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Counting the cost of lightning protection

Lightning strikes are powerful and awe-inspiring displays of nature’s fury. However, they can also wreak havoc on man-made structures, including wind turbines. According to industry experts, around 1 to 3 percent of lightning strikes to wind turbine blades result in blade damage. However, this figure can vary significantly, depending on the location of the wind farm, lightning strike characteristics, the type of turbine, and other factors. Let’s look at a few of the variables that contribute to the higher blade damage rates and how to address the unwelcome challenge.

When we think about a generic lightning strike to a turbine, the simplest model becomes our baseline. A conveniently located cloud sits a few kilometers directly above our pending victim wind turbine. The charge in the cloud creates a lightning channel that wanders down towards Earth and eventually runs into one of the blades that happens to be in the 12 o’clock position. In this thought experiment, the blade’s lightning protection system receives the incoming lightning energy and directs it safely to the ground.

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