Bolt Outta the Blue... in Your Toaster?

Zeus hurled it. Dr. Frankenstein used it. The monster lived it. Eldritch ZAP of dreams and horror movies, it's even used to describe sudden inspiration -- like the rather hackneyed title of this post.

Lightning strikes the earth approx. 100 times every second, 8.64 million times a day, 259.2 million times a month, 3.1 billion times a year. (Note: Wikipedia has a lower figure.) And besides creating pretty light shows and some fairly complex chemistry, it's pretty much all going to waste.


Scary to some, would lightning scare you that much if you could harness and store its cumulative energy? The answer is NO. "Lightning Farms" could be installed places with high lightning potential, like Colorado Springs. Global weather changes should spawn whole orders of magnitude increases in lightning. If this blue-white dragon could be tamed, it could even spawn extra-planetary energy systems for astronauts and future colonists to other planets. We know other planets like Venus, Jupiter and Saturn have lightning -- in fact, Jupiter has epic lightning that must be truly amazing to behold.

Lightning just happens to repeatedly strike those developing parts of the earth that could use the energy the most.

If we could somehow harness lightning, we'd be getting about 30,000 amps of electricity for an average bolt, enough to make steam on a moderate scale and drive turbines. Bigger strikes have about 120,000 amps. Sure, that's not that much energy when compared to how much people use, but multiply by the total number of lightning strikes and you've got a potential for 93.3 trillion amps, or 1.6 trillion megajoules -- 1.6 x 10^18 joules. That's 1.6 sextillion joules, or... one exajoule.

Global energy usage today is about 550 exajoules per year. Yeah, read that again. We use 10X more energy today than we did a century ago.

Of course, Da-da makes this lightning-grab sound easy. Lightning is devilishly complicated, with both positive and negative charged bolts, cloud-to-cloud, cloud-to-ground, space-to-chicken, etc. Positive lightning, which comes fro the tops of the highest clouds, makes up about only 5% of total lightning strikes -- but yields 300,000 amps and a billion volts, and of course much higher temperatures. Positive lightning can bring down planes, and has done so, which is why pilots work so hard to avoid it.

[Speaking of planes, it's possible that the water vapor (and whatever else a plane might be leaving behind) could make a path-of-least-resistance for lightning... or perhaps other high-energy sources, HAARP for instance, those contrails creating a kind of high-altitude energy grid for whatever purposes that might serve. Bet you could even use it to spy on people.]


Speaking of spying on people, lasers have been used to do just that as well as create pathways for lightning. If the incoming energy exceeded the outgoing, and it could be reliably sourced and stored, then that could be one method toward lightning as an alternative energy source. Then again, lighting -- for reasons we don't yet understand -- releases X-rays (which are really just localized gamma rays). So, that pretty blue eye-melting glow plus the incredible noise and non-stop lightning flashes might be a bit too much for a nearby population to endure. Unless they like light shows. And non-stop thunder. It's a tourist attraction! It's a power plant! Stop it, you're both right.

Sure, some have argued that there's not that much energy in one lightning bolt, 'cause there isn't, but if you make up that deficit with sheer volume? And supplement between-storm usage with solar panels? AND somehow harness (and shield yourself from) those ambient X-rays? It's intriguing.


Ok, NOW let's think about lightning's source.

Lightning is static electricity generated by all those mega-gajillions of air molecules rubbing against each other all over the place, tickled by EM dynamos of both the earth and sun, pummeled by gamma rays and meteors striking it... blah blah blah. Basically, there is a Freaking Metric Crapload (FMC) of energy floating around over our heads 24/7/365.25... and you don't necessarily need a lightning rod to harness it.

Tesla, who gave the word, "amazing" a run for its money, showed how you could place a pole in the ground, say 50 feet tall or taller, and generate electricity from the differences in electrical potential from the top of the pole to the bottom -- with a secure ground. This is like slow lightning, much easier to harness, manage and deploy. (Tesla noted that to make this work, you had to have a very reliable ground, either down to groundwater level, or using a tree with roots touching the water table.) Hm. Maybe that's what this very interesting thing used to be, long ago, a base to a larger electrical structure, though it's probably just an amazing example of ancient metallurgy, one we cannot date and cannot reproduce.

Basically, energy and lost ideas are all around you. Get creative.

You don't want to look like this guy.

NEEDLESS TO SAY, If you choose to experiment, BE EXTREMELY CAREFUL AROUND LIGHTNING and electricity. One amp can kill you. Don't go sticking copper rods in the ground and attaching wires and standing next to the damn things during electrical storms. Ben Franklin was lucky he wasn't killed. (He flew kites with wires instead of string into electrical storms.) Use thought experiments, please. And some common sense. Which is not common anymore. So use uncommon sense. And Vive Muchachos.

Just trying to help the ballclub and all that. Tesla did much more, securing some 300 patents (!) worldwide, but alas, he died penniless. The guy invented radio (not Marconi), A/C motors, A/C current, fluorescent lighting and about a zillion other things that you and your kitty cat use every single freaking day and he died broke, his journals stolen and hoarded by the government after his death. Tesla invented the modern world you live in and you just thought he was a bad '80s band.

Anyway, if any of the above sparks an idea and you somehow make a zillion dollars -- or save a zillion -- please remember to return here and DONATE to Da-da a small fraction, thereof -- a return stroke, if you will. Da-da could use it. Unlike Tesla, Da-da has dependents.

Who's your exajoule da-da?

Main data source: Wikipedia.


Anonymous said...

I adore your blog. Really. But don't you realise that nothing is wasted - the planet was balanced until we started thinking what we didn't exploit was wasted - like the Amazon basin's trees, or fish not netted, or uranium in the ground, or rivers not dammed. Everything is part of the mechanism and chemistry of our habitat - believe it or not, even the electricity and lightning strike.

PS can you post a BIG photo of the lightning curtain? It's brilliant.

A Man Called Da-da said...

Oh, indeed. Da-da was merely trying to give some impetus to a select few who will be able to use this little push toward greater things.

As for the pics, those are the biggest that Da-da has, alas. If he finds any more, he'll post 'em.

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