property has been hit by a power surge; such is the lack of awareness about the problem. Often power surges can cause several thousand € worth of damage in the home. Power surges are increasingly becoming a major problem along the Costas and like the lightning phenomenon they are highly unpredictable when and where they will strike.
During a recent severe thunder storm over Torrevieja, lighting struck a house in San Luis, causing a high voltage power surge. A lightning bolt struck a small satellite dish and flashed through the house causing flammables to catch fire. Fortunately the occupants; parents, two children a cat and a dog were unhurt. They had all been watching the storm on the veranda, then upon re-entering the house, described a large bang shortly followed by another whereupon fire broke out. Everyone escaped safely and the local fire brigade was called. The family has moved into temporary accommodation whilst the damage is assessed and building repairs carried out. This is the second time in recent months lightning has struck a house in San Luis. Locals described the thunder storm as the most frightening storm in recent memory. Several homes in the area experienced electrical problems and power surges.
What is a power surge?
A power surge is a sudden and unwanted increase in voltage. They can damage or destroy electrical equipment, burn out chips and PCB’s (Printed Circuit Boards), which exist in practically every modern day piece of electrical equipment, where they are not designed to withstand excess voltages. In extreme cases, such as direct lightning strikes, fires often break out. Power surges come in two forms. The first and most common, is caused by the switching off the electricity supply network from high-powered electric motors and transformers, or in the case of a temporary builder’s supply, from on-site generators or faulty wiring. In addition, hundreds of transient spikes occur daily from devices in the home or work place. The second form of power surge, and more severe, is caused by lightning and electrostatic discharges, more common in rural properties, but can also mercilessly strike any individual property on an urbanisation, commercial or industrial estate. In industry the damage and failures due to power surges are estimated to be in the range of hundreds of millions of €.
Each year about 2 million flashes of lightning occur on the Iberian Peninsula. Lightning protection systems should be installed on tall buildings, cultural heritage buildings, warehouses with dangerous materials and open sites used by the public, necessary for structural and personal safety. Lightning can strike a building directly, the ground nearby or even overhead power lines miles away and cause power surges. Mains electric cables, plus TV/Sat and telephone cables which enter from the outside of a building, act as conductors for lightning strikes and can facilitate the way for power surges and require protection devices against these transients.
To protect your property from a power surge, a device should be installed in or nearby the Consumer Unit, to the TV/Sat and telephone outlets. The device works in one of two ways; either by diverting the current generated by the power surge directly to earth, or by disconnecting the mains supply to the installation, preventing the power surge passing through the equipment. The former type is usually the most preferable because it is fully automatic and does not require someone to switch the supply back on. Multi-adapter extension leads fitted with an SPD, like those available to purchase in DIY stores, only provide minimal protection for a limited number of items. When a power surge strikes, it shows no mercy and may strike every electrical appliance in your property on a search and destroy mission. Air conditioning units are very prone to damage from power surges as well as the more commonly assumed computer equipment and TV’s. Most air conditioning and TV satellite installation companies will not guarantee their equipment unless it is protected by a Surge Protection Device. Beware of the misconception that the RCD (aka Interruptor Differencial) in your Consumer Unit provides protection against power surges; it does not. For a complete safeguard a whole property surge protection system is required.
Surge Protection Devices are recommended for properties with sensitive and expensive electrical and electronic equipment such as air conditioning, microwaves, ovens, washers and dryers, computers, printers, TV cinema systems, hi-fi, even lighting; practically every appliance in your home. They are also strongly recommended for installations in rural areas supplied with Solar Energy Systems exposed to high risks of lightning. Make sure you protect your expensive electronic equipment.
A final piece of advice is to check your building insurance policy to ensure you are covered for power surges.
Article written by Tony Poole, Sparks Electrical Services. Tel. 626 693 440 www.sparksinspain.es. Plus we’re on Facebook for free advice