An economic case for facility lightning protection systems in 2021.
Lightning strikes the earth 100 times every second— that’s more than 8 million times a day. In the United States alone, lightning strikes 25 million times each year. If not properly controlled or absorbed, these strikes can cause damage to urban, residential, and rural areas. Industrial and business facilities are exposed to operational breakdown and degradation, along with destruction of installations and assets. A 2015 IDC survey1 estimates that unplanned downtime generally leads to Fortune 1000 businesses paying an additional $2.5 billion dollars each year, much steeper than that of lightning protection system costs. The same survey puts the average hourly cost of infrastructure failure at $100,000, with critical system outages potentially costing $500,000 per hour.
The total impact on businesses increases further still when considering the costs of lightning strikes to small and medium sized businesses. The total costs from lightning-related damage to US industry and property is estimated to be between $8 billion and $10 billion per year2, making lightning protection system costs appear less drastic.
THE NEED TO IMPROVE RISK MANAGEMENT
In industry, the growing demand for availability of service and operations, as well as downtime costs, make risk management increasingly important. Lightning strikes will be an increasingly large part of the risk to be managed. Changing weather patterns mean lightning strikes are expected to grow by 50% in this century3, with an additional annual increase of 150,000 strikes. In parallel, costs attributable to lightning strike damage are increasing by 20% per year. Due to its non-selective nature regarding which buildings or domains to strike, lightning risks affect all areas.
Types of damage and injury caused by lightning strikes include:
- INJURY to people and fatalities caused by high voltage
- FIRE, EXPLOSION, & DESTRUCTION of machinery, structures and vegetation due to lightning currents
- INTERRUPTION & FAILURE of systems due to lightning electromagnetic impulse (LEMP)
LIGHTNING RELATED FAILURES CAN BE PREVENTED
Increasing risk is what really distinguishes lightning strikes from other causes of infrastructure failure. However, lightning related failures are nearly completely preventable nowadays. Technologies available today mean that any facility, structure, or operation can be protected from loss in the event of a lightning strike. Lightning warning systems, grounding, bonding, surge suppression devices, and structural lightning protection meet both lightning detection and damage prevention needs. As an example, a facility lightning protection system helped the Google Belgium data center4 limit data losses to just 0.000001% after being struck by lightning no less than four times in one storm.
ADEQUATE PROTECTION OUT OF STEP WITH FACILITY VULNERABILITY
Regardless of being increasingly exposed to lightning, the majority of facilities are not sufficiently protected. A recent Carnegie Mellon Survey5 concluded that 30% of US business (currently about 5.8 million in total) will suffer lightning related failure or disruption at some point in time. Yet only 10% of new buildings constructed in the US each year implement a facility protection system against lightning-related damage. With this level of unmanaged risk, which only increases as lightning strikes become more frequent, facilities in the industry choose to remain vulnerable instead of taking advantage of the effective solutions that are readily available.
CHALLENGES AND COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT IMPLEMENTING FACILITY LIGHTNING PROTECTION SYSTEMS
Ignorance plays a large part in the discrepancy between levels of lightning-related risk, and protection. Unaware of the availability and effectiveness of protective technologies, building owners, architects, and engineers continue to accept lightning as an unavoidable risk. As such, their only solution is to seek insurance against business interruptions and damage. There’s only one problem— no insurance can cover all the loss caused by a lightning strike. Preventing lightning damage ahead of time gives you the best chance of reducing unnecessary costs down the road. In addition, many national electrical/building codes so far have omitted facility lightning protection systems. With the exception of the State of Florida, the implementation of a facility lightning protection system is at the discretion of the building owner, and not a legal requirement.
Common misconceptions surrounding lightning protection systems include:
- Expenses for protection systems are assumed to be high, often for lack of precise figures. This adversely harms the business case for investing in a lightning protection system and turns away facility managers before they even consider the invaluable benefits that an LPS would provide.
- Complexity is inferred from the fact that effective facility protection systems must be properly integrated with the facility. While this process may seem complex to the layman, those who specialize in lightning protection implementation can accomplish these things with relative ease.
- Negative visual impact on architectures and the environment is also considered as an unavoidable drawback, but this is incorrect. In fact, facility protection systems over the years have become more aesthetically pleasing and less visually invasive than previous decades.
Let’s dig into these three topics further.
LIGHTNING PROTECTION SYSTEM COST CONSIDERATIONS AND RETURN ON INVESTMENT
The average cost of a comprehensive facility lightning protection system (FLPS) for a commercial building is typically in the region of $35,000. In principle, the useful life of such an FLPS will be close to the useful life of the building itself. In reality, the system is likely to be replaced whenever a new roofing system is installed, which is often every 30 years or so. On this basis (renewal every 30 years), a comprehensive FLPS costs about $1,200 per year or $100 per month. Yet it can prevent infrastructure failure costing as much as $100,000 per hour, not to mention the benefits of enhancing employee safety, along with that of your customers and any other persons who may be on your site.
