Lightning protection provided for large poultry farm’s solar installation

Lightning and surge protection specialist Dehn Africa was recently involved in an extensive project to provide and protect rooftop solar power to one of South Africa’s largest poultry farms, Chubby Chick, in Potchefstroom. All parties involved worked closely together from design to commissioning, ensuring the installation was comprehensively protected from lightning effects during its lifetime.

Chubby Chick provides fresh and frozen whole chickens to the local retail and wholesale markets, supplying meat to, among others, Woolworths and OBC Chicken and Meat Butchery, and the latter company assists in helping small communities with the supply of meat.

Hano Oelofse, Dehn Africa’s MD,  says that since solar power provides consistent, affordable and clean energy over a 25-year lifetime, it is not surprising that more and more commercial and industrial properties are installing solar panels on their buildings, as Chubby Chick set out to do, in addition to the larger free-field solar farms themselves. Solar energy can, quite literally, be made available to all, he added.

However, one must remember, Oelofse says, that vast tracts of South Africa are regions of high lightning ground flash density, and just like any commercial property, solar panels must be protected from the possible destructive effects of lightning. While the costs of solar energy are coming down compared to where we were some years ago, it remains a fact that a solar PV installation can be a high investment outlay. The costs of replacing expensive parts while the solar PV system is still in the process of “paying for itself” because the installation has not been protected from a potential lightning strike – or not protected properly – can be prohibitive.

Dehn Africa recommends that a lightning protection system (LPS) be included in the commercial solar installation from the design stage, rather than as a retrofit. The Chubby Chick renewable energy project followed a model partnership process, Oelofse says. His company carried out the LPS designs and recommendations and signed off the installation as correct and completed for the customer.

According to Oelofse, Motla Consulting Engineers, an engineering consultant and EPCM (engineering, procurement, construction and management company) was appointed by Chubby Chick to design and install a solar PV system in order to reduce the company’s energy bill. Dehn Africa worked with Motla on the design of the LPS on the solar energy planning. Motla, together with its installation partner, Einstein Electrical, constructed and installed the solar system and contracted Rolling Sphere Lightning Protection (RSLP) to carry out the external lightning protection and earthing installation according to Dehn Africa’s designs and recommendations.

Because of the scale of the premises, which constitute a large roof area, it was necessary to protect the facility, and its comprehensive electronics system, from direct lightning as well as possible surges from nearby strikes. As with free-field solar farms, lightning strikes to rooftop solar panels will cause damage at the strike point, as well as surge damage to any equipment that is connected downstream. External lightning protection helps avoid damage at the strike point itself, while surge protection devices assist in the prevention of downstream damage from strike-related surges, thereby also allowing the renewable energy system to stay online.

This complex project required the collaboration of all those involved. Multiple buildings and an extensive communications system had to be protected. Other challenges included the size of the area being protected; the size of the electrical system; and the fact that the mounting of the air termination rods had to be adapted during installation, which was overcome through the various companies’ collaboration.

The result, says Oelofse, is that the client now has solar panels powering its industrial processing plant, making it greener, reducing its power consumption, decreasing its carbon footprint and saving costs over the longer term.

Contact Hano Oelofse, Dehn Africa, Tel 011 704-1487, hano.oelofse@dehn-africa.com

 

 

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