Lightning protection system

A lightning protection system is designed to protect a structure from damage due to lightning strikes by intercepting such strikes and safely passing their extremely high voltage currents to "ground". A lightning protection system includes a network of air terminals, bonding conductors, and ground electrodes designed to provide a low impedance path to ground for potential strikes.

Lightning protection systems are used to prevent or lessen damage to structures done by lightning strikes. Lightning protection systems mitigate the fire hazard which lightning strikes pose to structures. A lightning protection system provides a low-impedance path for the lightning current to lessen the heating effect of current flowing through flammable structural materials. If lightning travels through porous and water-saturated materials, these parts of a building may literally explode if their water content is flashed to steam by heat produced from lightning current.

Because of the high energy and current levels associated with lightning (currents can be in excess of 150,000 amps), and the very rapid rise time of a lightning strike, no lightning protection system can guarantee absolute safety from lightning. Lightning current will divide to follow every conductive path to ground, and even the divided current can cause damage. Secondary "side-flashes" can be enough to ignite a fire, blow apart brick, stone, or concrete, or injure occupants within a structure or building. However, the benefits of basic lightning protection systems have been evident for well over a century.[12]

Laboratory-scale measurements of the effects of [any lightning investigation research] do not scale to applications involving natural lighting.[13] Field applications have mainly been derived from trial and error based on the best intended laboratory research of a highly complex and variable phenomena.

The parts of a lightning protection system are air terminals (lightning rods or strike termination devices), bonding conductors, ground terminals (ground or "earthing" rods, plates, or mesh), and all of the connectors and supports to complete the system. The air terminals are typically arranged at or along the upper points of a roof structure, and are electrically bonded together by bonding conductors (called "down conductors" or "downleads"), which are connected by the most direct route to one or more grounding or earthing terminals.[14] Connections to the earth electrodes must not only have low resistance, but must have low self-inductance.

An example of a structure vulnerable to lightning is a wooden barn. When lightning strikes the barn, the wooden structure and its contents, may be ignited by the heat generated by lightning current conducted through parts of the structure. A basic lightning protection system would provide a conductive path between an air terminal and earth, so that most of the lightning's current will follow the path of the lightning protection system, with substantially less current traveling through flammable materials.

A controversy over the assortment of operation theories dates back to the 18th century, when Franklin himself stated that his lightning protectors protected buildings by dissipating electric charge. He later retracted the statement, stating that the device's exact mode of operation was something of a mystery at that point.

Originally, scientists believed that such a lightning protection system of air terminals and "downleads" directed the current of the lightning down into the earth to be "dissipated". However, high speed photography has clearly demonstrated that lightning is actually composed of both a cloud component and an oppositely charged ground component. During "cloud-to-ground" lightning, these oppositely charged components usually "meet" somewhere in the atmosphere well above the earth to equalize previously unbalanced charges. The heat generated as this electrical current flows through flammable materials is the hazard which lightning protection systems attempt to mitigate by providing a low-resistance path for the lightning circuit. No lightning protection system can be relied upon to "contain" or "control" lightning completely (nor thus far, to prevent lightning strikes), but they do seem to help immensely on most occasions of lightning strikes.

Steel framed structures can bond the structural members to earth to provide lighting protection. A metal flagpole with its foundation in the earth is its own extremely simple lightning protection system. However, the flag(s) flying from the pole during a lightning strike may be completely incinerated.

The majority of lightning protection systems in use today are of the traditional Franklin design The fundamental principle used in Franklin-type lightning protections systems is to provide a sufficiently low impedance path for the lightning to travel through to reach ground without damaging the building.[15] This is accomplished by surrounding the building in a kind of Faraday cage. A system of lightning protection conductors and lightning rods are installed on the roof of the building to intercept any lightning before it strikes the building

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