The importance of surge and lightning protection for the SOHO

Unstable power and voltage fluctuations are a common occurrence in South Africa.

March 14, 2014

By Elrica Quick, APC Specialist at Drive Control Corporation

Unstable power and voltage fluctuations are a common occurrence in South Africa, and with the summer season now in full swing, lightning strikes are increasingly frequent in certain areas. Power surges and dips, as well as the massive voltage fluctuations caused by lightning, can damage sensitive equipment and can cause data loss or corruption on computers, servers and storage devices. This leads to lost productivity and costs money to replace and repair equipment. While large organisations typically have full surge protection solutions in place to safeguard against this damage, the Small Office Home Office (SOHO) market tends to overlook this and regards it as an unnecessary expense. However, the cost of surge protection is minimal compared to the cost of failed or damaged equipment, and is a small price to pay to ensure both equipment and data are protected.

The effects of unstable power, including voltage surges and dips as well as lightning strikes, can negatively impact a variety of electronic devices. In fact, voltage problems can potentially damage any equipment that uses electricity, from computers and printers to phone and data lines, and even fridges, microwaves and other miscellaneous equipment. Lightning strikes have the potential to completely ‘blow’ equipment due to the massive surge in voltage they can cause. In addition, small dips and surges, common in South Africa’s unstable power environment, can degrade equipment over time, shortening its lifespan and causing damage and premature failure.

While some of this equipment has no particular impact on productivity and business, it all costs money to repair or replace, and is an unforeseen expense in many instances. In addition, there is also a significant inconvenience factor involved, and should insurance claims need to be submitted, weeks can elapse before product replacements or funding is delivered. Protecting electronic equipment from power and voltage fluctuations is therefore essential for the SOHO market.

While the majority of users in South Africa are aware of the problems with power fluctuations, there is a misconception that a simple surge protection plug is sufficient. These plugs do provide some level of protection, with a single surge protect at the plug. However, as soon as lightning hits this equipment, the fuse will blow, and the plug must be replaced if it is to continue to provide protection. These plugs also only provide protection for equipment that is plugged into them, which means that phone and data lines are still vulnerable, and do not protect against long term, on-going power dips and surges. A Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) can also assist with providing protection, but in the SOHO market these are typically only connected to servers, and do not provide protection for desktops and other electronic equipment.

Effective surge protection solutions are available for a wide range of equipment, providing layers of protection to minimise damage. These include multi-plug strips that feature surge protection at the outlet as well as at each plug point on the strip. These ensure that only on the third surge or lightning strike will the dangerous power voltage reach any item of equipment. For data and telephone lines, specialised surge protection equipment is available, and automatic voltage regulators can be added to protect equipment from both dips and spikes. In addition, multi-function surge protection, with plugs as well as phone line sockets, and notebook surge protectors for AC, phone and network lines, provide protection for multiple devices on a single piece of equipment. When purchasing these solutions from a reputable supplier, they are not only cost effective, but often offer a lifetime warranty. The warranty will allow the user to replace the item at no cost should lightning strike and blow the fuse in the protective equipment.

When it comes to protecting sensitive equipment, as well as data and other electronic devices, from the dangers of unstable power, a multi-layered solution is most effective. A combination of a UPS for servers, along with specialised surge protection for plugs, notebooks, data and phone lines, is the most effective. However, users must examine their needs and the setup of their office, and seek the assistance of power solution experts, in order to design the most effective and cost-effective solution for their business.