Physics Questions People Ask Fermilab
Hi...my name is Amy. I'm a high school student in Indonesia. I want to know whether lightning could be an electricity power source, such as water electricity, nuclear electricity, etc. Please reply to my Email because I am doing a paper about lightning electricity. Thank You.
Amy, Thank you for your question on lightning electricity. The answer below is from one of Fermilab's utility experts and may be more information than you need for your report. The challenge with electricity in general is there is no ability to store it once it is generated. This means that generation of electricity from any source is always balanced to match the amount of electricity that is needed to run your lights and other equipment. Considering today's technology, use of lightning for electricity has two problems. First, it can't be controlled (turned on and off when it's needed) so it can't be matched to the demand for electricity, and as was mentioned electricity can't be stored. Second, lightning is a direct current (DC) that would require it to be converted to alternating current (AC) so it could be used for lights and other equipment. Good luck on your report and please stop by to see us if you ever visit this area.
Good question! Actually, lightning electricity technically does not need to be generated, only transformed into a useful quality. The watts of power in a single bolt of lightning is certainly significant. Unfortunately, since it is a direct current (as opposed to alternating current) it cannot be stepped down by simply running it through the primary coil of a transformer. Also, due to the variability in voltage between bolts transforming it to a specific power quality spec would be a little tricky.
Another issue would be transferring this massive block of power to the electrical transmission grid in a slow enough manner to be absorbed by the system without adversely affecting online generating stations, and without transmitting more power than the grid can use.
These issues all seem to suggest that a storage device is needed for the lightning power which can then be slowly transformed and distributed. Perhaps the new superconductors being developed can make a magnetic energy storage device capable of handling the job (SMES). The issues would involve the cost of such a plant against the amount of lightning one could reliably hope to capture and sell at any one specific location. There are place on earth however, which are known for exceptional lightning activity (such as lightning alley in Florida) which might one day fill the bill for this, much the same as cost effective wind power generators have to be installed at specific locations on earth where air speed is reliably high enough to do the necessary work.
I think it's a great thought...maybe some day we will be working for Amy at her own electric utility company!
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