Chris LaForge has been in the solar and storage industry for over 30 years. You can imagine he’s seen it all when it comes to operations and maintenance on solar and energy storage systems. We wanted to know what is one of the most common issues when troubleshooting. In the video below, Chris explains the importance of proper grounding and surge arresters in the event lightning strikes.

The most typical, real physical damage issue is an improperly grounded system that doesn’t have adequate surge protection for lightning surges. When you add in storage, your component number goes up. Your surge arresting components should go up as well.

If you don’t do a really good job of grounding and surge arresting, lightning will take your system out. It lets the smoke out of the box. It’s not a factory repair. It’s not a warranty repair and it’s going to cost everybody money. 

Do really, really, really good grounding (which is an entire three-day lecturer itself). But do good diligence on your grounding and then make sure that at the key points where lightning can come into your system, you have really high quality surge arrest devices.

I will plug my friends over at MidNite Solar because they were the first to invent a really high quality surge arrest device for our industry, which they still sell. They actually have LED indicators on the surge arrester because a surge arrester will over time wear out. When we were working with simple deltas and things like that in the past, we basically just said after 10 years replace it, because there’s no indicator of whether it’s dead or not. Now we’ve got two LEDs on the input and the output of the surge arrester. If one of those dies, you know that thing is not working. You can replace it. It’s very good. Don’t shy away from getting really good surge arresting on board right away. 

How often do you see this lightning? How often have you come across that in all your years? 

It depends on your location. So in the Midwest/Northern Midwest, we have a lot of lightning storms. A lot of places do. In drier areas, it’s less typical to have a lot of lightning storms, but we have tons of them.

On every improperly designed system that didn’t ground well or didn’t include proper surge arresting, they died -the first storm. It’s because lightning is incredibly high voltage and low amperage – 50,000 volts looking for ground.

Our arrays are put up with metal all over them. It’s sometimes at the highest point of our building, up on the roof, or at least standing out in-ground away from trees, which also are lightning attractive. Trees are fairly ungrounded.

It’s just the most likely attracter there is. Because you wire from that array into your system, it goes right to your charge controller and smokes that. If you have really bad luck, it gets into the rest of your system and kills your inverter. 

If it was really a lightning strike (which you try to avoid with the same means), that’s considered an act of God and is insurable – [still], it’ll blow your battery up.

So don’t forget to ground.  Sorry, but I like to scare people. It keeps you in line. 

Hopefully, people will remember it.