All of the technology in the world cannot make up for the lack of a simple metal rod. One of the services offered by Southwest Energy Systems, LLC is testing grounding at facilities. We have run into many cases that serve to highlight the importance of strong grounds in the overall performance of an electrical system. One business we worked with was losing hundreds of thousands of dollars due to malfunctioning equipment.
The company in question was a financial processing facility. The business invested in the best equipment, maintenance and security. The company was also experiencing erratic and unusual equipment failures. The manufacturers of the processing equipment were called in to investigate, but nothing was found to be wrong with the equipment itself. The electrical contractor was then called to the facility. Again, the power being supplied showed all indications of being correct, but the failures continued.
Southwest Energy Systems was finally called to investigate. We provided the initial ground test and acceptance testing for the facility. We keep all of the data we collect and we knew the original ground reference values which helped in testing grounding. Our experts went to the location with our testing equipment and the numbers did not add up. During the investigation, water damage was noticed near the main. At this point, we needed to find out what caused this damage and what additional problems might have occurred that were not obvious.
As part of the ground test, an engineer took a closer look at the connections in this section of the system. On reaching down to check a rod, the rod pulled easily from the ground. Ground rods in industrial applications should be anywhere from 8 to 12 feet in length. These pieces are driven into the earth with heavy power tools and do not simply lift out. In this particular case, the ground rod was less than one foot in length. It was also evident that it did not go into the ground that way.
The rod showed significant signs of corrosion — grounding rods are designed for the elements, they do not simply dissolve. We were now faced with the need for a detailed investigation into what caused this rod to fail, testing grounding. While driving a new rod would solve the facility’s problem, it would not provide a true repair.
Southwest Energy Systems began looking at the history behind the facility. We determined that the structure was built on land that had previously been used, decades earlier, as a farm equipment and chemical testing area. Over many years, these chemicals leached into the soil, contaminating it. The chemicals involved were not the type that anyone would expect to find and were clearly not acceptable for the installation of grounding rods.
The solution did require extensive soil removal and additional steps to ensure that new ground rods would not fail. This solution was still far less costly than constantly failing equipment and failed financial transactions. The lack of a true ground plane left the facility open to numerous problems, as there was no solid ground reference. What would function one day would fail the next.
The situations we encounter serve as a reminder that all portions of an electrical system must work together. Power entering a facility must have a complete circuit. A lightning strike must have a strong ground in order to dissipate the energy. If 100 amps leave a service panel, 100 amps must be returned and ground must be ground, not a few inches of a metal rod stuck in the soil.