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Lightning behaviour: 
what we’re missing in blade protection

It’s springtime in the northern hemisphere, which means more lightning strikes to wind turbines. Most of the time they can handle the strikes, no problem. But in rare instances lightning does tremendous damage. When asked about a damaged turbine, lightning experts usually respond that ‘it’s force majeure’, or ‘it was a super-bolt™’. Not elegant responses, but the wind owners, operators, and insurers hear it a lot. How did we get here, and what really matters in turbine lightning protection? These are the important questions this spring.

Lightning is often described as a complex, undefinable, uncontrollable force of nature to a combination of Thor, The Flash, and Storm. Everybody loves superheroes, but lightning is not that complex. Lightning is made of air. It’s super-heated air, but it behaves in predictable patterns and is subject to the same laws of physics as the rest of the world. For example, wind gusts can push lightning tens of meters downwind, which is important to consider when designing wind turbines. 

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