In Identifying the Source of a Power Surge, forensic failure analysis expert witness Mamoon Alyah, P.E., answers the question “Is it possible to differentiate between lightning related surges and artificially generated electrical surges?”
Lightning-related surge has a significantly larger amount of energy (magnitude) compared to artificially generated surges. Despite the greater amount of energy, lightning lasts for a very short period of time (duration) when compared to many types of artificially generated surges. As a result, differences in magnitude and duration lead to different signs of damage.
Damage caused by lightning tends to be catastrophic and localized, while damage caused by artificially generated surges is less severe but more widespread. Due to these differences, the nature and extent of damage sustained by a piece of equipment could indicate the source of a power surge.
Typically, when components show signs of prolonged overheating (melting, discoloration, widespread smoke contamination), an artificial power surge becomes the primary suspect of the equipment failure.