Mans’ desire to harness the power of the elements is never ending. We continue to have a degree of success with solar power, the wind blows and turns blades and is converted into energy and the tidal motion of the waves can be captured and used to power homes, the heat from the earth’s core can power steam turbines and even the kinetic energy of footsteps has been used to control the lights in London’s tube stations. But the one element that we can’t yet capture is perhaps the one that intrigues us the most.
Lightning captures our imaginations with its forks that light up the night’s sky as it bounces around on its way through the atmosphere. But is it really worth us investing any energy in trying to harness it?
Let’s look at the maths. A single bolt of lightning contains approximately 300 kilowatt hours of energy. That seems like quite a lot, but considering that an average Americanhome uses roughly 900 kWh a month, a single bolt therefore only provides a third of the energy required for one home. And with 115 million homes in the US alone we would need to capture 4 billion bolts a year just to make do.
And it’s capturing that random energy which is the problem. At present we have no accurate method of predicting where and when a lightning strike will occur. This makes it nigh-on impossible to move the capturing devices into place at fast enough to capture the energy and we’d need capturing devices such lightning rods, kites or lasers in every city to capture the small amount of energy available. It’s hardly worth the investment.
So maybe the best way of using the power of lightning is to simply switch off the lights and the television during the next storm and use it as your entertainment for the duration.