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THE EARLY STREAMER EMISSION PRINCIPLE DOES NOT WORK UNDER NATURAL
LIGHTNING !!

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Marley Becerra Vernon Cooray


KTH Royal Institute of Technology Uppsala University
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IX International Symposium on
Lightning Protection
th th
26 -30 November 2007 – Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil

THE EARLY STREAMER EMISSION PRINCIPLE DOES NOT WORK


UNDER NATURAL LIGHTNING !!

Marley Becerra Vernon Cooray


Division of Electricity and Lightning Research, Uppsala University, Sweden
marley.becerra@angstrom.uu.se vernon.cooray@angstrom.uu.se
The Ångström Laboratory, Box 534, SE 751 21, Uppsala, Sweden

Abstract - An appropriate evaluation of the efficiency of air extrapolation is that the switching electric fields applied in
terminals is a key factor for the discussion of the claimed laboratory “fairly approximates” the electric fields
advantages of the Early Streamer Emission devices ESE produced by the descent of a negative downward moving
compared to the conventional Franklin rods. In order to leader [2-4].
discuss the physical basis and validity of the ESE claim, a
self-consistent physical model is used to simulate the
Consequently, the ESE devices are equipped with a
performance of an air terminal under laboratory and under discharge triggering device to increase the probability of
natural lightning conditions. It is theoretically shown that streamer initiation upon the approach of the downward
the early initiation of streamers can indeed lead to the sooner leader. This supposedly would enhance the efficiency of
initiation of a self-propagating positive leader in a laboratory lightning attraction and therefore extend the area of
long air gap under switching voltages. However, this is not protection above that of a conventional Franklin rod.
the case for positive leaders initiated from the same terminal However, the discussion of the efficiency of such air
under the influence of the electric field produced by the terminals has been subject of much controversy. This is
descent of a downward moving lightning leaders. The time because the conditions in the laboratory experiments are
evolution of the leader development under natural conditions
is different to the case in laboratory, where the leader
apparently not the same as in the case of natural lightning,
inception condition is closely dependant upon the streamer particularly in terms of dimensions [5, 6]. Even though the
inititation. This is mainly because of the differences in the best way to evaluate the efficiency of air terminals is to
time variation of the electric field applied in laboratory and test them under natural conditions, there are several
that produced by the approach of the downward leader. practical limitations that make difficult to gather
Therefore, it is found that the claimed similarity between the conclusive experimental evidence from such tests. Thus,
switching electric fields applied in laboratory and the electric there is a lack of scientific and technical bases either to
field produced by the descent of a negative downward leader, reject or to accept these devices [6].
used in the literature to extrapolate the early streamer
Due to the fact that all the ESE devices have the
emission principle to natural lightning, is not true.
common characteristic that they enhance ionization of the
air in the immediate vicinity of the terminal, a major
1 INTRODUCTION question that need to be solved is how this additional
ionization acts to enhance the upward leader initiation [6].
Since the very moment when the use of air terminals was This question has to be answered based on the time lag to
proposed by Franklin [1], the efficiency of sharp and blunt leader inititiation and electrical breakdown in laboratory
rods to attract lightning flashes has remained open to and the time span between the streamer initiation and the
question. With time, new different kinds of air terminals connection between the downward and the upward leaders
have been introduced in the market, including the Early in natural lightning. Given the existing doubts about the
Streamer Emission devices ESE [2-6]. The manufacturers validity and proper interpretation of results of laboratory
of these devices claim that their terminals have a larger experiments regarding the efficiency of ESE devices, the
lightning protection zone than the one offered by a theoretical simulation of electrical discharges both in
conventional Franklin rod. These claims are based on the laboratory and in natural lightning is one of the best
fact that an earlier initiation of streamers in a laboratory available tools for this purpose. Unfortunately, the
air gap under switching voltages leads to the reduction of problem of time variation of the electrical discharge and
the leader inititation time and therefore to a shorter time to the statistical time lags have been avoided in existing
breakdown. Since the breakdown in laboratory air gaps is computer numerical models of discharges [6].
usually associated with the attachment of the upward and In this paper, a recently proposed physical model for
downward leaders in lightning, this results has been the evaluation of the inception and propagation of leader
extended to the natural case. The main assumption of this discharges has been used to study the above presented
question. Hence, the initiation and development of positive
leaders considering the time variation of the electric fields
applied in laboratory and those produced by the descent of
the downward leader are simulated. Since this model also
takes into consideration the space charge created by
streamers and aborted leaders, the influence of the streamer
initiation condition on the leader development is evaluated in
this paper. In this way, the physical characteristis of
positive leaders in laboratory and in lightning are
compared.

