Vulnerability of Electronic Devices to Atmospheric Charging


We are all surrounded by electronic devices like light sources, TVs, fridges, music systems, computers, laptops, smart phones etc. for our daily use and our dependence on these devices is increasing day by day so we want these devices to be safe for our continuous use.  Safety and durability of these devices is always under threat from direct or indirect sources. Friction between clouds due to thunderstorms and lightening in the atmosphere giving rise to static electricity cause an electrical charge to build up in the atmosphere particularly on a rainy day.

From the electrical charge build up in the atmosphere user of the electronic system becomes charged with static electricity and inadvertently discharges the same into the open port which may charge the electronic device components. Thus, these charged electronic devices will be vulnerable towards short-circuiting and sparking when switched-on during or shortly after the rain. Recently, during stay at my homeland in Bilaspur (HP), on a rainy day when there was no electric power due to a failure in the nearby transformer, we took all the precautions to save our electronic devices from live or after effects of atmospheric charge not only by switching them off but also by unplugging them from the electric circuitry.

Fig: Atmospheric charging

However, when the electric power came back and we switched on power devices, all the tube-lights in our house were short-circuited and their chokes were burnt. I shared this happening with some people in my village and then they told me many such incidents about the burning of LEDs, TVs and fridges in other houses too.  For a common man such losses are great worries as they may happen frequently during rains and rains are regular features.

Failure of electronic components

Electronic components have a wide range of failure modes which can be classified in various ways, such as by time or cause. Failures can be caused by excess temperature, excess current or voltage, ionizing radiation, mechanical shock, stress or impact, and many other causes. In semiconductor devices, problems in the device package may cause failures due to contamination, mechanical stress of the device, or open or short circuits. Failures most commonly occur near the beginning and near the ending of the lifetime of the parts.

Electromagnetic pulse occurs in the form of a large burst of electromagnetic radiation

Fig : Atmospheric charging of electric circuitry

that has the potential to disrupt electricity, radio waves, magnetic fields, Wi-Fi, and most other forms of electric currents we use on a daily basis.  It is said that natural activities like solar storms, solar winds, electromagnetic radiations, atmospheric lightening have the capacity to bring all electric infrastructure of earth to a standstill within seconds of these activities taking place on a large scale.

However, there are some manufacturing limitations towards their long life and some precautions towards their operations & use but there are some always possible external causes like occurrence of high voltage in the mains and presence of atmospheric charge having threat towards the safety of electronic devices.  Running of high voltage in the mains from transformers to houses or from control panels into the wiring and to switches inside the houses is also due to many reasons and can also be controlled to a large extent.

Charging of open components of an electronic device directly or increase in the circuitry current from transformers (which are generally in the open air) due to atmospheric charge which may be present there during rain due to thunderstorms and lightening in the atmosphere may cause enough damage to valuable electronic devices in the houses.   This article discusses the vulnerability of electronic devices to atmospheric charge, their possible protection methods and some precautions.

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