Humans,as a rule, are the grand-masters of invention. Certainly some species can use tools and even create crude ones out of natural resources but I would like to see an ape come up with a microwave or even a telephone. No, it is an incontrovertible truth of existence that humans are much more clever and inventive than any of the ‘lower’ species even our cousins in the primate world. 3.74% can count for an awful lot when it comes to genes. Yet for all our innovation with tools and metal and plastics, including the invention of tools and metal and plastics, much of what came before was based on inspired by natural phenomena.

For all our cleverness and superiority we still cannot help but be at the mercy of natural disasters or in awe of the Great Barrier Reef or a particularly strong strike of lightning. And let us never forget that it is because of lightning that we have electricity to begin with.

harvest electricity from lightning

A hair-raising idea

If not for that grand-olde Anglo-American (his father was born in Northampshire) brain-box Benjamin Franklin and his theories, finally proven in a spectacular fashion with a kite and brass key one dark and stormy night, there would be nothing to power the computer upon which you now read.

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You would still be squinting at the product of a mechanical typewriter as copied by manually controlled printing press by, at best, oil light and where is the fun in that? We may soon find out, as electricity as it is currently generated, is a limited and rapidly dwindling resource. Taking a page from Granddaddy Franklin, the newest generation of crazy until proven right pioneers are wondering if it might be possible to harvest electricity from lightning.

A good strong jolt

As any hacker around in the mid-90s could tell you, Jolt had a real kick. And that was just high, very high caffeine, cola. According to current measures a single bolt of lighting can hold up to five-billion (that is a 5 with seven zeros after it) joules of power. Roughly enough power to run the average, modern household for a month. Need more power? Wait for a thunderstorm, the average boom and roll giving out roughly the same energy as a nuclear blast. Which is why getting hit by lightning is generally held something to best be avoided.

Ways and means

As with any great, world changing theory there are one or two problems associated with logistics. One of the major ones being how to attract lighting while keeping the equipment used to drawn and hold it or the people running it safe. Also, to capture that much concentrated in energy in a very sort time frame is extremely difficult. Oh, right, there is also the Back to the Future paradox in that one never really actually knows when or where lightning is going to strike. Bothersome problems to be sure but it should not be too daunting for the species that went to the Moon.

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Trevor McNeil spent much of his childhood playing video-games on early-form personal computers back when the disks were literally floppy. He attended the University of Victoria, completing a degree in Social Science with a concentration in Technology In Society, while also writing for the campus newspaper. He has written articles for such diverse publications as Humanity Death Watch, PopMatters and Perfect Sound Forever. He is a veteran of numerous “watershed moments” in the history of technological development and firmly believes that Han shot first.

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