2 THE MODEL

The development of a positive leader discharge from


an air terminal under laboratory and natural lightning
conditions is simulated with the model described in [7, 8]. Fig. 1. Critical volume for streamer inception of the
This model predicts the initiation and propagation of considered rod, when 0.5MV (dot-dash line) and 0.8MV
positive leaders considering time variations of the existing (dashed lines) are applied to the upper plane. The red lines
correspond to the electric field lines.
background electric field as well as the space charge
created by streamers and aborted leaders. Thus, the main
Since details about the geometry of the tested Franklin rod
physical parameters of the leaders, namely the charge per
are not reported in [2-4], a hemispherically capped rod
unit length, potential gradient, channel radius, injected
with radius of 0.015 m is analysed. For the simulation of
current and propagation velocity, are self-consistently
the leader development in laboratory, a switching voltage
computed.
impulse waveform with 3.2 MV peak value and 350 µs
The model used in this paper has been successfully
risetime is chosen to roughly reproduce the conditions
applied to estimate the unstable and stable leader
reported in [2-4].
inception times [7] as well as the times to breakdown [8]
Figure 1 shows the simulated streak image of a
in laboratory long gaps under switching impulses. In
positive leader propagating in the gap under a switching
addition, its predictions regarding upward connecting
voltage impulse. In order to consider the statistical time
lightning leaders have been validated with the results of an
lag for streamer inception and its effect on the time to
altitude rocket triggered lightning experiment [9]. A good
breakdown, two extreme cases for the streamer inception
agreement between the results of the model and the
times are simulated. The lower extreme (Fig. 1.a)
measured upward leader current, the upward initiation
correspond to the minimum possible streamer inception
time and the interception point between both leaders was
found in [7, 8]. time ti(min) given by the streamer inception criterion [13].
In order to take into account the effect of the statistical The upper limit (Fig. 1.b) is the probabilistic maximum
variation of the streamer initiation time on the streamer inception time ti(max) where the probability to
development of positive leaders, the probability density produce an electron to initiate the streamer is close to one
pi(t) for streamer inception is evaluated as in [11, 12]. t max
Figure 1 shows the volume around the rod tip in which the pi (t ) ⋅ dt ≈ 1 . Thus, the streamer inception times for the
production of an electron leads to corona at two different 0
applied voltages. Due to the fact that the rate of electron considered air terminal range between those limits
production in the critical volume changes with humidity according to the probability distribution function pi(t)
[13], lower values than the ones reported in [12] are used shown in Figure 1. a. It is found that the the unstable and
in this paper in order to consider an extreme case with stable leader inception times t1’ and t1, as well as the time
high humidity. to breakdown tB, decrease when the streamer inception
takes place earlier (Fig. 1). The unstable leader inception
corresponds to the moment when the stem of the produced
3 EARLY STREAMER EMISSION IN streamer burst is thermalized and the first leader segment
LABORATORY is created. The stable leader inception condition is given
by the moment when the continuous propagation of the
In order to simulate the conditions under which the early newly created leader is self-maintained by the existing
streamer principle was discovered, an electrode electric field. Thus, if a streamer is “triggered” earlier by
configuration similar to the one used in [2-4] to compare a either lowering the minimum streamer inception time or
conventional Franklin rod and an ESE device is by narrowing the streamer inception probability
considered. It consists of a grounded air terminal 3.5 m distribution function, a reduction of the leader inception
tall and a plane at height 13 m above the ground plane. and breakdown times is obtained.
Fig. 2. Simulated streak image of the leader propagation under a
switching voltage impulse for different streamer inception times: Fig. 3. Streak image of the leader propagation in laboratory,
a) the minimum possible streamer inception time, b) the adapted from [2] for a) an ESE device and b) a conventional
probabilistic maximum streamer inception time Franklin rod. The time scale was estimated from the current
waveforms reported in [2] and the dotted lines show the
The reduction of the time to breakdown obtained by estimated position of the leader tip.
triggering an early streamer agrees with the time-to-
breakdown probability distributions of a conventional Regarding the ESE device, it is interesting to observe in
Franklin rod and an ESE device obtained by Berger [4]. In Fig. 3 that the leader corona from the Franklin rod extends
the same manner, the predicted improvement of the leader further than in the case of the ESE device [14]. For the
inception time in laboratory air gaps under switching same leader length, the corona zone in front of the leader
