So I was watching tonight’s program about lightning on The History Channel, hearing all these incredible statistics about how much energy is released in lightning strikes, and thinkin’, “What a friggin’ waste. We oughta be able to suck our power right out of the sky.”
Ok, so we can’t. It seems so unlikely, apparently, that the TV program never mentioned it as one potential outcome of lightning research. But I like to think big.
It seems that most of the technology exists. We can identify the appropriate atmospheric conditions under which lightning occurs. We can increase the odds of lightning hitting a given target in an area. There have been some crude but apparently successful attempts to deliberately trigger lightning, not just in the lab but out in the real world.
What’s lacking is the storage device, something that can handle the volume of input from a lightning strike without destruction. And it needs either break that power down into small enough “chunks” to be moved into the normal power grid, or somehow store it until needed.
My candidate device (after at least 5 minutes of deep thought) would be a large water supply that would act as a heat sink, water would be flashed into steam and contained. Have you seen those plug-in coils that you can get to heat a cup of coffee or tea? Something like that with the municipal water supply. And the steam runs a turbine, or maybe a huge flywheel. I’m sure it would be terribly inefficient, but with the power involved it wouldn’t need to be.
I’m always wrong when I post ideas like this, so I’m sure someone will come along and correct me. Be warned: your responses will likely generate more of my crackpot ideas.
I just don’t think it will be cost effective - unless you’re going to build it on Jupiter, where I understand storms are almost constant, your power station is going to be standing idle for a lot of the time, during which you need an alternate source of power.
Florida could make billions.
What would be really cool is if you could use a airship of some kind (presumably helium) to fly about collecting the energy and then flying to where it’s needed and selling it. Did I just pass into crackpotdom?
Lightning strikes the Earth on average 100 times per second. The typical lightning bolt carries 1 x 10[sup]12[/sup] joules of energy, thus giving 3.15 x 10[sup]21[/sup] joules per year. Total worldwide energy demand is estimated at about 3.3 x 10[sup]20[/sup] joules per year, so theoretically, assuming perfect effeciency, lightning alone could power the world ten times over. But overall, the idea would be impractical, since every square foot of surface area would need to be covered with lightning colletctors of some sort.
Well, why not cover a huge amount of land with lightining collection systems? How large of a wire would be needed to transfer that strike a few hundred miles? I figure if you covered say, 4 states worth of area (not literally coverd mind you, just have a collection rod every mile or so) and just have the energy zapped to your central processing plant?
I am so glad y’all are getting into the spirit of it.
Fern Forest, I like the blimp idea. If we had the right material for a conductive wire, the blimp could actually ride along with a storm and drag an antenna along from a ground collecting site. Maybe not, though, as the folk on the ground might might like a high tension wire periodically dragged across their land.
Thanks for the stats, QED. Even if the process is horrendously inefficient, you could theoretically get all or most electrical needs met by lightning.
A large body of water is the only candidate I can think of that could conceivably capture the energy of a big bolt. You heat the water. As a side benefit, you could design this as part of a water treatment plant, where the conversion from water to steam and back is part of a purification process.