Data centres rely on the optimal performance of equipment, so unwanted surges on the power supply lines can cripple operations. In fact, these energy spikes can cost significant amounts of money in recovery time and hardware damage. Across the continent, DEHN Africa’s expertise provides surge protection for data centres against various potential causes.
Julienne Puttkammer, one of the technical team at DEHN Africa, says, “There are two main types of risk when it comes to data centres and electrical power surges. “These lightning strikes, both direct and indirect; and switching surges, which can be internal, potentially caused by the switching of a cooling system’s inductive load or possibly generator switch-over, or external, coming from the utility itself.
“In Africa, the foremost causes of surges to data centre systems largely depend on the area. For example, in regions with a stable supply, power surges are most commonly caused by lightning strikes, while in areas of unstable supply, the most frequent cause is on/off switching. Even a nearby lightning strike, and not necessarily a direct hit, can cause a surge to flow on conductors and electrical lines. So, the factors to look at are whether the facility is in a lightning-prone area, and the stability of the grid.”
He adds that because the consequences of a direct lightning strike can be catastrophic, it is common for data centre designers to opt for lightning protection installation, regardless of whether normal risk procedure requires it: “Data centres contain sensitive equipment, for which all kinds of backup power must be implemented to eliminate downtime.”
The main challenge in implementing surge protection measures involves coordinating all the aspects from the beginning of the project. “Ideally, the most comprehensive solution would include all the interlinking systems of lightning and surge protection from the design stage,” elaborates Puttkammer. “We need to think about issues such as cable routing or embedding bonding conductors in concrete. This needs to be well coordinated through the planning and construction phases.
“To come in once a rollout has been completed, or is already underway, means that you need to find the space to install and implement surge protection systems, which then requires some sort of compromise in many cases. And while it is not impossible to have a good system afterwards, retrofitting is not ideal. At DEHN Africa we are, however, seeing an encouraging move towards including lightning and surge protection for data centres from the beginning of a project.”
With regards to DEHN’s products and solutions for data centre surge protection, Puttkammer reiterates that it all starts with a planning phase: “We offer all the services required. A risk assessment, soil testing if necessary, a detailed design, an earth electrode design for AC system faults, and an inspection and sign-off on a lightning safety report. Thereafter we offer all the necessary tested products as well, including the lightning protection, earthing and bonding components, as well as the electrical and electronic surge protection devices.”
Data centres in Africa face some unique challenges in terms of surge protection. “We see some of the highest lightning flash density in central Africa, and some of the data centres we’ve worked on are very close to these high density areas,” concluded Puttkammer. “DEHN is seen as a lightning specialist and so we start with the lightning protection side, but as it is all one solution, we bring in the surge risk management side as well. There are places on the continent where we need to safeguard against on and off switching on the grid itself. When it comes to grid reliability, we should note that South Africa, by and large, measures up very well when we do not have to deal with load shedding issues.”
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