Two additional factors can make facility lightning protection systems more affordable:
- The use of “protection levels” allows expenses to be kept in line with your practical needs for protection. For instance, the requirements for the protection of a nuclear reactor may be different compared to those for a residential condominium complex— which may, in turn, be different from an industrial facility. Each installation needs protection but only in accordance with its unique associated risk.
- Different types of FLPS and associated applications allow lightning protection system cost reductions to be factored into implementations, without compromising the level or quality of protection.
REDUCING COMPLEXITY AND INCREASING EFFICIENCY
An effective facility lightning protection system must be comprehensive. This is especially true for modern digital facilities, which are naturally more prone to outages and damage caused by the extremely high electrical charges produced by lightning. Requirements for grounding, potential equalization, surge suppression devices, and structural lightning protection make an effective FLPS, a complex one in many cases (especially for pre-existing buildings). On the other hand, integrating an FLPS into the design of a building prior to construction allows for an increase in efficiency and a reduction in complexity.
VISUAL IMPACT AND AESTHETICS
Once a suitable system is installed, your building should have reliable and effective lightning protection, with little external indication of its existence. When an FLPS is taken into consideration at the design stage, it can be incorporated in a way that reduces or eliminates any visual impact. Even in pre-existing buildings, railings and other structural elements/decorative features can often be slightly altered and utilized as integral parts of the protective system.
FACILITY LIGHTNING PROTECTION SYSTEM STANDARDS AND BUILDING CODES
Every year, more regions in the world incorporate facility lightning protection systems in their building codes. This is because buildings equipped with an FLPS that complies with today’s lightning protection system standards are more likely to meet future building code requirements and ensure effective protection for owners and users against lightning strikes and induced currents. In the US, Florida is a leader in the specification of requirements for these systems.
Three predominant standards for the risk assessment, design, and implementation of a facility lightning protection system (US and International):
- NFPA 780 is the National Fire Protection Association standard for installation of passive systems with simple risk assessment and does not implement protection levels.
- IEC 62305, the International Standard for Protection against Lightning used in Europe and South America (among other regions) deals with passive systems. It uses advanced risk assessment and definition of protection levels.
- NF C 17-102 for Europe, and much of Asia, concerns active systems (Early Streamer Emission Air Terminals or ESEAT) using IEC 62305 for risk assessment and protection levels.
PRACTICAL STEPS FOR IMPROVING PROTECTION AGAINST LIGHTNING
The following three-stage process allows building owners, architects and engineers to cost-effectively prevent losses and other risks due to lightning strikes:
Comprehensive Risk Assessment
All facilities have risk, but that’s not to say that their risk is equal. Application of NFPA 780 Appendix L, or IEC 62305 allows risks to be evaluated correctly, in a way that is unique to your facility’s unique specifications. Click here to read Lightning Risk Assessments: What You Need To Know.
Protection-Level Based Design
Understanding the risk of each facility is the key to defining protection levels and containing costs of lightning protection for buildings. This can more easily be applied by using IEC 62305 and commercially available applications, such as StrikeRisk IEC/EN 62305-2 Risk Management Software.
- When possible, complete FLPS design prior to the initial construction of the building as part of overall facility construction design documents.
- If you’re adding an FLPS to a pre-existing facility, complete design prior to implementation.
- Must be designed by qualified design/engineering personnel, notably a Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) Certified Master Designer.
- Installation must be done by qualified LPI Certified Installers, as facility lightning protection is a specialty discipline.
The reliance that the US industries and economy have on today’s vast electronic infrastructure, is staggering. Digital assets are highly vulnerable to damage from lightning and transient currents, with this vulnerability extending to any other asset controlled by (or dependent on) these digital assets. Meanwhile, the number of lightning strikes in the US (already at 25 million per year) are also growing. As urban sprawl develops, these lightning strikes will continue to have an increasingly large impact, with downtime from infrastructure failure now costing facility owners $2.5 billion per year. Overall, lightning-related damage to industries in the US is estimated to reach between $8 billion and $10 billion per year.
Solutions are available to provide lightning protection for buildings and facilities. Modern technologies in grounding, potential equalization, surge protective devices, structural lightning protection, and lightning warning systems can completely mitigate damage if deployed and integrated properly. These cost-effective systems are readily available and have the potential to save the US industry/economy billions of dollars annually, given increased implementation by facility managers.
If you want to protect your facility from the damages that come from lightning and transient currents, contact VFC today! Our experts are here to help and can answer any questions you may have.
Todd D. Vought, VP Business Development, VFC – BSBA, Over 30 years’ experience in the design, and implementation of Lightning Protection Systems. LPI Certification #861.