electric fields by reducing the streamer initiation time, tip is longer for the Franklin rod than for the ESE
agrees with the streak images shown in [4]. It was terminal. This difference could be produced by the
observed in the laboratory that the leaders initiated from presence of the triggering circuit in the ESE device or by
an ESE device “starts very early, well under the inception differences in the applied voltage in both cases shown in
times of the Franklin rod leader” [2]. This fact was found Fig. 3. Due to the lack of information about the internal
based on streak images of positive leaders initiated from circuit of the ESE terminal used in [4], the authors did not
an ESE device and from a conventional Franklin rod, as intend to exactly simulate the leader development from
the one shown in Fig. 3. However, the evaluation of the such device. Nonetheless, similar leader characteristics as
leader initiation time in laboratory experiments has to be the ones predicted in Fig. 2 can be expected from the ESE
carefully analysed [14]. For instance, observe that the device, given the fact that only a low voltage (up to 15
initiation of the leader from the Franklin rod (Fig. 3.b) kV) is applied to the ESE terminal tip by the triggering
does not take place at the moment when the leader unit used in [2-4].
propagation looks continuous (at about 300 µs). Even
though the discharge in the Franklin rod looks like 4 POSITIVE LEADERS UNDER LIGHTNING
intermittent bursts of discharge growth during the initial ELECTRIC FIELDS
stage [14], the leader has already started its continuous
propagation. This is because laboratory leaders under long As it was observed in the previous section, the triggering
time to crest have been observed to grow continuously in of an early emitted streamer from an air terminal in the
length despite of several steps in charge and light laboratory under swiching voltages can lead to the
emission [12], as in Fig. 3.b. reduction of the time to leader initiation and to
Unfortunately it is not possible to make direct breakdown. However, this result has been extrapolated to
comparison between our predictions (Fig. 2) and the the natural conditions of lightning [2-4], arguing that the
streak image of the Franklin rod studied in [2-4] (Fig. leaders in laboratory resemble the upward connecting
3.b). This is because the simulated case does not exactly lightning leaders. Hence, this reduction on the leader
corresponds to the experimental conditions in [2-4], since inception time in the laboratory under switching
neither the geometry of the rod or the voltage waveform waveforms is assumed to be reflected on an early
were reported. However, note that some features of the initiation of upward connecting leaders when the terminal
leader propagation in the Franklin rod are consistent with is exposed to downward lightning leaders. The main
our predictions, although the steps in light observed in the assumption considered in this claim is that the applied
experiment cannot be predicted by the model. electric field “fairly approximates” the rising electric field
produced by the downward moving leader [2, 4].
In order to evaluate if the switching electric fields applied
in laboratory reproduce a leader propagating under natural
conditions, the simulations are repeated considering the
electric field produced by the descent of a downward
moving leader. For the analysis, a straight negative
downward leader channel descending with an average
velocity Vdown of 2 x 105 m s-1 directly overhead the
terminal is considered. The charge density of the
downward leader channel is computed a function of the
Fig. 4. Comparison between the laboratory switching electric
prospective return stroke peak current according to field and the electric field produced by the descent of a
Cooray et al. [10]. Figure 4 shows the comparison downward leader with different prospective return stroke
between the switching electric field applied in laboratory current.
and the electric fields produced by downward leaders with
different prospective return stroke currents. As suggested
in [4], the waveforms are aligned in time such that the
natural and simulated electric fields coincide at the
moment where ionization processes at the tip of the
terminal take place.
The simulated streak images of the leaders
propagating in the studied laboratory air gap, under
background electric fields corresponding to the approach
of a downward leader with prospective return stroke
current of 3, 5 and 10 kA (Fig. 4), are shown in Fig. 5.
Note that the predicted propagation of the leader under the
lightning electric fields have some different features
compared with the leaders under a switching waveform
(Fig. 2).
In first place, note that the leader length in the
laboratory is shorter under lightning electric fields than
for the “equivalent” switching waveform. The leader
length under the electric field produced by a downward
leader with prospective return stroke current of 5 kA (Fig.
5.b) is about 1 m long at the moment of the final jump,
while the leader for the “equivalent” switching waveform Fig. 5. Simulated streak images of leaders under the electric
in Figure 2.b is three times longer. Secondly, the unstable field produced by the descent of a downward leader with
leader inception time ti’ under lightning electric fields different prospective return stroke current a) 3 kA, b) 5 kA, c)
