Data Centers, Computer Servers and Safety Problems with Power Issues and Solutions

Understand the hazards and causes of arc flash events

Although safety is a top priority in data centers, arc flashes remain one of the most common and dangerous electrical events. (Photo: Rich Miller)

In this edition of Voices of the Industry, William Hinton, Director of Engineering for Applied Energy, describes some of the hazards and causes of arc flash events and how they can be avoided.


William Hinton, Director of Engineering, Applied Energy

This article is the first in a series of three articles describing the hazards associated with arc flashes, the real cause of most arc flash events, and solutions describing ways to prevent arc flashes from starting to make the electrical system as safe as possible.

Computerized data servers are sensitive to temperature changes, voltage changes, and voltage spikes. The switching power supplies of these servers are the source of most of the harmonics with which they have problems operating. These harmonics cause power transformers to operate well above their recommended rated operating temperature, which cuts their life in half for every 7 to 10 degrees above rated operating temperature and fails to shut down. your installations prematurely. Although safety is a top priority in these installations, arc flashes remain one of the most common and dangerous electrical events.

Conventional arc flash solutions are not acceptable

Today, mainstream opinion indicates that mitigation is the best option for an electrician when seeking to prevent an arc flash event. Commonly offered solutions include special garments and “quick-acting” relays whose purpose is to turn off the circuit breaker, which ideally would mitigate arc flash damage. These methods only take effect AFTER the start of the event.

Considering employee safety, this “quick fix” approach is not fast enough to guarantee results. Arc flash events must be prevented or eliminated instantly. This requires a device that will correct power quality issues without delay.

Electric arcs injure thousands of people a year and kill 1-2 people a day. The hazards are real and result in very costly liability and downtime that typically costs over $1 million per occurrence. Many small businesses are forced to close due to the cost of these events.

There are other lingering problems associated with electronic controls, power supplies, and drives: As microprocessors get faster and smaller, they operate at lower voltages. This makes them even more susceptible to power quality issues. 24 volt input modules, for example, report an OFF condition until the voltage at the input terminal exceeds 12.5 volts and report ON when the voltage reaches 13 volts or more.

Fluctuating voltages or voltages with voltage spikes may cause malfunction. “Wrong operation as a name means wrong operation.“A wrong operation can simply cause a delay in the signal or an open signal or a closed signal to signal the incorrect state of the input. Also, most semiconductor devices have PN junctions that are damaged by voltage spikes Typical voltage suppression schemes cannot ensure proper operation or protection of the thousands of junctions in the thousands of devices in most server installations.

The number of servers grows an average of 18% per year in good and bad economic times, and they are everywhere. They are found in cell phone installations, Ebay installations and all computer manufacturers have them. All factories have some level of computerized inventory control and record keeping of financial, shipping and receiving data. Yes, even casinos have data centers and servers. Google tells us that right now there are around 100 million servers that are currently in use around the world. Additionally, bitcoin miners are simply computers running specialized software, and they have the same power issues as servers.

The danger is real and there are many hazards associated with arc flash.

There is a high energy explosion that causes the ionized air to burn and expand thousands of times instantaneously. This causes a concussive wave of energy coupled with hot searing gases as well as vaporized copper which is deadly combined with the explosion itself which is over 30,000 degrees incinerating anything it comes in contact with. The concussive force of the expanding air can collapse your chest and prevent your lungs and heart from working. The hot blast melted plastic safety goggles down to the eyeballs, blinding people. These events will typically result in a lengthy investigation with downtime while waiting for replacement equipment to be purchased and installed.

William Hinton is Director of Engineering for Applied Energy. Learn more about arc flash events in the Arc Flash Test Lab Report.

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