Sparks Electrical News

Sparks Electrical News asked Richard Evert, national director of the Earthing and Lightning Protection Association (ELPA), for his take on challenges currently facing the earthing and lightning industry.

Can you tell us more about yourself and your role at ELPA?

Richard Evert from ELPARE: I have had the opportunity to rub shoulders with world-renowned lightning research scientists such as Ken Cummins, Vladimir Rakov, Gerhard Diendorfer and our own Ian Jandrell, to name a few good, diligent and generous men. In 28 years with Eskom, I was blessed with the opportunity to implement a power system lightning performance management strategy. Central to that strategy was a new lightning detection system, which is able to reliably, accurately and consistently report lightning at any part of the Eskom power system across South Africa.

In 2004, the South African Weather Service (SAWS) agreed to implement the proposed system and started commissioning in late 2005. The Southern African Lightning Detection Network (SALDN), owned and operated by SAWS, is now the South African reference of lightning risk, replacing the CSIR Ground Flash Density (GFD) tables of the 1980s.

The first full maps – 11 year keraunic cycle – showing national risk were officially released at the Earthing Africa 2017 symposium in Johannesburg in June 2017 in a joint submission by myself and SAWS.

In the 12 years from 2006 to 2018, Eskom built up a programme using this lightning data to identify high risk areas, track lightning and associate specific lightning discharges that were causing outages and plant damage. A good asset manager in a power utility applies sound power utility practices to minimise any threats to production. The lightning threat is managed via ‘insulation coordination’ – a simple and effective practice of diverting lightning away from critical assets in the production and delivery process. It is impossible to move away from the two key parts: Earthing and Transport.

As with all systems, implementation still requires the commitment of men and women to make it work. Over the past 10 years, my priority has been to empower the Eskom business through skills development, business revision of production losses, and unpacking performance to identify the key areas where maximum improvement can be realised within the constraints of existing resources and young apprentices with limited experience at all levels of the business.

The key is not to optimise automation to bypass the need for intelligent discretion. The key is to deliver tools that allow the technician, engineer and asset manager to exercise his/her talents intelligently, concentrating on the core processes of the business that have the most significant impact on company financial prosperity.

My role in ELPA is an extension of my development within Eskom and I see my 28 years in Eskom as an apprenticeship to the real work ahead, to bring an industry together: not only to forge effective mechanisms to save lives and protect assets in South Africa, but also to grow our industry to ensure that lives are protected at every level of our society. South Africa has always initiated measures to address our problems, and, as such, we are ideally positioned to grow with African countries with far higher lightning exposure, and help them achieve the same goals – saving lives and protecting property from lightning. ELPA is the culmination of South Africans calling for something better; achieving more with less; reaching more families, communities and industries across our society and making a difference; breaking the strongholds that hold us back from prosperity in a safe and vibrant economy. Bad decisions are made when good information is not available or has been purposely removed from consideration.


What challenges is the lightning protection industry currently facing?

RE: Confusing leadership and ignorance. In a country where lightning is so prevalent, opinions abound, folklore and traditions intertwine, truth gets blended with myth, and good principles get poorly executed, which lends credence to false philosophies. Safety gets jeopardised, poor designs fail to protect, desperate suppliers compromise on quality, over-priced materials and advice dissuade compliance, and poor articulation of standards and corporate bullying encourage ambiguous application of rulings. Ignorance is our enemy and arrogance its ally.


What are your plans to educate the general public on the dangers of lightning?

RE: The first objective must be to equip the messengers. Every electrician and electrical contractor is a messenger. Across the country you see and work with the general public. We cannot hope to reach the general public with a sustainable message if it runs only surface deep.

Legislation and regulations are artefacts of our intelligence and ambitions. Today, our ambition is to make them relevant, and to do that effectively, we must substantiate the reality with reliable statistics. Fatalities of any kind other than natural causes are unacceptable.

Death or injury by lightning through ignorance is not ‘death by natural causes’. We must build reliable records of fatalities in South Africa and then we need to reduce those deaths each and every year. Our role is to support the progressive elimination of unnecessary losses of life and property.

Dreams are the start of all ambitions. Architects realise dreams and lightning protection systems (LPS) can be moulded to minimise any deviation of those architectural dreams. Timeously considered, an LPS can be aesthetically incorporated. ELPA will align with South African national associations representing architects and engineers alike. Already we have started establishing who represents whom and when they gather. In storm season, we will review any and every medium to send out messages directly relevant to the target audience – people at risk to the threat of lightning.