takes place a long time after the inception of the first 10 kA
streamer ti (ti’- ti is about 120 µs, 200 µs and 350 µs for
prospective return stroke currents of 3, 5 and 10 kA These basic differences are mainly caused by the
respectively) compared with the switching case (ti’- ti is differences in the rate of change of the switching impulses
only about 25 µs in Fig. 2.b). Moreover, more than one and the lightning electric fields (Fig. 4). After the streamer
streamer burst can be produced before the initiation of the inception time ti, the lightning electric fields increase
bridging leader under lightning electric fields. Thirdly, slowly, making the dark period (time where no streamers
the time difference between breakdown tB and stable are produced) longer in comparison with the switching
leader inception t1 in the gap is significantly shorter when case. This dark period ends when the applied electric field
lightning-like electric fields are applied (Fig. 5) than when is high enough to restore the electric field at the tip of the
laboratory switching electric fields are used (Fig. 2). In rod, which is shielded by the space charge injected by the
the former case, the time span tB- t1 is shorter than 40 µs first streamer. After the dark period, a new streamer is
for the three prospective return stroke currents considered produced. Nevertheless, an aborted streamer/leader burst
in this paper, while in the latter case this time spam takes can be produced if the lightning electric field is still
more than 150 µs. changing slowly (Fig. 5.b and 5.c) as to compensate the
voltage drop at the tip of the newly created leader
segment. Otherwise, a continuously leader is incepted.
After the initiation of the self-propagating leader, the
lightning electric fields derivative continues increasing
quickly, enlarging the extension of the streamer corona at
the tip of the leader channel. Since the streamer corona
zone is continously increasing, the breakdown of the gap In the same way, the streamer emission principle does not
tB takes place soon after the leader inception. Hence, the produce any improvement in the stable leader inception
time for the propagation of the leader is shorter, and the time when the air terminal is exposed to the direct
gap is bridged by the streamers even if the leader channel influence of a downward moving leader. Figure 7 shows
is not long. our predictions of the development of an upward positive
Thus, it can be clearly seen by comparing the results of leader connecting a downward moving negative leader
Figs. 2 and 5 that switching voltage waveforms DO NOT with prospective return stroke current of 10 kA. Similar
“fairly approximate” the electric fields produced by the features of the leader initiation and propagation as the
descent of a downward leader, as claimed in [2-4]. Due to ones discussed for lightning-like electric fields are
the fact that the rate of increase of the lightning electric obtained. Also, there is not any change in the time tfj or in
fields changes from slow to fast, while the switching the length of the upward leader at the moment of the
electric field derivative changes from fast to slow (Fig. 4), interception of the downward leader when a streamer is
the development of leaders from air terminals under both initiated earlier. In this case, the connection of both
conditions is different. Moreover, the early streamer leaders takes place at the same instant regardless the time
principle does not apply for the case of lightning of inception of the first streamer, even if the time
waveforms in laboratory either. Figure 6 shows the difference of the streamer inception times evaluated in
simulated streak image of a positive leader propagating in Fig. 7 is about 300 µs.
the laboratory air gap under lightning-like electric fields, Therefore, the results presented in this section clearly
considering the statistical streamer inception time. A show that the early streamer principle DOES NOT work
downward leader with a prospective return stroke current under lightning conditions. Even though the early
is used in this case. Observe that despite of the fact that streamer principle applies for leaders propagating in the
the probability to produce an electron to initiate the laboratory under switching waveforms, it does not
streamer from the terminal extends up to about 180 µs, the influence leaders propagating under the electric fields
time to breakdown tB is not affected by the streamer produced by the descent of a downward moving leader.
inception time ti. In other words, there is not any change at Thus, the early emission of streamers from air terminals
all in the time to breakdown in this case even if a streamer DOES NOT lead to longer upward leaders at the moment
is triggered earlier, contrary to the case of a leader of the attachment of the downward leader and
propagating under a switching voltage waveform. Thus, if consequently to longer lightning protection zones.
an early streamer is triggered from an air terminal under
lightning-like electric fields in laboratory (Fig. 6.a),
further bursts of aborted streamers and leaders are
produced, but there is not any significant change in the
stable leader inception time t1 compared with the case of a
late streamer (Fig. 6.b).

