Re: Cloud Power
Date: Fri, 12 Feb 1999 14:50:51 +0900
From: email@example.com (MOHAMMAD JAINUL ABEDIN)
Subject: A New Power Source
A plan to extract power from thin air
Storm clouds accumulate huge electrical charges. With electrodes located in high places such as hill-tops and the tops of tall buildings, these charges could be transmitted to large capacitors that would store the energy for later use. Transmitted to smaller capacitors, the energy could power automobiles, in place of gasoline.
Mohammad Jainul Abedin, 101, Moriyama Idai Heights, 1724-4 Ikenobe, Miki-Cho, Kagawa 761-0701, Japan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
An evaluation by naturalSCIENCE
There is no doubt that the atmosphere is a repository for substantial quantities of electrical energy. According to a primer on lightning by NASA scientists Hugh Christian and Melanie McCook (1), a lightning strike has a peak power of about one million megawatts (MW), or an average over the duration of the strike of about 500,000 MW. Interestingly, the average rate of electrical energy use by the entire United States is also about 500,000 MW.
Seemingly, the idea of harnessing electrical energy from the atmosphere has promise. However, it must be noted that a lightning strike lasts an average of only about 30 micro seconds. To power the United States by lightning, it would be necesssary, therefore, to harvest the energy of 33,000 lightning strikes per second, or about 3 billion per day, or 322 per square kilometer per day.
That would require a great many lightning rods. There is also the question of whether there is that much energy in the atmosphere to be harvested. According to Christian and McCook (1), most of the electrical charge transferred to the atmosphere during storms is transmitted to the ionosphere, from where it leaks back to earth as a steady, 500,000-Volt fair-weather current of about 2 pico Amps per square meter of ground area. That works out to just 0.01 micro Watts per square metre or 10 kiloWatts (kW) per square kilometer. The total area of the United States is approximately 9 million square kilometers. So the fair-weather current from ionosphere to ground over the entire land area of the United States averages about 90 million kW or somewhat less than 70,000 million kW hours per month. This compares with total United States electrical energy consumption of about 275,000 million kW hours per month, which is almost four times as much.
Thus, even if all potential atmospheric electrical energy were harvested, it would provide only a limited source of power. In reality, the clutter of lightning rods needed to harvest even a miniscule fraction of the available energy would be a hazard to aviation and a blight on the landscape. Appealing though the concept may appear at first sight, cloud power is unlikely, therefore, to provide a significant alternative energy source.