Have your recent travels to the USA given you a fresh perspective on where you want ELPA to go in the future?

RE: Without a doubt, wisdom is required to determine when to change and when to hold fast with a sound endeavour through a difficult stage. Our original business model was based on a healthy South African business model, but the key criteria placed a financial burden on the individual installers and did not address the real issues of market compliance, saving lives and protecting property. Simply coordinating and regulating is not what South Africa needs.

The perspective gained from the USA experience was not simply ‘from the USA’ but from the largest lightning regulation body in the world, with the same fundamental expectations and carrying the same burden of expectation. In their case, the model evolved as a collective since 1936 with the United Lightning Protection Association (ULPA), and the launch of the Lightning Protection Institute (LPI) in 1955.

The LPI really became a catalyst in the US from 2004 through good leadership. Humility and placing the industry ahead of personal agendas is probably the most humbling perspective I walked away with. Competitors in the industry have put their differences aside for the good of the industry and together are able to reap the positive fruits of their labour.

In South Africa, we are taking the positives from the USA evolution and combining them with our own context. The fresh perspective has delivered a more effective business and financial model that was approved at our recent leadership meeting, which was made up of the ELPA Board, the ELPA NEC and major stakeholders in the lightning protection industry. This means that ELPA is changing, and the following are the most critical changes to note:

  1. ELPA membership moves from emphasis on the individual lightning protection professional to the companies that are responsible for delivering lightning protection solutions.
  2. Inspections will become compulsory and measured compliance non-negotiable.
  3. Certification is a measure of competence – this is not a change. However, a certification based on specific competence is required. Rather than a single certification level, ELPA will investigate and implement a multi-tiered certification commensurate with design compliancy and installation competency, with approved designs aligning with South African electrical competencies such as the master electrician.
  4. The funding model will drive inspection and certification costs down.
  5. Skills development will allow individuals to pursue a career in lightning protection at all levels, from tradesman to professional graduates, with opportunities across the board. ELPA will not provide training but will endeavour to build a collaborative environment across all education infrastructure to support this skills development. Skills development is a first requirement to competency and compliance.


What are ELPA’s other short-term goals?


• Implement the new business model.

• Maximise the message: ‘Compliance is what saves lives and protects property’.

• Establish a working certification framework that meets all requirements to successful lightning threat management:

• Cost-effective design compliance.

• Cost-effective lightning protection materials that do the job - dissipate lightning!

• Optimised professional installations.

• Honest and diligent inspections, with results reflecting safety in the industry.

• Maximise the message: ‘Are you in or out? Saving lives first or in it for the money?’

• Maximise the message: ‘ELPA builds the industry so that everybody wins’.

It must be understood that the only persons and companies that will not benefit from ELPA are those who are more concerned with ‘self’, and they will lose not only themselves but those around them. ELPA is not magical and cannot transform the industry without the industry. The industry is ELPA and ELPA is the industry. You are either in or out: the industry will speak and we must be listening and responding.


How are the current standards and guidelines causing confusion for contractors?

RE: Lightning protection systems are required based on the results of the ‘Lightning Risk Assessment’. A good lightning risk assessment quantifies ‘Does lightning threaten life and property?’ If yes, then the only question is: “How much lightning protection do I need?” Where the standards and guidelines do not demand the lightning risk assessment, they have lost their relevance to our industry. The method to quantify the lightning risk assessment may be too complicated or we have not yet found an optimal way to ‘say it like it is’. In principle, our standards and guidelines may be guilty of ‘talking too much and doing too little’.


Is there any other information you would like to share?

RE: ‘Rome was not built in a day,’ and competency did not start when ELPA was launched in June 2017. ELPA is simply the alignment of the industry to the goal of saving lives and protecting property. Every electrical contractor must strive to implement lightning safety compliance. It is the invisible killer and will kill if you ignore it. Statistically ‘one-in-a- million’ may sound like good odds until that one is you. The higher the ground flash density, the greater the chance that it will be you or somebody you care about.

When ELPA succeeds, the demand for good LPS is going to increase dramatically. We must gear for these demands or accept failure before we start. We must evolve to:

• Implement more cost-effective solutions.

• Provide more cost-effective materials.

• Eliminate useless solutions that cost money.

• Eliminate useless materials that cost money.


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