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Lightning to electricity

Doug Houseman's picture
Visionary and innovator in the utility industry and grid modernization Burns & McDonnell

I have a broad background in utilities and energy. I worked for Capgemini in the Energy Practice for more than 15 years. During that time I rose to the position of CTO of the 12,000 person...

  • Member since 2017
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  • Jul 21, 2022
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A recent pop-science outlet podcast suggested that the world could be powered purely by lightning, and each building could capture enough energy from lightning to provide all the power you need.

Reality check –

Yes, there is 1 million joules in a lightning bolt or about ¼ of a kilowatt-hour.

Yes, there are 40 million lightning strikes per year in the US.

Yes, approximately 1 in 5 lightning bolts actually turn into strikes.
Given these numbers – the total energy in lightning in the US is about 55 gigawatt-hours.

The US uses over 4 million gigawatt hours.

So can lightning really power the US economy? 

Please look at the physics and math behind the claims before you repeat them!

Two other current memes that are running around:

1. We can beam power wirelessly to everyone, no transmission, no distribution systems required.

2. We can speed up electricity [change from 60 Hz to 6,000 Hz] and move 1,000 times the electricity across the existing grid.

The initial articles are both ideas have been roundly dismissed (with math and physics) but the pop-science people are reposting these ideas in less technical forums and gaining followers who what to believe this is true.

"True believers always win over physics, because they don't have to prove anything to the masses."

Doug Houseman's picture
Thank Doug for the Post!
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Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Jul 22, 2022

I believe you can capture lightning. You need very large super capacitors. The lightning is also very fast in the nano second area so you won't capture a lot of kilowatt hours. Maybe just a kWh. It could also be very risky. 

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