Data centres rely on the optimal performance of equipment, and surges can cripple operations. Data centre operators need to be able to effectively manage these energy spikes, as it can cost a significant amount of money to recover from the resultant downtime or hardware damage. Across the continent, DEHN AFRICA’s expertise provides surge protection for data centres, against various potential causes.
Julienne Puttkammer, who is part of the Technical Team at DEHN AFRICA, the local subsidiary of DEHN, a globally active electrotechnical company offering comprehensive services, products and solutions in the field of surge protection, lightning protection and safety equipment, says there are two main types of risk when it comes to data centres and electrical power surges. He clarifies, “The leading causes of power surges when it comes to data centres are: lightning strikes, both direct and indirect hits; and switching surges, which can be internal, potentially caused by the switching of a cooling system’s inductive load or possibly generator switching over from utility supplier, or external, coming in 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 power supply, power surges could most commonly be caused by lightning strikes, while in areas with an unstable supply we could see the most frequent cause being from 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 you are in a lightning-prone area, and the stability of your power grid.”
Puttkammer says that because there can be catastrophic consequences for a direct lightning hit, it is common, in DEHN AFRICA’s experience, for data centre designers to opt for lightning protection installation, regardless of whether the normal risk procedure requires it or not. He notes, “Data centres contain sensitive operations, for which all kinds of back-up power need to be implemented to secure a constant stream of power, and no down-time. Even within the data centre itself, we can find on and off
switching, for example the cooling system can cause switching surges, which are also a danger to the electronics. On and off switching is the main cause of non-lightning related surges.”
Puttkammer says the main challenges in implementing surge protection measures involve coordinating how to implement all the aspects of lightning and surge protection 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, to have all the components optimised. We need to think about issues such as cable routing or embedding bonding conductors in concrete – these need to be very well coordinated from the beginning of the planning and construction phases,” he explains.
“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 most cases. And while it is not impossible to still have a very good system installed 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 projects.”
With regards to DEHN's products and solutions for data centres and surge protection, Puttkammer reiterates that it all starts with the 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, 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.”
Puttkammer notes some unique challenges for data centre surge protection in Africa. “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. DEHN is seen as a lightning specialist, and so we start with the lightning protection side, but as it’s 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 here when we are not having to deal with load shedding issues,” he concludes.