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FPL researchers helping ensure lightning’s effects are gone in a flash

A team of engineers at Florida Power & Light Company works diligently to protect the electric grid from one very persistent and potentially destructive foe: lightning.

Florida sustains more lightning strikes than any other state in the U.S., and more than almost any country, too (second only to Rwanda, the world’s lightning capital). Within FPL’s 35-county service territory, there are approximately 250,000 lightning strikes each year. That “striking” distinction puts Florida’s electric infrastructure under siege. When a lightning bolt hits electrical equipment, it can cause power outages and flickers.

At a high-voltage “Lightning Lab” within FPL’s Reliability Assurance Center in Riviera Beach, Fla., engineers test equipment and research ways to reduce lightning’s impact on the grid, ultimately helping to reduce the number and duration of power outages. The engineering team tests the performance of its own equipment and insulators in the lab by zapping them with up to 2 million volts of electricity. Experimenting with simulated lightning allows the team to gather detailed data about the effects of lightning on FPL equipment and helps it discover ways to prevent future lightning-related problems.

“This is the one center to handle product evaluation, forensic and application research needs,” said FPL Reliability Assurance Center Manager John Fischer. “It is a hub where experts can do hands-on analysis and subject matter experts can quickly get analytic capabilities. During my 40 years at FPL as an engineer, I’ve used this lab many times on complex issues and would not have been able to find solutions without the range of advanced possibilities here.”

Since 1997, FPL has reduced the number of service interruptions for its customers by 15 percent.

FPL is the only one of the 55 utilities in the state to have a research lab to simulate lightning and its potential impact in this manner. Fischer says this is one of the ways FPL is able to provide its customers with reliable service the lowest bill in the state.

“The lightning lab, the entire Reliability Assurance Center and the talented engineers and experts who work here are definitely a benefit to our customers both in ensuring reliable service and keeping costs down,” Fischer said.

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