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Lightning Myths: Lightning could be used as a power source.

By DAN ROBINSON
Storm Chaser/Photographer
25 Years of Storm Chasing
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TRUTH: Although a lightning strike involves tremendous levels of voltage and current, the extremely short duration of the stroke results in very little usable energy, if there was a way to capture it. And by its very nature, lightning is a sudden, violent release of energy that would destroy any device designed to attempt it.

You could compare this idea to building a water turbine generator downstream from a dam that was about to burst. Even if your turbine survived the violent rush of water, you'd only have a few seconds of usable electricity.

Furthermore, unless you're Marty McFly in a time machine, there is no way to predict exactly when and where lightning will strike. With tall towers and skyscrapers, you might be guaranteed 8 to 10 strikes a year, which won't result in enough captured energy to make it practical (assuming a storage device did exist).

And lastly, once a lightning discharge occurs, you've lost about half of the energy in the form of light, sound and radio waves. In other words, the lightning discharge itself is using up a big chunk of your available energy. To capture a strike's full available energy, you'd need to find a way to extract the charge in the cloud before the lightning strike can occur. Again, lightning is sort of like a dam bursting - a gargantuan, catastrophic failure of the insulating 'dam' of air between the cloud and ground. Just like a hydroelectric plant can generate electricity from the potential energy in a reservior by slowly tapping the available energy, the same principle would have to be applied to the charged cloud. Rather than waiting for the 'dam' of air to burst in the form of a lightning strike, it would be better to slowly tap and store the available charge in a controlled fashion.

25 Years of Storm Chasing
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