The Truth Behind Harnessing the Power of Lightning

In the woes of our perpetual energy crisis, have you ever been in the middle of a thunderstorm and thought why not just capture lightning? That’s a lot of power right there.

The idea first struck me (no pun intended) when I was watching the 2007 fantasy film Stardust. If you’re unfamiliar, there’s a scene in the movie where flying ships are soaring through the sky collecting lightning. The captured bolts are then sold off for money. I for one was taken by the idea.

When I did an initial search on the idea, the first fact I stumbled on was that one bolt of lightning could toast 100,000 pieces of bread. I thought that’s great. I mean, who doesn’t love toast?

Of course, as with most research, a deeper dive into the subject produced less desirable results.

According to an article from Real Clear Science, there are 1.5 billion lightning bolts flashing in our atmosphere each year. Only a fourth of those will ever touch ground. Each spark going from cloud to ground contains roughly 1 billion Joules of energy. MIT professor James Kirtley places estimates closer to 1 million Joules for the average strike, but let us just say 1 billion is the correct number. Given that the typical American household consumes 41 billion Joules of energy a year, and there are 114 million households in the U.S., then there is a required 4.72 x 10^18 Joules each year. If we were to somehow capture every one of those 1.5 billion bolts without any loss of the 1 billion Joules they contain, we would have harnessed 4.0 x 10^17 Joules of energy.

All those big, round numbers have one conclusion: if we managed to can every lightning bolt —> Read More