- Written by Tim Griffiths
We spend as little as a few dollars for some technology however with some premium items costing many thousands of your hard earned cash it is sometimes surprising that we take little effort to protect that investment. In the last 20 to 30 years the Information Age has taken the world by storm, revolutionising the way we live our lives and interact with virtually everything in our environment. Australians over this period have shown to be amongst the fastest to adapt to the new technologies. We currently lead the world in the uptake of smartphones for example, outstripping mobile phone users in Europe and the US. We know from our own experience in the Dubbo region that there is a computer of some sorts in every house you drive by. This of course is largely due to the fact that we are relatively well off as a society and can afford the purchase of these devices. Ok that’s great! We like technology and we buy it because we are able to. Now we have such expensive pieces of, let’s face it, delicate hardware. Many of us do not protect our devices from power surges or switching and lightning strikes but there are solutions and they are relatively inexpensive.
In Australia the domestic main power supply is 230V +10%, -6% whilst devices such as computers, televisions, mobile devices and other home entertainment gear are most vulnerable to failure after a power outage because they operate at low voltages. A desktop PC for example operates at voltages typically from 5V-12V DC. The mains power is converted and supplied through the PC power supply, this is also generally the 1st item that fails during a surge. RAM or Random Access memory is usually the next to go followed by various other componentry but the most devastating loss is usually when a surge obliterates all the data on a hard drive. This can be particularly distressing if you have no recent backups for your documents, photos and movies.
Voltage spikes from lightning can occur when lightning strikes the power network or the ground nearby. Lightning is the main cause of storm-related voltage spikes, however strong winds and debris can cause overhead conductors to clash or to contact trees which can also generate voltage anomalies. Being the Western Plains, we usually see many splendid electrical storms particularly in Summer. This is great for dry season rains but not so hot for sensitive, unprotected electrical gear.
When you connect or disconnect the mains power supply then, because of the nature of the power supply circuit, there can be an over-voltage surge. So if there is a power supply brown-out or black-out this can cause a disconnection event. As the issue is rectified the power is switched back on hence causing a connection event. Other examples can be tree branches falling across power wires, wildlife coming in contact with equipment, bushfires, motor vehicle accidents or vandalism.
The simplest way to protect your device is to unplug it from the wall. A word of warning here! Consider what you unplug, yes surges travel through power lines but lightning can also strike TV antennas and satellite dishes as well as phone lines. Let us look at what is out the on the market to assist with this problem. You can contact your local licenced electrical contractor to advise and install the necessary equipment for you. Alternatively you can purchase a variety of power supplies, power boards and circuit protectors that you can install yourself and simply plug your devices into the surge protector. Be aware that your normal power board with a circuit breaker switch is generally not going to do the trick. Most of them may pop happily during a surge long after the same surge has sent your equipment’s innards to oblivion. Fast acting intervention is required! These surge protectors usually come with a description that indicate they are suitable to protect sensitive electronic gear and most offer a guarantee of tens of thousands dollars if their protector fails to do its job. There are many brands out there and available in local electrical stores and online. Some of the better known brands available locally are Belkin, Arlec, HPM, Monster and PowerTech.
In New South Wales the power poles and wires provider is Essential Energy and they have this to say about who takes responsibility for damage to your gear:
“Most disturbances on the supply system cannot be easily or practically reduced to levels which do not affect sensitive equipment. It is the customer’s responsibility to provide the required level of protection for their equipment, taking into account the consequences of disruption or damage to this equipment.”
Essentially (sorry bad pun) it is up to you to ensure your investment in technology is protected. The cost can be from $15 to $300 and when you can be talking about thousands of dollars of electrical gear, it really is a form of cheap insurance.