Fig. 7. Simulated streak image of the leader propagation under


the electric field produced by a downward leader with
prospective return stroke current of 10 kA for different streamer
inception times: a) the minimum possible streamer inception
Fig. 6. Simulated streak image of the leader propagation in the time, b) the probabilistic maximum streamer inception time
laboratory under the electric field produced by a downward
leader with prospective return stroke current of 5 kA for
different streamer inception times: a) the minimum possible
streamer inception time, b) the probabilistic maximum streamer
inception time
4 CONCLUSION Symposium on Electrical Insulation, Montreal, Canada,
1996, pp. 308-311.
From the results of the simulations presented in this paper [4] G. Berger. “Determination of the inception electric fields of
it can be concluded that an early streamer triggered from the lightning upward leader”, Proceedings of the Int. Symp.
High Voltage Engineering ISH, Yokoyama, Japan, 1993,
an air terminal tested under a switching impulse waveform
pp. 225-229.
leads to the quicker initiation of the leader, and [5] J. C. Willet, D. A. Davis, P. Laroche, “An experimental
consequently to a shorter time to breakdown. However, study of positive leaders initiating rocket-triggered
this early emission principle does not apply for air lightning”, Atmos. Res. 51, 1999, pp. 189–219
terminals under lightning conditions. Due to the fact that [6] R. J. Van Brunt, T. L. Nelson, K. L. Stricklett, ”Early
the rate of increase of the lightning electric fields changes streamer emission lightning protection systems: An
from slow to fast, while the switching electric field overview” IEEE Electrical Insulation Magazine, Vol. 16,
derivative changes from fast to slow, the development of No. 1, 2000, pp. 5-24.
leaders from air terminals under both conditions is [7] M. Becerra, V. Cooray, “Time dependent evaluation of the
lightning upward connecting leader inception”, J. Phys. D:
different. Thus, the length of the upward connecting
Appl. Phys., 39, 2006, pp. 4695–4702.
leader at the moment of attachment of the downward [8] M. Becerra, V. Cooray, “A self-consistent upward leader
leader is not affected by the time of initiation of the first propagation model”, J. Phys. D: Appl. Phys. 39, 2006, pp.
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that the claimed enlarged lightning protection area of ESE properties determined with triggered lightning techniques”,
devices is physically not plausible. At best, the ESE J. Geophys. Res. 103, 1998, pp. 14109–15
terminals perform similar to a conventional Franklin rod. [10] Cooray V and Rakov V and Theethayi N, “The striking
distance revisited”, J. Electrostatics,
[11] Les Renardiéres Group, “Research on long air gap
discharges at Les Renardieres”, Electra 23, 1972, 53–157.
[12] Les Renardiéres Group, “Research on long air gap
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